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.
We have 43,000 long-term empty homes in Scotland. We have soaring costs of building materials, and challenges of supplying them, particularly to remote or island areas. We have goals for net zero and zero waste, to help tackle the climate crisis. And we have an affordable housing crisis.
Amid all this, there is an obvious starting point: use what we have already.
Communities are best placed to take on projects to ‘recycle’ buildings, reusing materials and repurposing them to meet local needs.
Recycling for net zero
Often unattractive to commercial developers, restoring and repurposing older buildings is an important part of a more sustainable environment and meeting net zero goals. It should be considered alongside other industry priorities, including, for example, using net zero heating and energy efficiency measures, and local materials.
Especially for urban areas, where new builds and green spaces are harder to come by, repurposing empty buildings is a strategic and climate conscious way to address the housing crisis.
This opportunity is reflected in Community Right To Buy legislation, updated in 2018 to include ‘abandoned, neglected, or detrimental land.’ However, many would consider this extension underutilised, in part because of the convoluted process. CHT and SOSCH support communities through this process to bring recycling buildings into the mainstream.
Costs of building materials and challenges of supply
Following Brexit and the Covid pandemic, there has been a well-documented rise in costs of building materials. Prices of timber and steel increased by 79% and 77% respectively by September 2021. Coupled with, for example, attempting to build on an island, and additional transport costs of materials by ferry, reduced ferry sailings due to bad or winter weather and associated delays, this is a pressing challenge.
In real terms, all this has led to a 20-40% increase in development costs.
There is therefore an obvious case to be made, not only for supplying home-grown materials through collaborations between crofters, farmers and landowners, but for reusing and recycling as many materials as we can. A third crucial aspect is then actively tackling the skills and labour shortage, particularly keenly felt in rural areas, by creating more opportunities for implementing a recycling, circular economy approach to construction.
Raising confidence and spirits
Beyond these practical points, there is value in what we call ‘placemaking’ – communities having a role in shaping where they live, strengthening relationships between people and place, having pride in where you live and raising confidence for exploring what changes are possible.
Many of the vacant buildings in urban areas are linked to services or businesses ending, and high street decline. Therefore these buildings are often central, visible, and can greatly affect local pride and spirits – and the economy – if they sit empty.
In rural areas, the empty buildings may be schools, or houses – buildings important to generations of people. There’s often a sense of sadness at decline within the community, as an indicator of wider problems of rural depopulation.
Community-led projects to re-use and re-purpose buildings are not just environmentally-conscious approaches to housing, but also approaches that can appreciate the personality, character, and history of a place where communities become responsible stewards.
In doing so communities demonstrate model ways of how best to integrate historical places with their long-term future in mind.
Recycling buildings provide an opportunity to integrate all of the above.
SOSCH has supported the following projects:
Langholm Old Police Station: An award-winning project in which a former police station lain empty in town centre for 15 years before the Eskdale Foundation turned it into 4 affordable homes (family, single-resident, and fully accessible homes).
Wigtown: the Wigtown & Bladnoch Community Initiative turned a former Bank of Scotland, which vacated the high street in 2017, into two homes and a community-run bunkhouse for visitors.
Whithorn: All Roads Lead to Whithorn (ARLTW) redeveloped a former Grapes Hotel, derelict for over 30 years on the historic main street, into two family homes (with a phase two: two additional fully accessible homes at the back of the site and landscaping). ARLTW is also renovating the Town Hall.
Communities Housing Trust has facilitated or is undertaking the following projects:
Glendale, Skye: CHT is a key partner to renovate and convert the old Borrodale school and schoolhouse in Glendale into 5-6 affordable homes, alongside the Glendale Trust, Historic Environment Scotland, Local Energy Scotland and Zero Waste Scotland, amongst others, with a focus on reusing materials, boosting local skills and rural trades, and energy efficiency.
Achiltibuie: with Coigach Community Development Company, CHT converted the old schoolhouse into 2 affordable homes for the local community, with funding support from the Nationwide Foundation and the Scottish Government’s Rural Housing Fund. It was the first successful completed project to receive RHF funds.
Acharachle: CHT worked with Acharacle Community Company to renovate the old school and schoolhouse, as well as a derelict empty home, Druim Garbh. CHT developed an innovative long lease model which allowed the home to be refurbished to a high standard.
In all of these cases, had the community not taken control of the buildings and led the conversion into housing, the properties would very likely remain empty and degrading.
Communities are taking on a vital role and undertaking work that others will not, and must be supported in doing this important work.
