AFTER 47 years giving people in north Essex a place to call home, Colne Housing is entering the next chapter of its proud history.

Today the housing association, which provides good quality, affordable homes to more than 4,000 people, will become a new organisation with a new name.

The new social landlord is called Eastlight Community Homes and has been created by the merger of Colne and Braintree-based Greenfields Community Housing.

Their two workforces have joined together and remain committed to housing local people and supporting their communities.

They will be able to do more for those who need an affordable home now, but also for future generations who may struggle to rent privately or get on the housing ladder in the decades to come.

Colne Housing was born in 1973 from a simple idea led by a group of Colchester people who had the foresight to see that affordable housing was needed.

In the 1960s, the Government was looking for an alternative to council housing provision and traditional renting or ownership.

Co-ownership societies were set up.

The money for developing new homes came from Government grants administered by the Housing Corporation - itself founded in 1965.

In the mid-60s Colchester Council had opened up the Greenstead area for residential development and supported a co-ownership project.

Immediately the houses were completed they were occupied. The Colchester Housing Society had completed its first enterprise.

The Government and Housing Corporation went on to develop the principle of fair rent accommodation.

Rather than the resident having joint-ownership rights, they would become ordinary tenants at a rent which was affordable on the open market.

This was the real birth of the Colne Housing Society and with it came further expansion.

Colne now has more than 3,200 homes across nine local council areas, including Colchester, Tendring, Maldon, Braintree, Chelmsford and Babergh.

Its first head office was a small shop in Crouch Street, Colchester.

The association is now based at the high-tech Knowledge Gateway at Essex University.

In recent years some tenants have seen their children grow up and able to live in their own Colne homes.

Their oldest resident is 105-year-old Bunny Honeybun – who still does the crossword every day.

Resident Tim Golden: “I have been a Colne resident since 1983. At the time the rent was only £14.50 a week.”

Colne’s longest-serving chief executive, Mark Powell Davies, who retired in 2015, said: “When I arrived in late 1995, Colne had just completed its 1,000th home.

“They have always been in it for the long term.

“Residents need to know their homes will be secure, well managed and maintained for the length of their and perhaps their children’s tenancies.

“During the current Covid-19 crisis, housing associations are robust enough to survive and be real community anchors, supporting residents through difficult times.”

Mr Powell Davies was succeeded by Sara Thakkar, who built on the organisation’s strong foundations to enable it to face 2020 and beyond “bigger, better and bolder”.

She said: “We are really proud of everyone who has been alongside Colne over the years and shaped what it is today.

“From the many people who have worked for us, the board members, councils, building firms our own development company Iceni Homes, community groups and many partners.

“And, of course, our residents and their families, who remind us why we are here.

“We say a fond farewell to Colne with the greatest of respect and look forward to our exciting new chapter and all the positive benefits that will bring our residents.”

Colne tenants and leaseholders’ rights are not affected by the change.