How affordable housing can save rural services and communities

Building affordable homes in rural areas can help to maintain vital services for local communities.

The importance of rural services for communities

Services in rural areas, such as schools and pubs, are the pillars of rural community life. But these services have been increasingly at risk of closing where rural areas have suffered from lack of investment in new affordable homes. Without this investment, it is difficult for families to grow and remain in the same area, and more difficult for people to move to these areas, putting the long-term sustainability of local businesses at risk.

Rural life has a lot to offer – schools in rural areas have a higher proportion of pupils leaving with five GCSEs graded A*-C2, and life expectancy in rural areas is consistently higher than in urban areas. But housing is, on average, less affordable in rural areas than in urban areas, and in 2016 the cheapest homes in rural areas cost 8.3 times lower incomes compared with 7 times in urban areas. This has been contributing to many people choosing to leave rural areas, with services such as pubs and schools closing as a result. 

Rural services closing down

Schools


Over the last five years, 52 schools in rural areas of England have closed. This equates to one every five weeks.

Pubs


Between March 2013 and December 2016, a net total of 1,365 pubs in rural areas in England closed. This is an average of seven pubs per week.

Post offices


In the last five years, there has been a net reduction of post offices in rural areas of 81 – more than one per month.

Housing associations keep rural communities thriving

With one in five English households living in rural areas, it is vital to keep breathing life into these communities. Building homes enables families to remain within the communities they have been in for generations, and this can support rural services by allowing them to remain open.

Housing associations have a strong track record of working with communities in rural areas to deliver homes that meet an acute need. In accordance with the Rural Housing Alliance pledge, they do this by:

  • helping to carry out housing needs surveys to understand exactly what homes the community needs
  • working with landowners and communities to find the right site
  • involving the community through the design process so that the homes reflect the aspirations of local people

Last year, housing associations built 3,030 homes in rural areas of England. It's this commitment to housebuilding that can help to keep essential rural services alive and breathe life back into communities. Our Rural life monitor 2017 report contains a number of case studies demonstrating this.

Delivering the ambition

In order to demonstrate a shared commitment to solving the rural housing crisis, housing associations have created a 5-star plan for rural housing. We are encouraging anyone with an interest in rural housing and communities to sign up. The plan outlines housing associations’ ambition to deliver even more new homes in rural areas to meet the needs of the local community, and ensure that all homes built contribute to the local economy.

In rural areas, housing associations will continue to take a community-led approach to development and will work with communities to tackle the rural housing crisis. We look forward to working with our members, stakeholders and the Government with whom we aim to progress the 5-star plan and deliver the ambition of rural housing associations. It is vital that we continue to work together to ensure a sustainable future for rural communities and that affordable homes are built that contribute to a living working countryside.