These projects require specialised architectural vision to reshape an existing building into unique homes with character, with support from organisations such as Historic Environment Scotland, the Architectural Heritage Fund, and Construction Innovation Centre Scotland.
Challenges such as Brexit, Covid, material costs and the energy crisis are causing regulatory bodies to be more cautious, when in fact these are the exact reasons why urgent and flexible cooperation is needed whilst there is a desperate demand for more housing.
Both SOSCH and CHT will continue to support communities to take on projects on empty homes and vacant buildings, as one crucial aspect of tackling Scotland’s housing and climate crises.
 See Scottish Empty Homes Partnership: https://emptyhomespartnership.scot/
 Community Right to Buy (A,N, & D): https://www.gov.scot/policies/land-reform/community-right-to-buy-abandoned-neglected-or-detrimental-land/
 See RICS article, 19 Nov 2021: https://www.rics.org/uk/news-insight/latest-news/news-opinion/construction-materials-cost-increases-reach-40-year-high/
 Communities Housing Trust projects at March 2022; own calculations. This correlates with the wider sector, see e.g. https://www.constructionnews.co.uk/supply-chain/how-sharply-rising-materials-prices-have-rocked-the-sector-28-02-2022/
Glendale welcomed local MSP Kate Forbes last week, as she visited the community-led renovation of Borrodale school and schoolhouse. Historic Environment Scotland and Crown Estate Scotland recently awarded grants to further develop the buildings into much-needed affordable housing.
The project to restore and convert the derelict buildings into 5-6 affordable homes is led by the Glendale Trust and supported by various partners including the Communities Housing Trust, Lochalsh & Skye Housing Association, HIE, University of the Highlands & Islands, and Zero Waste Scotland.
Ms Forbes visited the site to understand firsthand how the innovative approach to retrofitting the buildings for the climate crisis will also provide benefits and opportunities for the local community.
The project aims to minimise waste, reuse and recycle materials, and support and encourage local rural trades.
Kate Forbes MSP said: “Housing is probably one of the most frequently raised issues with me, showing how important it is, and as the constituency MSP for Skye I am well aware of the pressures locally.
“If we want families, and especially our young people, to remain on the island then it is absolutely critical that they have access to warm, safe and affordable homes.
“Against that backdrop, I was delighted to visit Borrodale School and meet with representatives of both the Glendale Trust and Communities Housing Trust.
“They are to be congratulated for their joint initiative and I look forward to these plans becoming a reality.”
In March, the project received a grant of £30,000 from Historic Environment Scotland (HES) to deliver traditional masonry and lime render work to stop the building deteriorating further and to dry it out in preparation for renovation.
HES are supporting the refurbishment and conversion of Borrodale School and Schoolhouse, particularly the climate change adaptations using traditional materials and new energy efficiency measures needed in a retrofit of an older building.
Roger Curtis, Technical Research Manager at Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said: “We’re pleased to be able to support this project to provide much needed additional housing stock through the retrofit of these buildings. The school and its schoolhouse played a key role in the community and through this project will create a new chapter in their story as well as contributing to the community and our broader aims of helping demonstrate thermal upgrade to older buildings as well as providing greener housing through the reuse and retrofit of existing building stock.”
A further Community Capacity grant of £20,000 from Crown Estate Scotland, delivered in partnership with Foundation Scotland, will help develop the plans for the fuel-efficient homes.
The Borrodale project will act as a blueprint for community renovations to address repopulation, skills development in rural areas, reuse and recycling of materials, environmental concerns, and economic growth and opportunities.
The Glendale Trust purchased the school in 2014 with funding support from the Scottish Land Fund. Further funding for the renovation and conversion plans has been given by the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Rural Communities Into Action Fund delivered by Inspiring Scotland, and HIE.
There are over 43,000 long-term empty homes across Scotland, and an urgent need for affordable housing. The renovation will focus on transforming an eyesore into an asset, providing housing for the local community as well as supporting economic growth of the region.
It is expected that the development will provide a mix of affordable tenures based on demand, such as social rent equivalent, mid-market rent, low-cost home ownership, or housing for keyworkers.
This mix allows more flexibility for a small community, allowing for differing financial capabilities and changing circumstances.
Clare Gray, Chair of The Glendale Trust said: “We are delighted that Historic Environment Scotland appreciate the value of the buildings and have granted us the funds to repair the stonework and the roof in readiness for the refurbishment. This will give the building a new lease of life and bring affordable homes to Glendale.”
