Housing visionary helped generations of families

Inspirational: John Belcher in 1978 at the opening of the housing association's Rotherham office.

Inspirational: John Belcher in 1978 at the opening of the housing association's Rotherham office.

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A COMPASSIONATE South Yorkshire man moved by a documentary about the plight of homeless people to start the county’s first independent housing association to provide accommodation for impoverished and vulnerable people has died aged 79.

John Belcher started the organisation in 1972 with nothing but a second-hand typewriter and the use of his local telephone box at Bolton-on-Dearne.

He built the organisation up over the next 23 years before retiring and today it manages 3,500 affordable homes around the county.

Russell Wright, a former colleague, said: “He instilled in us, his passion for housing society’s most vulnerable people and established values which we continue to hold dear to this day.

“The positive impact John made is still remarkably relevant today, to both SYHA residents and people throughout the wider Sheffield city region.”

Mr Belcher started the organisation after being moved by the 1960s BBC drama Cathy Come Home.

With the help of the housing charity Shelter and the local authority, John bought run-down properties in Sheffield, and then improved them for letting to homeless families at prices they could afford.

Speaking in 1992, 20 years after started South Yorkshire Housing Association, John said: “We have been able to bring to light those who never appeared in any official statistics, who were not eligible for any council waiting list and whose difficulties were shamelessly exploited by some private landlords.

SYHA chief executive at, Tony Stacey said: “John’s original vision continues to guide us today. Regrettably, the need for good quality affordable housing for people who can’t buy their own home or afford spiralling private rents is as great today as it was when John retired.”

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