This blog is part of a monthly series about community-led housing in Scotland, jointly written by Mike Staples, Chief Executive at South of Scotland Community Housing (SOSCH), and Ronnie MacRae, Chief Executive at Communities Housing Trust (CHT). Between us we’ve worked with hundreds of communities across Scotland, facilitating well over 1,000 affordable homes.
In a 2021 survey of Badenoch & Strathspey, the Cairngorms Business Partnership found that 68% of businesses reported a shortage of housing had impacted on their efforts to recruit staff, and 60% felt that a shortage of housing had impacted on their efforts to retain staff. 35 businesses reported people had declined job offers due to their inability to secure housing, with 91% saying it was a recurring issue.
A study in April by Mull & Iona Community Trust showed that 78% of businesses report that the lack of worker housing is impacting on their current operation, and 73% believing it creates staff retention issues. A recent survey of Glenkens and District Trust similarly indicated critical challenges securing enough housing to attract and retain staff from some of the region’s largest employers.
This picture is reflected across Scotland, with areas heavily reliant on tourism affected most acutely. In November 2021, over a third of Scottish businesses reported experiencing a shortage of workers, and around half of businesses in the hospitality and construction sectors struggled to fill vacancies.
“The future of our business is seriously at risk. We are already being forced into reduced operating hours and staff pressures are making this worse all the time. We are able to offer really attractive terms to work here and staff would love to move here, but it is almost impossible due to housing shortages.”
This is a dire situation. Not for any grand aims of economic recovery or growth, but simply because it’s affecting people’s ability to live day-by-day, let alone live well.
Private rented tenancy legislation has had a negative impact on availability of worker housing, especially in rural areas. It’s a complex area, and we would recommend a review between Scottish Government and estates and landlords, to ensure that appropriate amendments are implemented which work for all. There’s a clear need for short-term, emergency accommodation to support businesses, which cannot be supported through schemes such as the Rural & Islands Housing Fund.
We therefore need to come up with ways of assisting and enabling accommodation for workers. Between SOSCH and Communities Housing Trust, we believe we have developed some of the solutions and would welcome the opportunity to explore these and implement them on a wider scale, with appropriate support.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this issue can be tackled effectively through a community-led approach.
Housing workers in rural and fragile communitiesIn rural, remote or fragile communities, affordable homes close to key employers help attract and develop a skilled workforce. Such homes also build resilience by creating diverse work opportunities for residents.
Some large employers have historically provided housing for their workers; some did so until the pandemic when the homes were sold off; some are looking into it now as a pressing issue.
An alternative approach would be businesses and staff, or indeed just communities more broadly, coming together to jointly provide homes.
The affordable, high quality, healthy homes and spaces that community-led housing creates (see our previous blogs, for example here and here) help make remote or rural communities attractive places to live and work.
They also help combat urban drift that many of the communities we work with are experiencing. This includes a concerning outward migration of younger people, unable to find jobs and housing, leaving behind ageing populations vulnerable to reductions in services as there are simply not enough working-age people to keep them going.
How it works
It’s a simple idea to live near where you work. Living locally reduces commutes, prioritises green transport networks, keeps spending power locally, and frees up time for other things, increasing quality of life. It supports the principles of a ’20-minute neighbourhood’ with positive climate impacts and promotes circular economies. In reality, this simple idea may present a huge challenge for rural communities.
Community-led housing presents a feasible solution to these complex environmental and economic issues.
A main benefit of community-led housing is that it can be flexible and responsive to peoples’ needs, including shifts in work patterns, commuting, and spacial requirements. For example, it may include a community hub or co-working space to support the changing needs of working people throughout the ongoing pandemic.
The community development trust All Roads Lead to Whithorn (ARLTW) in Whithorn, Dumfries has refurbished two family flats on the high street for local people. At the same time, ARLTW is refurbishing the Town Hall into a Hub and Bunkhouse that includes flexible space and a learning hub to support the community’s co-working and learning needs. The Hub is projected to provide up to £100,000 worth of community and tourism benefits each year, with many visitors attracted by the popular Whithorn Way pilgrimage.
