As part of Rural Housing Week 2021, Chair Ed Buscall explains why the pandemic has increased the importance of housing associations like Hastoe in helping rural communities to thrive.
What motivated you to join the Hastoe Board?
I’ve farmed in Norfolk for several years and have been active in the local community. A few years ago Hastoe and a local parish council approached me about giving away some land for affordable housing. Long-standing residents were being forced to leave the village because more people were retiring in the area, which was pushing up house prices and putting them out of the reach of local people. This, in turn, was threatening the viability of the local primary school and pub.
What do you feel has been Hastoe’s greatest impact on the rural communities we serve during your tenure on the Board?
It is difficult for rural communities to know where to turn when they are seeking to build affordable housing. Hastoe works alongside communities to help them through the process of understanding their housing need and deciding what would most benefit their community. I believe Hastoe helps to give these communities the confidence to understand what is needed to keep them sustainable and thriving.
Ed Buscall opening affordable homes in Burwell with Roger Thompson of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority and Councillor Liz Swift of Burwell Parish Council.
How would you describe Hastoe’s approach to partnership with rural communities?
Strong partnerships are key to the Hastoe model. Working so closely with rural communities means that a great deal of the mistrust that often surrounds the building of new houses can be dissipated. Hastoe helps to empower local communities in the decision-making process, which gives them confidence that they will get what they want rather than feel that development is being forced upon them in an unacceptable way.
How do you think the rural affordable housing sector could be better supported in delivering much-needed affordable housing in rural communities?
Rural England is often overlooked when it comes to affordable housing but never has it been more needed. The pandemic has caused rural house prices to rise significantly putting properties even more out of reach of local people. Meanwhile, many developers and associations aren't interested in building a relatively small number of houses in rural locations because the economics of doing so are not as attractive as larger schemes. As a result, the rural housing crisis is worsening and it is vitally important that attention is focused on it.
Is there any particular project or scheme that you are most proud of, and why?
All of Hastoe’s development projects have been carefully identified and are built to help a community in real need. The loss of people with strong links to a community, because they cannot afford property in their area has serious consequences. Schools and local businesses can be threatened and villages become hollowed out but our developments help to stop this happening. Therefore, it's really difficult to identify one particular scheme to be most proud of as I feel all our houses offer positive contributions to their communities.