A tribute to Sheila Clouting, co-founder of Southdown
Posted on 8 January 2021
In 1972, Sheila was a founder member of our organisation (later re-named Southdown Housing Association) as part of a small group of like-minded professionals who were working with mental health patients at St Francis Hospital and in the community. She was instrumental in setting up, in her own time, a volunteer-run Sunday Support Group and then a supported housing service in Brighton and Hove.
Her energy and determination was impressive and must have started early. As a girl born in the 1920s, she had to leave school in her mid-teens and higher education was not an option, but she later spent many years attending evening classes and studying for exams to eventually qualify as a social worker.
Sheila, still working full time as a social worker and raising a family too, was actively involved with Southdown from the beginning as an organiser, a volunteer and a Trustee as the new unfunded charity was set up which was later registered as a housing association to be able to access a grant to supplement the funds that had been raised to purchase first one house, then others. Each house was divided into bedsits that could be rented to people managing mental health issues and facing homelessness.
For years Sheila was involved in fundraising, setting up tenancies and supporting clients to move in and manage, collecting rent as well as helping manage volunteers who helped. She continued as a Trustee to support the organisation as it developed over the years. She was a stalwart and active part of Southdown, keen to champion the best interests of both clients of services and staff. Sheila retired as a Trustee in 2002 after 30 years of involvement, but continued to show interest and kept in touch with what we were doing.
Southdown has grown over the years to provide residential and community support services for other groups of vulnerable people and to all areas of Sussex. We have provided support to hundreds of thousands of people facing homelessness, or living with the challenges of mental illness or a learning disability. We started employing people in 1989 (before then all work had been done unpaid by Sheila and other volunteers) and now employ over 1000 people and provide support to over 10,000 Sussex residents each year. Our achievements are in no small part a credit to the work Sheila and others did to set up and steer our charitable housing association. She was always determined that action needed to be taken to find ways to provide services when vulnerable people were not getting what they needed to overcome the challenges they faced.
I, and a few other long-serving staff, had the good fortune to work with Sheila. I worked with her on committees and attended events alongside her for several years. She managed to combine charm, respectfulness and professional intelligence with a fierce determination that things should be as good as they could be.
I hope the work we have done at Southdown over the years, and continue to do, is a fitting tribute to her and the foundations she laid. She was missed when she left Southdown and we are truly saddened by her passing.
Deputy Chief Executive