Once again England’s rural areas are in the spotlight with Sunday evening’s Countryfile featuring the findings of our new report.
Gill Payne is Executive Director of Public Impact at the National Housing Federation
13 November 2017
Rural life monitor 2017: affordable housing saving rural services highlights the huge difference high quality affordable housing can make to supporting rural communities and ensuring they are there for future generations.
We all know that rural areas have a lot to offer along with the beautiful countryside and uplifting landscapes. These benefits extend to their importance to our national health and wellbeing, and of course the contribution of the rural economy through farming, food production, tourism, manufacturing and natural resources. We also know that education attainment shows a higher proportion of pupils achieving five GCSEs graded A*-C, and we know that life expectancy is higher. All of this is to be celebrated and cheered.
But we seem to be reaching a tipping point. Our report shows devastating figures – rural pubs closed at the rate of seven a week between March 2013 to December 2016. Schools have been closing at a rate of roughly one a month since 2011, while 81 Post Offices have shut up shop since 2011.
Countryfile on Sunday highlighted these issues and the absolutely central role affordable housing is playing when it comes to keeping these places alive and thriving.
Our report shows that there are alternatives – housing associations working closely with local communities have shown what a difference building a few homes can make to keeping communities thriving. When five or six houses provide homes for young families it can make all the difference to keeping the local school open. Providing new affordable homes for young people starting out on their careers, can be the driver for maintaining the community hubs such as the local pub and shops. These services provide the pillars of rural communities and by delivering high quality, affordable homes for people to live and work in the local area, these services can remain viable and successful. From the Isles of Scilly to Northumberland, housing associations are adopting this joined up approach, with a view to ensuring these communities remain attractive places to live and put down roots. We are in it for the long term.
At a recent conference a local councillor talked about her experience of being involved in a new development. At first she was very sceptical but after seeing the changes in her community she became far more concerned about bringing it back to life and looking to the needs of future generations. She talked about the importance of local conversations and plans around design and build – things like making sure the new homes had chimney stacks and fitted in with the rest of the village were vitally important to local people who wanted to cherish the best of the past, while supporting the future. She has seen at first hand the difference well planned, affordable homes can make to the life of her village.
A few years ago, Hastoe Housing Association completed a development in Wiltshire and at the insistence of a local landowner called the development ‘Imby Close’ – ‘Imby’, of course, meaning ‘in my back yard’ (a response to ‘nimbyism’). Because that’s what the local community had become – highly supportive of the local development and the families and households that could now live in the area. I think it’s time for us all to be proud to be an Imby. Let's not place rural communities on a pedestal, not to be touched, but work with them to ensure that they can change, adapt and thrive, helping to keep local services alive and providing a lasting legacy to be enjoyed by generations to come. Homes not just for the “lucky few” but homes for living, working communities.