For over 30 years, Sheelagh Cooper has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of vulnerable families in Bermuda, especially children. She founded the Coalition for the Protection of Children in 1992 and was Chairman for 27 years, before stepping down to focus on Habitat for Humanity of which she is now Chair.
“For years at the Coalition, I watched with a great deal of pain children being placed in foster care because the family was homeless,” she says. “This has always been unacceptable to me, and is the reason that we collaborated with the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) to create the Transformational Living Centre (TLC) to keep families together and provide a place of healing and hope.”
This year, 2021, marked the year of completion for the TLC, and until earlier this year Cooper worked with Elaine Butterfield, WRC executive director, to complete the project. In addition to providing a safe environment for women and their children to live in, the TLC also provides a series of programmes focused on education, employability and life skills as well as ongoing support. The ultimate goal is for the women to become economically self-sufficient.
Cooper comes from a long line of social activists, the most notable of whom was her grandfather, a doctor, who was instrumental in developing the BCG vaccine for tuberculosis. Cooper herself is a criminologist by profession, and what drives her work for Habitat for Humanity is the critical lack of affordable housing in Bermuda: “The problem of the availability of affordable housing really concerns me,” she says, “because quite simply there isn’t any.”
In addition to the TLC, Cooper has also established ReStore, in the former Bluck’s building on Front Street, which sells high-quality, secondhand furniture. The Bluck family charge no rent and all the proceeds go towards Habitat for Humanity projects in Bermuda.
Now that the TLC is complete, they are looking for more properties to develop to accommodate a more diverse population. “Mixing elderly folk with young mothers and perhaps partnering with agencies servicing physically or mentally challenged populations as well. These populations are underserved from a housing standpoint,” she explains.
“The problem of homelessness is very complex, but the bottom line is that we have a growing economic underclass in our community and until we address that, we will continue to suffer the social consequences.”