Breathing new life into country living

Community-led projects in rural areas can help us to solve the housing crisis, Hastoe Chief Executive in Sue Chalkley writes in the New Statesman today.
“There is general agreement that the nation is facing a housing crisis. It is also acknowledged that the crisis is not the same across the country, but rarely is it acknowledged that the crisis in rural communities is seriously impacting on the economic and social future of rural England. Hastoe cares deeply about rural England and has been working with parishes and villages, providing homes that allow people who live and work in them to stay contributing to their community.

One in five of England’s population live in rural areas – where only 8 per cent of homes are affordable, compared to nearly 20 per cent in our cities and towns. In the mid-1980s, 24 per cent of rural homes were affordable. This stark decrease, mostly caused by the Right to-Buy scheme, is continuing and as a result the rural demographic is changing dramatically too.

Rural housing costs approximately 11 times more than average local salaries and the lack of new affordable housing in England’s rural areas means that our villages are increasingly becoming the preserve of the wealthy. Of course, no village can thrive without young people and young families, but once a primary school has been closed because there are not enough children, very few families will consider staying in or moving to the village. Already in some rural districts, almost one third of the population is over 65 and by 2036, according to the Office for National Statistics, large swathes of the country will have retired populations of between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

At Hastoe, we firmly believe that Community-led projects in rural areas can help us to solve the housing crisis, according to Sue Chalkley, chief executive of Hastoe Breathing new life into country living working with communities on housing schemes that are the right size for them, at a pace that is right for them, providing homes that they have been integrally involved in producing, can breathe new life into rural communities.

This community-led development model is specific to rural specialist housing associations and to other entities such as Community Land Trusts. It starts with the community, who invite us in to help them with the provision of new homes for their families, and it involves local people at all stages. Over the years, it has delivered thousands of genuinely affordable homes for rural communities, and has helped villages thrive and grow.

However, with the government’s decision that schemes of less than 10 homes do not need to deliver any affordable homes, our small community-led schemes are even more vital to rural England. In fact, unless the government reverses the ruling about these small sites, two thirds of new rural affordable homes will be lost and it will only be our small community-led schemes that will be able to provide any rural affordable housing.

The government’s Community Housing Fund, designed to help tackle the lack of affordable housing in rural and coastal areas where there is a high level of second home ownership, is an excellent incentive for this community-led model. We are already using the fund to build much-needed rural homes and are delighted that this need has been recognised and provided for. It is vital that we work with and for rural communities when developing new homes. For Hastoe, it is very important that the community experience of building new homes is a positive one. It is possible and this is evidenced by the number of times a community invites us back to provide more new homes – in two villages we are now working with them on our fourth schemes.

Many rural communities are proud of their new housing developments and many are asking for more. This is surely the way forward.”

Click here to read Sue Chalkley’s article in the New Statesman’s ‘Spotlight’.

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