Ronnie MacRae, CEO of Communities Housing Trust, said: “We are delighted to have the support of Historic Environment Scotland and Crown Estate Scotland on this project. They both recognise the importance not just of the buildings, but what the buildings could mean to the future of Glendale, and the wider community. It will be an example of community-led, climate-friendly restoration which communities across the country can replicate and use to boost local skills and support a circular economy. We were very pleased to share these plans with Kate Forbes.”
Scourie Community Development Company (SCDC) plans to purchase almost three acres of land in Scourie near the primary school, with grant support from the Scottish Land Fund.
The purchase, from landowner Alan Balfour, which will take place later this year, and will allow the community to build a number of affordable homes as well as new commercial space.
The project follows a survey on housing need undertaken last year by the Communities Housing Trust on behalf of SCDC, which showed high demand for affordable homes. In particular, businesses are struggling to house staff, impacting on the local economy.
Communities Housing Trust further supported SCDC with a feasibility study in 2021, and is continuing to help facilitate the development process.
The first phase to build eight affordable homes of different sizes and tenures and two commercial work units should begin next year. The site is currently common grazings and permission will be sought for a change of use. Planning permission will also have to be granted before construction can commence.
A future phase providing homes of mixed tenures, including private and affordable homes, will also see wide benefits for the whole community.
Angus Mackay, vice chairman of SCDC said: “The lack of locally affordable housing has contributed to the declining numbers of children in the school and to the decline in the number of economically active people in the area. For the community to be sustainable and thrive, the population needs to grow. The award from the Scottish Land Fund will enable SCDC to move our exciting project nearer to reality. We also would like to thank the Communities Housing Trust for their tremendous support.”
Ronnie MacRae, CEO of Communities Housing Trust, said: “We’re delighted to be working with SCDC to provide not just affordable housing, but wider social and economic benefits too. This community-led, mixed development model is often so much more suited to smaller, more rural communities and we are extremely pleased to continue working with SCDC to further develop the site. We’d like to thank the Scottish Land Fund for their support, and congratulate the community on getting to this stage. Well done!”
THE LIGHTS are now burning brightly in Staffin as six families have moved into their new homes.
The three-bedroom houses are now fully occupied by the new residents of the Taighean a’ Chaiseil development in Stenscholl.
It is the first affordable housing development in the Taobh Sear since 1999 and was led by Staffin Community Trust in response to the falling population and primary school roll and spiralling house prices, which made it difficult for families to compete.
The site, close to the Kilmartin River and a short walking distance from Bun Sgoil Stafainn, was sold by the Stenscholl crofting township and Scottish Ministers to SCT in 2020.
SCT and its partners, the Communities Housing Trust (CHT) and Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association (LSHA), delivered the £1.6 million project which includes a new health centre and business premises.
Around 12 adults and eight children have moved into the new homes. Staffin’s population had reduced by 40 people (6.6 per cent) from 610 residents to 568 people in just four years, prior to SCT starting the project feasibility back in 2014.
SCT director Donald MacDonald said: “It is great to see this project moving towards completion after many years of hard work by the trust. Unfortunately, this project does not address the underlying issues, faced by many young people and families, in relation to spiralling property costs, lack of affordable housing and general investment in rural communities. We are grateful for the help we have received from public agencies and The Scottish Government but there is a need to find easier and more effective ways to help those most in need and allow communities to control to have a stronger say in the process.
New Taighean a’ Chaiseil resident Paul Young said: “We’re happy that the children are in safe walking distance to school. It’s nice that these houses have been built together in Staffin, it's in the perfect location for families, giving the children more independence with being able to walk to school and play with their friends. The houses are very cosy and enjoy an amazing view. We are looking forward to making our house our home.”
Another new resident Karen Hutchison added: “I love the wee community feeling between all the residents. It’s so lovely seeing all the kids popping into each other’s’ houses, outside playing and walking to school together.”
Scottish Government grant funding was crucial with support from the Land Fund enabling the site to be transferred to community ownership, and the Rural and Islands Housing Fund a key contributor to the capital package.
Housing secretary Shona Robison MSP said: “Good quality, affordable housing is essential to help attract and retain people in our remote and rural communities. The Scottish Government provided over £650,000 through our Rural and Islands Housing Fund and mainstream Affordable Housing Supply Programme which made it possible for the community to take on this ambitious project and deliver six affordable homes.
“The Rural and Islands Housing Fund has been described as a ‘game changer’ for community-led housing development, increasing the supply of affordable housing. Taken together with our Affordable Housing Supply Programme, more than 6,000 affordable homes in rural and island communities have been delivered between 2016-17 and 2020/21.”
Skye architects Rural Design worked on the project which was constructed by island firm, James MacQueen Building Contractors Ltd.
