Home / History of Cordale Housing Association: A Journey Through Time

History of Cordale Housing Association: A Journey Through Time

Cordale Housing Association is a community-based organisation that provides affordable homes and related services in and around the village of Renton in West Dunbartonshire.  The Association also plays an important role in community development for residents in the area.

Renton is situated on the banks of the River Leven, near the southern end of Loch Lomond, and it is part of the larger Glasgow metropolitan area.  It is a distinctive and historically significant community in the region.

In this part of our website we have provided an historical overview of Renton ‘through the years’, including the contribution that Cordale Housing Association has made over the past 30 years in helping to create a strong and vibrant local community.



The modern sandstone, ‘model’ village was named Renton in 1762, named after Cecilia Renton, the daughter in law of Tobias Smollett of Bonhill.

During the 1700s, the textile industry dominated the town. Dalquhurn Bleachworks in 1715 and Cordale Printworks in 1770 were responsible for attracting a major influx of labour and the growth of Renton as a community.

During the period between 1850 – 1900, the population of Renton doubled from approximately 2800 to over 5000 residents, putting significant pressure on housing and social conditions.

Most of the housing stock was owned by private landlords who rented to factory workers. The majority of the housing was not kept to satisfactory living standards. Overcrowding was the norm with families living in one or two bedroom tenement flats. It was clear that new housing stock was urgently required and existing homes required either refurbishment or demolition.

Trams arrived in the Vale of Leven in 1908. Photo shows tram 11 travelling down Main Street, Renton.


The outbreak of war in 1914 left the housing issue both unresolved and clouded by the fact that there seemed to be no clear political will nor means of tackling the problem. Instead, the community turned to “doing its bit” against the enemy.

It is estimated that over 500 Renton men had volunteered by 1915, with many more going on to serve in subsequent years. The war memorial contains the names of 157 Rentonians killed in the War.

By 1919 the mood of people had changed across Britain, they would never go back to the meek acceptance of things just jogging along as they always had done, with everyone gently accepting their place in society as dictated by their “betters”.

War time chancellor, Lloyd George’s promises of “a land fit for heroes to live in” and “homes for heroes” were music to the ears of soldiers and their families.

During the war, a report into housing conditions in Scotland had been commissioned. The report was published in 1917 and was a damning indictment of the private landlords. As a result of this report, the Housing and Town Planning (Scotland) 1919 Act was passed.

Main Street, Renton

By 1938 a further 6 acts followed on from the Housing and Town Planning (Scotland) 1919 Act. So began the era of council housing in Scotland, by empowering central government to build social housing and using the local authorities as the means of local delivery of housing programs.

The building of council houses on the Cordale Estate proceeded quite slowly in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

The first new houses were built at the southern end on Stirling Street and the scheme gradually worked north over nearly twenty years to the Mill Burn at Turnbull’s Loan. The first buildings were of the three-storied type, 6 in a block tenement style with front gardens and back greens. They were located in a sort of “L” shape from Main Street down Stirling Street. Occupancy began in 1932.

The major problem of the 1930’s, however, was unemployment with levels in Renton sometimes over 50%, and that excluded the thousands who left the area to seek work elsewhere in the UK and abroad. It was little wonder that during the 1930’s Renton was one of the main centers of the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM).

However, by Christmas 1946, a new industrial estate, funded with government money and attracting new types of light industries opened at Strathleven industrial estate. A new footbridge was erected over the Leven to give Rentonians easy access to their new work place – it also gave other people working on the estate easy access to Renton shops, pubs and railway station.

Renton from the Hill

By 1950, approximately 2,000 well-paid jobs were available at Strathleven. During this time, Renton had a wealth of shops, mainly on the Main Street, selling everything from food to fashions. It is estimated that there were around 80 shops in Renton, and 6 public houses. Renton was once again a bustling, prosperous small town with a population of about 5,000 people.

There were social problems, mainly based on housing conditions, exacerbated by the post-war baby boom. Gaps sites had appeared in Renton because of the demolition of slum properties in the 1930’s, but no major land area was quickly available for industrial-scale new house building, which was once again urgently required.

Burn Street, Renton, 1950s

That land lay elsewhere in the Vale in Bonhill and Alexandria. The solution adopted by the council was arguably the only one open to them at the time – rehouse the Renton people on the housing waiting list in these new schemes. This led to a decline in the population of Renton, but it also created the opportunity for clearance of the older housing stock and the redevelopment of the freed up land with new, modern council houses.

In the early 1960s the majority of the sandstone properties in the village were compulsory purchased by Dumbarton County Council, demolished and replaced by with brutalist-style concrete houses and flats.

Dumbarton County Council, re-development of Renton, mid 1960s.

At the time, people were pleased with the housing as it addressed the remaining housing needs. But a slow realisation dawned that the character of Renton had been irrevocably changed.

Rentonians were increasingly growing uneasy that parts of Renton were being used to house ‘problem families’ from other areas. Locals concerns gained weight in the early 1970’s when the council decided that Cordale was an area with significant problems that needed drastic action.

At the same time, the area was experiencing another economic downturn. Many of the factories at the Strathleven Industrial Estate had closed and unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, was on the rise.

The late 1980’s was arguably Renton’s lowest post-war point when people began to feel the physical spaces declining, the anti-social behaviour coming from small but well-entrenched groups, the declining population and the growing poverty. The 80 or so shops that thrived earlier in the century were reduced to around a dozen and the number of pubs halved.

It perhaps felt to some that Renton just didn’t have a sustainable future.

It was felt by some locals that Councils, although well intended, had created the problems faced in Renton through a range of redevelopments.

A group of forward thinking Rentonians recognised that the best way forward was to define their own solutions. The group took the lead in creating a new housing association and before long, had formed not only its membership, but also its Management Committee.

In 1993 Cordale Housing Association (CHA) was formed with the aim to prioritise social and economic regeneration as well as housing, on the principle that – according to the view at the time – “we won’t build a better standard of housing for people to enjoy their poverty in”.

The original Cordale Housing Association Logo

CHA went onto become one of Scotland’s leading community based housing associations, credited with helping transform Renton. Since registration in 1993, CHA has made a significant impact in the Renton area through the provision of almost 500 new homes to replace the previous poor housing, which has immeasurably improved the lives of residents in the area. In addition the association has, provided job opportunities for local people, developed housing for older people along with the provision of support to remain independent and a participated in a host of other local services which engage and benefit the local community.

Cordale Housing Association Homes


On 1 April 2014, Cordale Housing Association entered into a partnership with one of Scotland’s largest housing associations, Caledonia Housing Association.  This has brought more investment to our homes, provided access to a range of specialist services, added to our financial strength and has enhanced the skills on our governing body to assist Cordale to continue its important role within the community.

Cordale has continued to go from strength to strength. In 2017 they were awarded Small Housing Association of the year at the Scottish Home Awards and in 2019 opened a new modern office. The new office is based in the heart of Renton improving resident access to Cordale Housing Association services whilst helping to revitalise Main Street, replacing the long-standing dilapidated and empty shops, transforming the physical appearance of the area that had previously been in environmental decline.

Today, the Association continues cater for many diverse needs, offering over 500 high quality affordable homes for families, couples and single people, as well as supported accommodation, sheltered housing and amenity and other specially adapted properties.  The Association takes pride in its local roots and is committed to continuing to deliver strong performance and good outcomes for it tenants and the wider local community.

Cordale office, Main Street, Renton, opened 2019.