It’s such an honour to have been asked to reflect on the lasting legacy of Inez McCormack. Although I never met Inez, it seems like destiny that her incredible legacy was always meant to be a central force in my life.
I first heard about Inez McCormack on Human Rights Day in December 2014 at an innovation forum for Scotland’s National Action Plan on Human Rights.
I was there as a community worker involved in housing, interested to learn about how housing and human rights might in some way be connected.
Dessie Donnelly, then Director of PPR, was presenting to a big conference of Scottish civil society organisations about PPR, and how human rights could be used practically with communities to make economic, social and cultural change happen. He spoke about the inspiration of Inez’ work and told of the incredible women human rights activists from the New Lodge like Marissa, Roisín, Seaneen and Angie who were using human rights tools to impact poor housing conditions.
This is a legendary day in the folklore of Making Rights Real – the organisation that I’m honoured to now be Director of.
You see, on that day, in the pub afterwards, Dessie and I talked about Inez and how her values and PPR’s housing rights work in the Seven Towers in Belfast might, just might be applied in Scotland.
I was spellbound.
The values that Inez and the team at PPR had ingrained in their life’s work were evident to see in the stories told of the people and campaigns central to making change happen. And they resonated deeply with me; dignity and respect; humility; integrity; feistiness; creativity; compassion and solidarity; whilst not taking yourself too seriously and having loads of fun - oozed out of the words being spoken about Inez and about PPR’s people.
Yep, I was definitely spellbound.
Fast forward a few months to June 2015 and I found myself in Belfast at the PPR ‘Tools for Action’ training session, learning about Inez’ legacy with a magnificent portrait of her beaming down from the walls of the UNISON building in Belfast as a fabulous backdrop. Her eyes certainly had a twinkle, and I think she’d be beaming with delight at the shenanigans and sparks emerging from that room during those few days.
Fast forward a few months more and the Housing Rights in Practice project, which eventually delivered £2.3M of investment in poor housing with residents in Leith, Edinburgh was born. Over four years PPR supported residents in Leith and partners in the project to use a human rights based approach in practice. And through all that time, the values that Inez ingrained in her mission, of service; of people taking the lead and saying the first word; of holding using rights to hold authorities to account; sticking together in the tough times; celebrating wins and having loads of craic along the way were central to how we worked together.
When the project ended in 2019 my eyes had been opened to a new way of working. There was no going back. Inez’ legacy of participative human rights work serving people and communities who are the most marginalised needed to grow in Scotland.
In the following two years, Inez’ legacy really took hold as a team of us who were involved in the Leith project envisioned a PPR-inspired grassroots human rights organisation for Scotland - Making Rights Real.
We set up Making Rights Real in the summer of 2020 and immediately kick started conversations with communities in Scotland about where our first areas of work would be – where the spark would fly next to carry forward Inez’ powerful legacy.
Meeting Inez’ daughter Annie McCormack really brought Inez’ legacy to life for me. We spoke about her Mum a lot in that first meeting over a cuppa in a garden centre café in Perth and Kinross. And as we were leaving, Annie said “How about we bring Seven, the play to Scotland?”
Our first work for Making Rights Real will be working with women from different backgrounds in Scotland who have been marginalised, exploring their human rights issues through creative theatre work, intertwining this with preparing to perform Seven the play, for Human Rights Day 2022. In case you didn’t know it, Seven is a play featuring the stories of seven inspirational women from around the globe, including the phenomenal Inez McCormack.
And so, we come full circle. Honouring Inez, the woman without whom Making Rights Real wouldn’t exist, and keeping her legacy and values alive in the hearts and minds and work of everyone at Making Rights Real.
She’s in my mind every day as I read her words in a print on my desk, keeping me grounded, spurring me on. “My greatest achievement is seeing the glint in a woman’s eye who believed she was nobody and now knows she is somebody.”
I hope she’d be proud of the sparks that have been ignited from her powerful legacy.