The new community-owned health centre and business premises are due to be tenanted in March and April by NHS Highland and the local aquaculture company, Organic Sea Harvest, respectively.
Key funders also included LEADER, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the SSE Sustainable Development Fund, the Ecology Building Society, the Quaker Housing Trust and a crowdfunding campaign, plus a guarantor loan from Highland Council.
The homes are a mix of affordable rent, managed by LSHA and SCT, and discounted sale, managed by CHT, where the affordability is protected in perpetuity for the local community through the Rural Housing Burden. People with connections to the area were prioritised as a way to promote the ongoing sustainability of rural communities.
SCT will use the rental income from the properties to manage and maintain the new development. It is hoped to organise a formal opening event in early summer.
Ronnie MacRae, CHT chief executive, said: “CHT are delighted to have been able to support this community-led project from beginning to end, developing the concept of mixed use, mixed partner site including the innovative business plan and helping to acquire the land. Congratulations to SCT who have delivered this mixed development of homes and amenities that will enable a stronger more resilient Staffin and provide a template and confidence for many other similar communities to follow. Key to success was the support of Scottish Government and Highland Council amongst others who recognised the need to provide a range of affordable housing tenures, for flexibility and choice, alongside working with HIE and the NHS to provide essential amenities that will improve social and economic opportunities going forward.”
Dr Audrey Sinclair, LSHA chair said: “I wish to congratulate Staffin Community Trust and all their partners involved in this unique mixed use and tenure development. SCT rose admirably to the many challenges from inception to completion of this project and the housing association is so pleased to have played a part in assisting SCT achieve their vision.”
The new development was designed to complement the landscape with Rural Design’s Alan Dickson mindful of the National Scenic Area designation which blankets Staffin. It includes significant stonework with walls and a gable end feature and the use of timber and traditional slated roofs.
Mr Dickson said: “It’s fantastic to see families moving in. It has been quite a journey for the Staffin Community Trust and their partners to achieve this, and shows what can happen when a group comes together, and doesn’t take no for an answer. We are so pleased to have been able to help and demonstrate that new housing can be part of our areas of outstanding natural beauty. Hopefully this can now encourage other rural communities to do the same.”
James MacQueen, of James MacQueen Building Contractors Ltd, said: “We are delighted to have worked on such an important local housing, health and business project in north Skye that supports and encourages community sustainability and growth.
"The first new affordable housing development in Staffin for 23 years, achieved through the dedication of the Staffin Community Trust supported by Communities Housing Trust, Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association and project funders - it demonstrates what can be achieved when we collaborate and work together. We are immensely proud to be involved in delivering the much-needed affordable housing, creating homes for future generations and reinvigorating the local community. We wish the new Taighean a’ Chaiseil residents all the very best in their new homes.”
The community-led development of five homes and five self-build plots was granted full planning permission in January.
Raasay Development Trust (RDT) is leading the project in the main village of Inverarish with support from the Communities Housing Trust (CHT).
The development will include two homes for social rent with Lochalsh & Skye Housing Association, and three community-owned homes for affordable rent with RDT. There will also be five affordable self-build plots, two with RDT and three with CHT. All the plots will be discounted through the Rural Housing Burden, which assures affordability in perpetuity for the local community.
Raasay has seen an increase of demand for affordable housing. A recent review of the Highland Housing Registers demand and supply tool indicated that at least 32 people are on the waiting list with Raasay as a preferred choice. These new and much-needed homes will prioritise people with a link or need to live on the island.
The land was purchased by RDT from North Raasay Sheep Stock Club, with funding from the Scottish Land Fund, and with CHT’s support.
Further key funding has been obtained from the Scottish Government’s Rural & Islands Housing Fund, and the Ecology Building Society.
Skye-based James MacQueen Building Contractors have been appointed, and it is hoped the work will start on site in spring.
Chair of Raasay Development Trust, Iain Hector Ross said: "Raasay has a clear and present need for new affordable housing stock to meet the growing demand from young islanders choosing to stay and others wanting to move to the island for increasing work opportunities. We are fortunate that the island is enjoying an era of growing economic confidence and opportunity, where young people now see a long-term future for themselves here. Quality housing is vital to support that future and we hope that the delivery of these new homes is just the first step towards providing every young islander with an affordable option."
Ronnie MacRae, CEO of CHT, said: “Congratulations to the Raasay community for reaching the next milestone in this project. This development will provide homes for 10 families and help stop outward migration from the island, as well as helping the school and wider community to thrive. We’d like to thank the Scottish Government for their funding support through which local businesses and the economy can also benefit and is therefore creating more resilient island communities.”
