Grandmum’s gratitude to housing association after 40 years abroad

Maria Peel of Hightown, Hemel Hempstead
Maria Peel of Hightown, Hemel Hempstead

A grandmother given a a home by a housing association has repaid them by help local residents.

When Maria Peel returned to Hemel Hempstead after 40 years in South Africa with just £200, two suitcases, she moved in with daughter Melanie and her young family.

Maria, aged 69, enjoyed living with Melanie, husband Sean and children Samuel and Claudia, but they needed their own space after three years together, and Hightown Praetorian and Churches Housing Association was there to give her a home.

Maria has now lived in her Union Green flat for nine years and has repaid the charitable housing association for giving her a roof over her head by being one of their most involved residents.

She represents the needs of all Hightown residents by being a member of its Housing Scrutiny Committee and its Residents’ Panel. She manages to fit in these voluntary roles while working six days a week as a retail assistant at Marks and Spencer.

Maria, who was born in Yorkshire, but emigrated to South Africa with her parents when she was 17, said: “I was married and then divorced while I was in South Africa, and had lived there for 40 years when I decided to help my daughter bring up her family in Hemel Hempstead.

“I came over here with only £200 and two suitcases, and lived with Melanie’s family for three years. By then we needed our own space, so I put my name on the housing list and within two weeks Hightown offered me this wonderful place.

“I was so grateful that they’d given me a roof over my head, and I initially joined their Residents’ Panel so I could mix with some new people. It was also my way of giving something back to Hightown, and I like working with people who get things done.”

As a member of both the Residents’ Panel and the Housing Scrutiny Committee, Maria has been involved in inspecting properties on behalf of residents, deciding on applications from residents for minor improvement works to communal outdoor areas and having a say on contractors selected for building work

She added: “Hightown has given me all the support and advice I need to carry out my work for them. I’d like more people to get involved, especially those with a bit of time. It’s very fulfilling and a chance to make other residents happy. If it wasn’t for my work commitments I’d be doing more.”

Hightown Director of Operations, Susan Wallis, said: “We’re committed to resident involvement in the running of Hightown so our residents can have a real influence in making sure the homes and services we provide meet their needs and expectations.

“Maria is a great example of how a busy person can still find the time to get involved and help influence our decisions. We need more people like her, there are all sorts of opportunities we offer to get involved that take up very little time, while others need more time and commitment.”