12 community-led affordable homes in Tomintoul in the Cairngorms have just opened for applications, a partnership between Tomintoul & Glenlivet Development Trust and the Communities Housing Trust. Futureproofing includes energy efficiency measures, PV panels and EV chargepoints, as well as homeworking space in some homes, in response to community needs.
In addition, community-owned housing often provides rental income that can be reinvested within the local community.
In Colonsay, there are just two pupils left in the primary school. There are fewer than 10 residents aged 18-30, and the island is struggling to keep the ferry, plane and fire services going (on top of ‘normal’ jobs, of course). Over 40% of housing stock on the island is now holiday- or second-homes, with very few options for available affordable housing stock. The issue here is overemployment with the threat of services closing, leaving working-age residents stretched to breaking point.
Outside the main settlement of Scalasaig, the Communities Housing Trust negotiated a sale of land from the estate, and work has begun on up to 24 affordable homes in partnership with Colonsay Community Development Company. All these homes will be protected for use by the local community, and their affordability will also be protected in perpetuity. A second site will provide new commercial units and workshop space. The community are leasing some of the land to MOWI, who will provide an additional three houses of multiple occupancy for their own staff, as recruiting and retaining staff was a recurring issue for the company’s Colonsay site. As and when MOWI decide they don’t need the homes anymore, they will return to community use.
The four new Police Station homes in Langholm delivered by the Eskdale Foundation and SOSCH in 2021 play an important role in supporting other regeneration and repopulation efforts in the area. The Langholm Alliance, an umbrella community organisation approved by Scottish ministers to oversee the economic regeneration of Langholm by 2030, brings together 73 groups working to increase economic vibrancy in the town. This concerted effort to attract more businesses, employees, and boost the tourism industry in Langholm in the wake of its textile industry decline urgently requires affordable homes. The Old Police Station homes support the town’s wider ambitions by providing secure and attractive places to live for people moving or returning to Langholm.
SOSCH supported Wigtown & Bladnoch Community Initiative’s (WBCI) refurbishment of a former Bank of Scotland building on the Wigtown High Street. The community created two new affordable homes and a bunkhouse for 8 visitors. WBCI will employ full-time staff to manage the bunkhouse. . As Scotland’s National Book Town, tourism is important to Wigtown’s local economy, and this project means the community can directly benefit from its growth.
SOSCH is also currently supporting Glenkens and District Trust in planning the delivery of community-led housing across the region. In addition to a community housing survey that was sent to residents, SOSCH surveyed large employers in the Glenkens and District area to establish housing need and demand from their workforce. This data helps establish a picture of the housing issues key employers face when recruiting staff, as well as difficulties existing employees have in securing housing. 
One large employer in the region reported:
New staff relocating to the area have found it challenging to find affordable and available accommodation… [A]s an organisation, the lack of readily available housing could lead to potential new staff looking elsewhere.
The bottom line
Community-led housing is a sensible approach to deliver worker housing in that it not only tackles the current need in the community, but it plans for future need by working with local people, businesses and employers.
It creates affordable and long-lasting homes that attract and retain new people into the community, and supports sustainable, thriving populations and economies.
Community-led housing enables communities to prepare for the future they would like to see.
 Communities Housing Trust Report for Cairngorms Business Partnership on Multi-tenure Development for Affordable Housing, May 2022
 See https://www.mict.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Mull-and-Iona-Key-Worker-Housing-exec-summary.pdf (May 2022)
 See Cabinet Secretary Kate Forbes’ statement to Scottish Parliament, 11 January 2022: https://www.gov.scot/publications/labour-shortages-debate-cabinet-secretarys-statement/
 SOSCH Housing Needs and Demands report for Glenkens and District Trust, March 2022 available at: a7a70d_ad9c8e50d69e47e3b2938c955b4ffbad.pdf (glenkenstrust.org.uk)
At the Communities Housing Trust online EGM on 29 July 2021, we heard from Colonsay Community Development Company (CCDC) on the need for affordable housing and how a community-led approach was the solution.
We are working there with CCDC on a mixed development of housing and commercial units, crucial to the sustainability of the island community.
*Please note there are some minor technical hitches during the video above! Apologies for this.*
Read more about the Colonsay project here.
