Upon being asked to write a blog for HotHouse2033, firstly I felt honoured to do so and then some slight trepidation - would I be able to do justice to this important national discussion on a future vision by adding in my two-penneth? I then got over myself; decided it was about time I spoke up and used this opportunity to share issues that affect rural communities and their way of life; valid things we need to be thinking about if we are to have a substantive and meaningful rural housing offer in 2033.
I had worked mostly in urban and inner-city areas. This changed 5-years ago when I came to work for the Acclaim Housing Group at Dales Housing in the beautiful Derbyshire Dales. Before experiencing rural housing, I talked about housing related issues such as not enough housing in the places where it’s needed, poverty factors and lack of infrastructure to help the vulnerable. This hasn’t changed since I moved into rural housing because they’re shared national problems.
The perception of rural housing can be a lack of rich diversity and insular communities – certainly I have come across this, but I have also seen progress, although more can be done. Mostly there is much to celebrate, so I would like to share what works well and outline the challenges that could put the very essence of rural living at risk.
Rural communities have an in-built way of looking out for each other; in particular they really care for their older, vulnerable and young. They live by a tradition; have shared values, grit and resilience. Their ‘gusto’ approach enables them to find creative ways to overcome problems and create strong unity. Here in the Dales they have an excellent local authority arrangement that works hard to do the ‘what matters most’ and we must support them to continue to deliver this – partnerships need to be about delivering social purpose.
However, in these challenging times of austerity, I can see ‘warning’ signs of this eroding due to reduction of infrastructure in supporting people/services, withdrawn transport links, lack of digital connect and local all-year-round employment opportunities, made worse by preventative rising University fees and well above average high cost of home ownership.
Keeping me awake with worry is the current Right to Buy policy. Many of these properties end up falling into the hands of the private rented sector or tourist accommodation - the impacts of which requires its own HotHouse2033 discussion, but make no mistake, a perfect storm is brewing.
Here at the Acclaim Group, we are developing a robust approach to local governance and coproduction, having recently set up a strategic based Community Connect Group that focuses on local issues. It’s made up of people who have insight, influence and of course understand ‘what matters most’.
So, HotHouse colleagues, my rural challenge for 2033 is let’s work up a ‘rural housing offer’ that focuses on infrastructure, co-production, social purpose partnerships, digital connect and lets refresh/rebrand to the best of what rural living stands for.