resident voices

A grand day out for Monica!

Our Ambassador met Princess Anne at Windsor Castle and received her MBE

Written by
Claire Murphy
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Congratulations to Monica Barnes, a Denmark Hill resident for more than 30 years, who was awarded the MBE from Princess Anne at Windsor Castle in February.

Monica came to London from Jamaica at the age of 10 and said her family encountered racism when they tried to find somewhere to live. “Housing was an issue back then, as is well catalogued. You’ve heard the phrase ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’. We encountered all of that.”

She moved into a home with a garden in south-east London, provided by the housing association that eventually became Optivo. There, she raised her family and is now a grandmother.

Her MBE was for years of work supporting social housing, and being the voice of residents. Monica supported unemployed young people who had dropped out of formal education. She used her skills to work with leaseholders and staff to improve quality and services for Optivo’s residents for a quarter of a century, before becoming a formal member of the Resident Governance structure in 2009.

“I’ve chaired the London and South West area panel, and been Vice Chair of the Residents’ Strategy Group before stepping up to the role of Chair,” she said. “I’ve worked on scrutiny projects, attended complaints panel hearings, and introduced and developed intergenerational projects.

I believe co creation is very important, our biggest challenge has been to get people engaged

Monica Barnes

Some residents don’t want to because they feel they won’t make a difference. But I’ve seen changes I’ve made, such as driving up service standards where they were previously failing.”

Because of Covid restrictions, Monica was only allowed one guest to share her special day at Windsor Castle earlier this month, and picked the name of her son Maurice, 43, out of the hat. He said he and his sisters were ‘very, very proud’ of their mum’s achievements.

Monica wore the traditional colours of green, gold and black to represent her Jamaican heritage.

As they arrived at the castle in Berkshire, Monica and Maurice were excited. “We climbed the stairs and there were soldiers on duty standing at the top, then we walked down corridors full of paintings and all that history. It was amazing, even the loos were ornate!” she laughed.

Before the investiture hosted by the Princess Royal, Monica was given a rehearsal in how to curtsey. “I was so carried away!” she continued. “Princess Anne knew I’d been awarded for working in housing and asked me to say a little bit about representing residents and giving them a voice.

It was one of my proudest moments and something I will forever bask in

Monica Barnes

The mum and grandmother is stepping down from her role as an involved resident after nine years. But instead of taking a well-earned rest, Monica has now accepted a new role as an Optivo Ambassador.

“I’ll be representing our Black and minority ethnic communities and older residents to ensure their voices are heard,” Monica continued. “I’m interested in social impact, and I can pass on my experience of working with people from different ages, backgrounds and abilities.”


Our Resident Ambassadors

Read more about Monica and our other Ambassadors.

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