Dr Audrey Sinclair, Chair of Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association said: “I am delighted that this project will start in Spring this year. The joint working amongst RDT, CHT and Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association has to be applauded in reaching this stage. It is so important for our communities to achieve their visions and affordable housing has a fundamental part to play in making a positive impact on community sustainment.”
To express interest in the homes or self-build plots, please register your details at: www.chtrust.co.uk/future-opportunities.html
The disused school and schoolhouse in Glendale, Skye has received a grant of over £47,000 from the Scottish Government’s Rural Communities in Action Fund to undertake further feasibility, design and development work.
The community-led project to renovate the school and schoolhouse into 5-6 affordable homes is being led by the Glendale Trust, in partnership with the Communities Housing Trust.
This project is supported by the Rural Communities Ideas into Action fund, supported by the Scottish Government and delivered by Inspiring Scotland to encourage and support innovative approaches to community-led local development in rural communities across Scotland.
The Glendale Trust purchased the school in 2014 with funding support from the Scottish Land Fund.
£10,000 has also been provided by the Architectural Heritage Fund towards early-stage costs.
A standard renovation for the Borrodale buildings was found to be unviable, so new and innovative approaches are being looked at, particularly in terms of retrofitting for the climate crisis and to maximise benefits and opportunities for the local community.
There are 39,000 long-term empty homes across Scotland, and an urgent need for affordable housing. The renovation will focus on transforming an eyesore into an asset, providing housing for the local community and supporting economic growth of the region.
It is expected that the development will provide a mix of affordable tenures based on demand, such as social rent equivalent, mid-market rent, low-cost home ownership, or housing for keyworkers. This mix allows more flexibility for a small community, allowing for differing financial capabilities and changing circumstances.
Clare Gray, Chair of The Glendale Trust, said: “Borrodale School and Schoolhouse are embedded in the landscape and in the collective memory of generations of people from Glendale. We are delighted that the Communities Housing Trust, the Scottish Government’s Rural Communities in Action Fund and the AHF also recognise the value of the buildings and together we can now work to create affordable housing within their walls.”
Ronnie MacRae, CEO of Communities Housing Trust, said: “We are delighted to be supporting the Glendale Trust in renovating the old school, as it’ll provide much needed housing for the community. It will also be an example of community-led, climate-friendly restoration which communities across the country can replicate and use to boost local skills and economy. The homes will help ensure the community thrives into the future, and the support of Scottish Government and others are key here so we’d like to thank them for that.”
Jo Robertson, Scotland Support Officer, Architectural Heritage Fund, said: “Thanks to funding from the William Grant Foundation, the Architectural Heritage Fund is pleased to provide grant towards the re-purposing of Borrodale Schoolhouse. This project will use both traditional and new technologies to improve environmental performance and will find design solutions that can be replicated to similar buildings across the Highlands.”
Our development with Staffin Community Trust was featured on the BBC's Disclosure programme on Monday, in an episode about the difficulties finding housing, particularly for younger and low-income folk.
There's no doubt that finding affordable, quality housing is a huge struggle for many rural communities across Scotland.
So what are the positives? The Taighean a' Chaisheil development in Staffin is a community-led and community-owned development, with sale prices and rents set lower than the area average. The community trust decides an allocation policy for the homes (where allocations are made independently of the trust and community, importantly), and the homes for sale have a Rural Housing Burden attached, which means the discounted price applies to all future sales, and again local folk are prioritised in the allocation process.
Yes, it may not be enough homes just now, and it may take longer than standard commercial developments BUT:
We want this to be seen as a positive example of WHAT'S POSSIBLE: a community taking the future into their own hands, finding partners to help make it happen, and doing something about it - as a way to alleviate immediate need; to prove it works, which helps make the case for larger scale projects; and to inspire confidence in other communities to address their own needs and aspirations.
In terms of possible solutions, Staffin Community Trust are already demonstrating it on the ground. And there is such a range of housing options available now, beyond social or mid-market rent - for example Low Cost Home Ownership (as demonstrated in Staffin), or discounted self-build.
Together in Staffin we'll have housed 6 more local families, provided new space for small businesses, and a new NHS health centre. It's a start...
(In addition, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Kilbeg was also mentioned in the programme - we're working in partnership with them on a rather exciting project, site pictured below. More about that very shortly!)
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.
Earlier this year, Applecross Community Company successfully secured surplus land from NHS Highland and started building community owned housing. The project received funding from the Scottish Land Fund, SSE Sustainable Development Fund and Rural & Islands Housing Fund to build 3 homes adjacent to the surgery.
CHT are project managing the development on behalf of ACC and look forward to the completion of the homes later this year. Older residents of Applecross will be given priority in allocations to the properties, although anyone in the community and further afield can apply.
For many years it has been difficult to locate a suitable site within the community to take forward a housing project. The site beside the surgery was identified by ACC and they led the initial discussions with the local NHS service providers. CHT helped to shape the project and supported ACC to develop the proposals. The Rural & Islands Housing Fund made it possible to take forward an affordable housing project, with ACC also investing from their local renewables project Applejuice http://www.applecrosshydro.scot/
The delivery of this project has paved the way for to ACC purchase 2 more areas of land in the community from the Applecross Trust. Watch this space for more exciting #communityledhousing #woodlandcrofts
As the community-led mixed development in Tomintoul progresses, we thought it would be good to share a quick update with you all.
Watch the short video above for an overview, and update on site progress. It's great to see the project coming along, particularly in a National Park and the extra challenges this brings.
Tomintoul is a village in Moray, within the Cairngorms National Park. Attractive with tourists, it has a high prevalence of second homes, and lack of available long-term housing.
We worked with the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Development Trust to undertake community consultation on housing need, which clearly showed that there was a demand for good quality affordable housing within the community.
It was also clear from responses that the lack of housing was a barrier to families remaining, and new families moving in, which was having a negative effect on local businesses, community groups, and the school rolls.
The former secondary school building, derelict for over 20 years and an eyesore in the village, was identified as a potential site for development. We supported TGDT to acquire the site, which was passed into community ownership in November 2020, with funding from the Scottish Land Fund.
With support from Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE), the school building was demolished in early 2021, and construction will begin in spring.
We continue to provide development support for the construction of 12 affordable homes, including several live/work units. The homes, of differing sizes, are designed around a shared social space, to address social isolation and build community spirit.
With TGDT, we continue to monitor the range of tenures required, which could include low-cost home ownership, and a range of affordable rents. With the live/work units too, this flexibility will help cater for a range of needs and help ensure long-term sustainability.
It is hoped that the development will help increase the school roll, and ensure the longevity of the village well into the future.
Read about more community-led projects we're working on here.
To discuss what your own community requires, feel free to contact us for an informal chat.
Construction began last week on two new community-led affordable houses to rent in Cannich. The project has been driven by Strathglass & Affric Community Company, who were keen to see an empty building put to better use, for the good of the local community.
NHS Highland, who owned the nurses’s house, transferred it to the Community Company under the Community Asset Transfer scheme. The land transfer was completed in February 2021 with funding from the Scottish Land Fund.
The new houses will meet a need for high-quality, affordable accommodation within the local area. The project is being led by Strathglass & Affric Company Company, with project management and development support from the Communities Housing Trust, and funding from the Scottish Government’s Rural & Island Housing Fund, Quaker Housing Trust, Highland Council, SSE Developing Communities Fund, Soirbheas, and the Strathglass Community Fund. The houses will continue to be offered at affordable rents for future generations, and will employ local contractors MC Builders during the build process.
The doctor’s surgery, which was previously housed in the extension to the nurse’s house, moved into fit-for-purpose premises within the renovated Community Hall six years ago. The Hall is owned and managed by Strathglass & Affric Community Company and is a hub for Cannich residents and visitors alike.
Alan Hood, Chair, Strathglass & Affric Community Company, who has worked tirelessly to develop the project: “The new 2 and 3 bedroomed homes will be owned by the Strathglass and Affric Community Company on behalf of the people of Strathglass and the houses will be offered at affordable rent for many generations to come helping people to stay in and contribute to our fantastic Community. We hope we will be able to retain families in the area, which will also help keep the school going. It’s been a real joint effort with so many organisations and funders pitching in, it’s been great and we look forward to seeing how the build progresses!”
Ronnie MacRae, CEO of Communities Housing Trust: “Small community-led developments such as this one can be absolutely crucial to sustaining rural communities – sometimes it’s the only option. A few houses combined with work opportunities and services can help keep a community alive, with wider social and economic benefits brought to the area. We’d like to congratulate Strathglass & Affric Community Community and are extremely glad to be supporting them in building these new affordable homes.”
Dr Tim Allison, NHS Highland’s Director of Public Health: “Affordable good quality housing is a vital asset for all communities, and it is a significant factor in improvement in health and wellbeing. We are delighted about the work undertaken to transfer the ownership of the property.”
Completion is anticipated in Autumn 2021. Expressions of interest in the homes can be made with the Communities Housing Trust: https://www.chtrust.co.uk/future-opportunities.html
The Assynt Development Trust has bought 55 acres of former glebe land from the Church of Scotland, with support from the Scottish Land Fund.
The purchase, which was finalised at the end of March, marks the next step of a 15-year community-led search to find suitable land for building much-needed affordable homes for the local community, as well as other facilities.
With the land now in community ownership, the Assynt Development Trust is hoping the site will deliver multiple benefits to the community, and plan to hold further consultations in the local area once Covid restrictions are eased.
The site, situated on the road towards Glencanisp Lodge, was identified after a thorough process of surveys, housing need evaluations, and careful thought and planning.
Initial ideas for the site are being explored, to potentially include affordable homes, an all-abilities path network, commercial work units, and education and training facilities. The Communities Housing Trust supported the community with the land acquisition, and will continue to help facilitate the development process.
Willie Jack, Chair of Assynt Development Trust: “We are really pleased that the land purchase has now gone through, and we can now begin to address some of the issues facing our community, such as the need for affordable homes for Assynt residents. We are very keen that people have a chance to pitch their ideas in, for what they need and want in Lochinver. As everything is still at an early stage, and with the site secured, we can work on developing the site into what local people want for it, now and into the future.”
Ronnie MacRae, CEO of Communities Housing Trust: “This is an exciting opportunity to provide not just affordable housing, but wider social and economic community benefits too. This community-led, mixed development model is often so much more suited to smaller, more rural communities and we are extremely pleased to continue working with the Trust and the wider community to further develop the site. We’d like to thank the Scottish Land Trust and congratulate the community on the buyout, and recognise all the hard work that’s been put in to get to this stage. Well done!”
The Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust has had previous experience with renovating empty properties in order to provide great affordable accommodation to local families and individuals in rural communities. For this reason, Laggan Community Trading Company contacted HSCHT for their assistance with the project. HSCHT managed the project, from sending out the original tender documentation and assessing submissions, right up until the property was ready for a new individual or family to move in.
Leasing The Property -
An agreement was put in place between Laggan Community Trading Company and the Highland Council, which stated that upon completion of the renovation, Highland Council would manage and let the property.
Funding The Project -
Although LCTC had some reserves to put towards the renovation project, the majority of the works was funded by Highland Council, who provided a £15,000 grant, and a £15,000 loan. The loan is interest-free, and allows for a total of 5 years before it has to be repaid. This £30,000 contributed massively to the overall renovation costs.
Both the grant and loan were able to be drawn-down at various stages throughout the project. Another large benefit to making the project viable, was that due to the property being empty for over 2 years, only 5% VAT was to be charged on any works, as opposed to 20%. This proved to provide a massive reduction in the overall cost of the project.
The Tendering Process -
It was important to the project to use local contractors. For this reason HSCHT contacted a number of local contractors within the area to gauge who may be interested We then issued the tender documentation, before assessing and deciding on a small local contractor who would undertake the whole project along with his chosen subcontractors.
The Renovation -
There was a vast amount of work carried out on the property during its renovation. This included everything from massively increasing the thermal mass through additional
wall and roof insulation, to complete redecoration, relining, painting and decorating and re-dressing of internal doors. Old brick cupboards were demolished, including the removal of asbestos, and a completely new kitchen was installed. Plumbing work and a complete re-wire of the property also took place. New lighting fixtures, extractor fans, fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors were installed too.
A large part of the renovation was the installing of completely new roof sarking, felt and slates.
In order to increase energy efficiency of the property, new high performance uPVC double glazed windows were put in the upstairs bedroom, which previously did not have escape windows that met building standards. New storage heaters were installed throughout the property, and a woodburning stove, hearth and metal chimney liner were put in place.
Externally, repair work was done to the chimney, new rainwater goods were introduced, a coal bunker was demolished, and the whole render and external woodwork was painted.
Towards the completion of the renovation, Highland Council inspected the property to ensure that it was up to their standard, which highlighted a few snagging issues which were not considered originally. The project was completed in the spring of 2016 and is now managed and let by the Highland Council to a young local family. HSCHT monitored the project throughout the process, and Laggan Community Trading Company were incredibly pleased with the final outcome.
This is another great example, of how small community led groups, the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust, and local and statutory authorities such as the Highland Council can work together to turn empty properties into great affordable family homes, in areas where accommodation options are few.
In rural communities around the Highlands such as Strathmashie, people are increasingly being forced to leave their families, jobs and friends behind in search of a suitable home. In this particular case, making an affordable home available to a young family with two children, provides many benefits to the surrounding community, including increasing the local school roll.
