Rita celebrates almost half a century with Arches Housing

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Rita Spillings was a young mum of three struggling to escape a failing and abusive marriage when she heard a new Sheffield housing association that she hoped might be able to give her shelter.

Almost 50 years later and at 80 years old, Rita is proud to say that she is not only the very first person to be supported by Arches Housing but that she is also now the longest-serving Arches tenant.

In addition, youngest son Darren was also with Arches when he was looking for his first independent home.

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And Rita is hoping to create a unique three generations of Arches support as Darren’s daughter Natasha is now looking for her own home.

Rita - seen here with husband Arnold - is proud to be the first Arches Housing tenantRita - seen here with husband Arnold - is proud to be the first Arches Housing tenant
Rita - seen here with husband Arnold - is proud to be the first Arches Housing tenant

Arches Housing was formed in 1975 with the aim of providing affordable decent homes for rent and regeneration and assisting in the revival of communities in Sheffield - making it the ideal choice for Rita, who didn’t want to stray too far from her family’s industrial East End roots.

Today, Arches Housing provides a range 1,300 properties offered at social and affordable rents - including over 100 shared ownership properties - and continues to grow by developing homes for the people of Sheffield, Rotherham and Derbyshire.

“I was in a marriage with my first husband and we were having a really bad time,” Rita explains, as she looks back on her first meeting with the Arches team.

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“I heard about this new organisation that was just starting off and so I got in touch with them and they said they had one house and that it would be between me and this other lady.

Rita and Arnold with granddaughter NatashaRita and Arnold with granddaughter Natasha
Rita and Arnold with granddaughter Natasha

“I was determined to get it because I knew I had to get my sons away from my husband and I was so happy when they thought I needed that house the most.”

It wasn’t a long stay in that first property because just a few years later, Rita and family moved into an Arches bungalow in Wincobank - and that’s where she and second husband Arnold live to this day.

The bungalow was part of a new development for the Arches team in the area and one that Rita watched being built, visiting regularly as construction continued and then getting the chance to become its first and only tenant.

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“The funny thing is that when I was living with my first husband we were actually buying a house but when I was on my own with my boys I could never have afforded the mortgage to buy a property,” Rita says.

“Arches are brilliant as landlords and I am so pleased that they have done really well and now support so many people.

“To start with just that one house I lived in and now to have so many is really good.”

Today, Rita and Arnold’s home is filled with pictures of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, creating a real sense of family and home - and as Rita points out, there was support for her family too when it was needed.

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“It was great when my youngest, Darren, was just starting out because he’s disabled and they actually asked if he wanted a place of his own,” she says.

“I’ll be honest, I hesitated because he was only 18 at the time but it was his choice and it turned out to be the right thing for him, especially as Arches even helped him to buy his first property eventually.

“Even when I married Arnold, we both knew we didn’t want to live anywhere else and I’d never want to give this place up because I love it here and have done ever since we moved in.

“You know everybody and there’s always people coming in and out - and I like it that way.

“I always joke that I’ll be here till they carry me out in a box but it’s not really a joke - it’s the truth.”