So far with these rural blogs, we have explored different projects including community councils, climate change and health & wellbeing. All projects very innovative and all with a common goal of improving the lives of the communities in which they serve. Our final Rural Innovators Award winners blog is no different.
Locally affordable, suitable, and energy-efficient housing is essential for rural communities to retain their population and in particular key workers, meet health and wellbeing needs and grow their economy. A declining, ageing population in some rural areas doesn’t help matters either with many young people moving to urban surroundings as they feel they can access a much better way of life. Investment as well in existing properties has also proven to be a personal problem for myself, with my own home being the subject of a local housing association consultation regarding the future of my home I have lived in since 1992 (minus a year). