Remembering Mike Wright

By Jane Minter - on 15/03/2016

Jane Minter, Head of Programmes at Care and Repair England writes about HACT's founding Director Mike Wright, who recently passed away.

It’s sad to write of the death of Mike Wright – HACTs founding Director – and my boss from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, when he retired.

Mike was an army colonel who, on retirement from the army in 1960, set up HACT, alongside a sister charity, Help the Aged Charitable Trust. Both charities, based initially within the National Housing Federation (then the National Association of Housing Societies) to fund innovative work in the housing sector.

HACT’s initial funding came from large established housing associations such as Guiness, William Sutton and Peabody, with additional funding from a number of big charitable trusts.  This was quickly supplemented by funding from a new fundraising organisation, Shelter, cofounded by HACT and Notting Hill Housing Trust specifically to raise money to fund new housing development by the emerging new generation of urban housing providers, most small, community based organisations, although some such as Circle, L&Q and Liverpool Housing Trust have grown well beyond what might ever have been imagined at the time.  Until it was spun off in the early 1970s, Shelter-branded fundraising – along with a levy on established housing providers – provided the basis for the first ten years of HACT activity.

Alongside funding the emergence of the 1960s generation of housing associations, Mike also ensured HACT did not  lose signt of the value of the small and innovative and its ability to make a difference to people’s lives - particularly focusing on young people, older people, those with special needs and minority ethnic communities.

During Mike’s time at HACT, which spanned much of its first two decades of existence, he played a significant role in the development of many housing initiatives, working alongside other partners to build better services. Self-build, cooperative housing, supported housing, an international response to homelessness (which subsequently formed the basis for the establishment of highly regarded NGO Homeless International/Reall) – to name but a few.

When he retired from HACT, Mike’s commitment to housing continued, setting up a self-help housing and a homeless hostel in Oxford whilst a city councillor in his home town.

One example of his work that Mike was particularly proud of was in the field of older people, my area of expertise.

He was instrumental, working in partnership with Shelter, in setting up Care and Repair England in 1986 (which has just had its 30th anniversary at the House of Lords.) This emerged from HACT seed funding local agencies in South Wales and Middlesbrough to look at ways to help home owners living in poor housing with repairs and improvements to their homes. Care and Repair England directed by Janice Fox initially and now by Sue Adams OBE, went on to secure government funding to set up many local Home Improvement Agencies and it continues to innovate now promoting new ways to enable older people to remain independent at home.

Mike was passionate about housing injustice and tireless in his pursuit of new ideas. He was political (he stood for parliament for the Liberal Party) a campaigner, a philanthropist. He talked and acted very quickly (!) and would spend many a happy hour with likeminded people, normally in the local pub, coming up with new ways to support the marginalised - with a glass in his hand and a laugh on his face. He was full of stories and ideas. He was generous, could get angry and frustrated, was lots of fun, a real original. He was a great man, a lovely boss and someone whose vision to make a difference helped HACT to innovate and develop.

Mike was buried at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford with his wife, Margaret, on 9 March 2016

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