Rural Housing Week 2019, which runs from 1-5 July, is our annual celebration of housing associations’ vital role in rural communities.
Growing up in rural Cornwall, just outside a tiny village between Penzance and St Ives, I was incredibly lucky to spend my childhood exploring the countryside, building tree houses, spending time with my friends on the beach, and eating a lot of Cornish ice cream (and if you are ever down that way, Jelberts ice cream in Newlyn is the best in the world!).
But my childhood wasn’t entirely a rural idyll. One of my earliest memories is campaigning to stop our local primary school being closed (we were successful). As a teenager, I felt frustrated that there were only a couple of buses a day to get into the nearest town, and when our local shop closed we had to drive five miles to the nearest town to get a pint of milk. It was a beautiful place to grow up, but I also felt isolated at times.
Today, many of my school friends have been priced out of their local villages. There aren’t enough social rented homes, and they can’t afford to buy – which isn’t surprising given the average house in the South West costs more than 10 times typical earnings. Many of my school friends have either left Cornwall or rent privately, which is often expensive and short term.
That is why the work of rural housing associations is so important, and why our annual celebration of it through Rural Housing Week is a key date in the calendar at the National Housing Federation.
Last year’s Rural Housing Week theme highlighted how rural communities were under threat from the closure of local services, and the role housing associations play in keeping these services alive. Building just a few more affordable homes in a village can keep a school or a post office open and communities together.
We’ve been holding a sector-wide supply conversation since late last year, and the homes that rural housing associations build have been a key part of these discussions. Rural associations have an ambition to increase the delivery of new rural homes – this was one of the pledges set out in the Rural Housing 5-star Plan, which we’ve refreshed as part of Rural Housing Week this year.
But rural housing associations do more than simply provide homes, they provide quality homes, and create great places to live by building and maintaining well-designed, energy-efficient, affordable homes that fit their surroundings.
This year’s Rural Housing Week theme – building for rural communities – explores how housing associations do this, engaging with their local communities and local stakeholders to ensure people have homes they want to live in, and homes that make a difference to their quality of life.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Hastoe Housing and English Rural affordable housing schemes, and met some residents in Essex. I saw how committed rural housing associations are to bringing together the local community in their development plans, creating partnerships with landowners, local authorities, parish councils and local businesses.
It was so clear from the tenants and residents I met on this visit that they valued the strong relationship they had with their respective housing associations.
Without affordable rural housing, our rural communities would be in danger of falling apart. What rural housing brings is not only a chance for communities to stay together but, by building homes to a high standard, enriching the villages that are the fabric of our country.
Rural housing embodies a lot of the great work we do in our sector and it’s right that we shout loud and proud about it. So join us, and celebrate rural housing this week.
You can find tools and resources to help celebrate rural housing here.
We're also hosting a Twitter chat hour on Thursday 4 July from 2pm to 3pm. Follow #RuralHousing for more information.