Thursday 29 July
Join us for a short online event to hear about the need for affordable housing on an island - Colonsay - and how a community-led approach was the solution. We are working there with Colonsay Community Development Company (CCDC) on a mixed development of housing and commercial units, crucial to the sustainability of island communities. The development was visited last week by Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & Islands (pictured above), who cut the first turf. Read more about the project here.
The event is free and open to all; please register below. You may also wish to join CHT as a member. Membership is free and open to any community council, community association or similar local community-based organisation. Join here.
11am: EGM (only CHT members may vote, but all are welcome to attend. The Notice and special resolution to be voted on can be viewed here.)
11.05am: Community-led housing in Colonsay: presentation by Colonsay Community Development Company
Planning permission has been granted for an initial phase of nine affordable homes on Colonsay, with more to follow, prioritising the need for long-term residential homes on the island.
The Colonsay Community Development Company (CCDC) is working in partnership with the Communities Housing Trust (CHT) to provide a much-needed and community-led mixed development of affordable housing and business units. The business units received planning permission earlier this year.
There are currently only nine social housing units and only a handful of private rentals on the island. More than 40% of the housing stock on Colonsay is used as a holiday home or for self-catering holiday accommodation. Homes regularly sell - often unadvertised - for well-above the local and national average meaning that young people and families on low and middle incomes are priced out of the market. There is no shortage of people who would like to remain on Colonsay or move in. CCDC has already received more than 20 expressions of interest in this development.
In 2020, with CHT's support, CCDC purchased two plots of land with funds from the Scottish Land Fund, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Argyll and Bute Council, and MOWI, who will fund the provision of houses for local workers. Further funding has been obtained through Inspiring Scotland, the £2m Islands Green Recovery Programme (Prògram Ath-Shlànachaidh Uaine nan Eilean), and the CCDC’s own very successful Crowdfunding campaign.
This initial phase of nine affordable homes at Scalasaig will be of mixed tenure, based on local need: affordable rent, low-cost home ownership, local worker and discounted self-build plots. A short distance away, two commercial business units will be built, as possible workshop and studio space.
Caitlin McNeill, Director, CCDC: "The future of our community rests upon affordable, accessible housing. Housing is the foundation of a person's security and a fundamental human right and, unfortunately, we know all too well the consequences when housing needs are not met.
“With the approval of the master plan, CCDC, together with the community and those to whom it matters most, will be able to continue to address the housing crisis on the island. We are extremely grateful to those who have supported and enabled us to reach this point."
John Forbes, Community-Led Housing Co-ordinator, Communities Housing Trust: “We are extremely pleased to be working with CCDC to support longer-term, working residents on Colonsay. Their dedication to this project and community is inspiring, and a positive example to other rural and island populations which may be struggling. Community-led projects can really make a world of difference to sustaining a community for generations to come.”
CHT is working in partnership with the Colonsay Community Development Company (CCDC) to provide a much-needed and community-led mixed development of affordable housing and business units.
The island is remote, with a small population of 130 people and a worrying lack of young people. This is due in part to a lack of affordable housing, as more than 40% of the island's houses are holiday/second homes, resulting in houses rarely becoming available for sale and often priced above the means of the local people when they do. This year, the primary school roll will drop from eight to four children. This is an island at breaking point, and desperately wanting to sustain a thriving community.
In 2020, with CHT's support, CCDC purchased two plots of land with funds from the Scottish Land Fund, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Argyll and Bute Council and MOWI.
The community-led project has now received a grant of £96,000 from Inspiring Scotland "to develop housing and support the electricity supply." It is one of 12 initial projects selected to benefit from the £2m Islands Green Recovery Programme (Prògram Ath-Shlànachaidh Uaine nan Eilean) under the 'Communities' strand, supporting projects that contribute to green recovery, reduce carbon emissions as well as improve the resilience, health and wellbeing for Island communities.
The initial phase of 12 affordable homes at Scalasaig will be of mixed tenure: affordable rent, low-cost home ownership, local worker and discounted self build plots. A short distance away, two commercial business units will be built, as possible workshop and studio space.
CCDC and the community of Colonsay are currently Crowdfunding £25,000 to help develop these affordable homes. Watch their wee video here, and donate any spare pennies you may have! They will be very gratefully received.
This blog features a variety of CHT’s developments and projects located throughout the central and northern Scotland. It also includes the latest news and updates regarding the Trust.