Rural homes, rural lives

A shortage of affordable homes in rural Scotland is being highlighted by Scottish Rural Action at the Rural Housing Scotland Conference today in Birnam. Four short case-study films will be screened that explain the impact of the lack of affordable homes in rural communities.

The campaign, ‘Rural Homes, Rural Lives’, states that rural housing is the key to unlocking rural economic potential.  It calls on the Scottish Government, local authorities, community organisations, housing associations, landowners and employers to work together to ensure rural equity in housing provision. In particular it highlights the negative impact that lack of rural housing has on businesses trying to invest, grow and recruit staff.

The campaign is informed by a survey carried out in January of people who have been affected by housing challenges in rural Scotland.  Initial findings suggest that the existing shortage of rural housing is being made much worse by the impact of tourism platforms such as Airbnb. Respondents suggested that making it easier for community organisations and individuals to build new homes, alongside use of the land reform act to make land available for housing, could help address the complex problem of affordable rural housing.

Fiona Thompson of Scottish Rural Action said that the survey had given a powerful insight into the impact housing shortages on rural economies:

“Data already tells us that there is a shortage of affordable, accessible and appropriate housing in rural Scotland, but our survey set out to gather first hand experiences from the people who are affected; the personal stories of the individuals behind that data.  We had almost 200 people respond and their testimony gives a powerful insight into the urgent need for housing in rural Scotland, particularly in small communities.

“We have summarised key findings from our research in the Rural Homes Rural Lives campaign into ten ‘asks’ of the Scottish Government, and we will be publishing a more detailed analysis of our findings in late March.  The more we can understand the challenges facing rural economies and rural communities, the better placed we are to address those challenges and unlock rural potential.  We look forward to sharing our findings and our suggested solutions with those involved in rural housing provision.”

The survey was developed as part of a collaborative project between Scottish Rural Action and Rural Housing Scotland, looking for real life experiences from across rural Scotland.  The testimonials have been used to inform ten asks for the Scottish Government, which are:

  1. Fair Share: Ensure rural Scotland receives a fair share of all housing investment.
  2. Rural Proof: Sense check all national and local housing and homelessness strategies for rural equity.
  3. Review: Investigate the impact of Airbnb and second homes on availability of permanent housing in rural Scotland.
  4. Resource: Extend the Rural Housing Fund and provide communities with support to develop and deliver affordable housing.
  5. Invest: Ensure the Housing Infrastructure Fund enables rural housing development.
  6. Innovate: Encourage proactive interventions to address the scandal of empty homes.
  7. Enable: Provide grants to enable self-build in rural communities.
  8. Plan: Ensure local planning authorities develop positive and flexible planning policies to deliver rural affordable housing.
  9. Reform: Encourage the use of land reform measures to secure land for affordable housing development.
  10. Prioritise: Acknowledge that rural housing is the key to unlocking rural potential.

Derek Logie of Rural Housing Scotland commented:

“Our research has brought home the extent of the housing crisis facing rural Scotland. Young people across the countryside are unable to find somewhere affordable to live.  There is much less council and social housing in rural Scotland, and demand for second homes and holiday lets is reducing the number of private lets and increasing house prices.

“Rural Scotland needs a fair share of Scottish Government investment in affordable housing to ensure that young people are able to make their homes in rural areas. This will enable businesses to grow, to sustain rural communities and help to secure local services such as schools.”

The Rural Homes Rural Lives Campaign is being launched with the screening of four films, which can be viewed on the Scottish Rural Action Vimeo channel.  They are:

Calum's Story

Calum Bennet and his partner will become homeless in April when his privately rented home will be used for tourism accommodation. Calum is Head Brewer at Loomshed, a small brewery on the Isle of Harris. Lack of affordable housing for Calum will mean his employer will lose Calum’s expertise and the island will lose working age residents. “Unfortunately when the tourist season starts in April we’re going to be homeless or have to leave the island.”

Oliver’s Story

Oliver Stephen is Mill Manager at BSW Timber in Fort William, employing over 200 people directly in the mill. He has identified lack of affordable housing as a major brake on business growth, with many members of staff negatively affected by what he describes as ‘housing poverty’. “There’s a lot of investment that businesses are wanting to put into the Highlands but with that investment you need the labour, and to bring people in to an area like Fort William, you need to build houses.”

Lisa’s Story

Lisa Watson is a healthcare worker from Lochcarron with children who is currently homeless. She explains the impact that the lack of housing is having on her daughter and expresses frustration at the demographic challenge of the area.  “I’m going to have to move. I’m going to have to take my daughter out of the school and leave the area altogether I think. Give up my job, everything, it’s the last thing I want to do but if I can’t get housing it ultimately is what’s going to happen.”

Peter’s Story

Peter MacKenzie is a mechanic in Lochcarron who became homeless after a privately rented shared home was sold by the owner.  He lived in a caravan behind his workplace for nine years, eventually he bought a small plot of land and built his own home. The caravan has since been used by many of his friends who are also homeless. “I had no other choice. I couldn’t leave the garage, it was just me and my Dad. I couldn’t just up sticks and leave, and leave him.”