In the first of this three part blog regarding the recently renovated property in Acharacle, owned by the Acharacle Community Company, I aim to discuss the background of the project as we gear up for our big Open Day next week (Wednesday 15th of July) which will mark the projects official completion.
In the Highlands there are numerous communities and small rural villages and towns which are home to a number of empty properties, remaining uninhabited. Renovating empty homes is something The Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust believes greatly in, as it is yet another way that we are able to provide affordable housing solutions to rural communities around the north of Scotland. Despite the current housing shortage, the UK has around 260,000 long term empty homes, with a large number of empty commercial properties which could be used as homes.
Community Owned Property
Druim Garbh, is a timber-framed, three-bedroom detached dwelling house that was built circa 1976. The community owned property had many uses since it was built, however over recent years had been left empty to deteriorate. Although the house was still standing and structurally stable, it required much renovation before it could provide as a good home for a member or family within the community of Acharacle.
A minute of agreement and a lease is in place between HSCHT the Acharacle Community Company. This allows HSCHT to manage the property on their behalf for a period of 21 years after which the home reverts to the control of the community company.
HSCHT intends to lease the home to tenants which fit with the agreed allocations policy on a Short Assured Tenancy basis.
Environmental, economic and social sustainability are all qualities which HSCHT believes are very important to modern housing provision. In HSCHT’s quest to secure affordable housing solutions around the north of Scotland, we also attempt to create environmentally friendly homes. Specified in the tender document was the need for the house to meet an overall standard of energy performance. In this case, that standard in terms of Building Standards is ‘Bronze Active Standard’
Bronze Active Standard – This is the baseline level where the dwelling meets the functional standards set out in Sections 1 – 6 of this [Building Standards Domestic 2013] Handbook, but in addition the dwelling includes the use of a low and zero carbon generating technology (LZCGT) in respect of meeting Standard 6.1 within Section 6, Energy. This level is primarily to assist local authorities to meet their obligations under Section 72 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 by identifying the use of LZCGT. In this respect, LZCGTs include: wind turbines, water turbines, heat pumps (all varieties), solar thermal panels, photovoltaic panels, combined heat and power units (fired by low emission sources), fuel cells, biomass boilers/stoves and biogas.’
Another key aspect of the project was the introduction of a trainee element. The provision of training and jobs to young people around the Highlands is another very important part of the work HSCHT undertake. We even have our own construction skills project – The Cairngorm Skills Project. (http://www.cairngormsskillsproject.org/)
The Nationwide Foundation were also hoping that the project would allow for a trainee to work on the renovation.
Thanks to financial aid from The Highland Council, HSCHT were able to fund a trainee position. The young trainee, who is local to Acharacle, has been working as a second man to the main joiner working on the renovation, providing him with a vast amount of experience as he develops many different skills. He will be starting college later in the year to gain further knowledge in the subject as he works towards a gaining a qualification. The experience gained working on the Druim Garbh project, will hopefully provide him with a great boost as he begins his studies.
HSCHT’s own graduate trainee, who has a MA in Architecture has also been helping to project manage the refurbishment of the property.
The contractor for the project was chosen through a tender process. The tender document was sent to a number of local contractors, with S & K MacDonald Homes being chosen as the successful contractor.
HSCHT then worked out the final details of the renovation work with Kenneth Macdonald of S & K MacDonald homes, assessing the various options for things such as heating etc. The contractor worked very closely with HSCHT to allow us to achieve an affordable project that fit well with the funding that had been made available to us by the Nationwide Foundation.
UPCOMING OPEN DAY
Keep a look out for Part 2 and Part 3 of this Blog over the next couple of weeks.
One blog will take a further look at the property and what renovation works have been carried out. As well as a look at how the property achieves its high Energy Performance Level.
The other will showcase the completed home, as well as recap our Open Day.
For more information on the project or our upcoming Open Day, please get it touch with me via firstname.lastname@example.org
The Nationwide Foundation
This is the reason the Nationwide Foundation set up their Empty Homes Fund in late 2013. The Nationwide Foundation is a registered charity set up in 1997 by Nationwide Building Society that since its creation, has awarded over £30 million to other charities across the UK. This funding allows organisations such as HSCHT to turn these empty properties into habitable homes. The fund was designed to bring empty properties into use for people in housing need and also to look at solutions to the challenges which currently curtail more renovation. HSCHT applied to the fund to help to refurbish and bring two homes back into use in the Highlands. Druim Garbh is the first completed home under this scheme.
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.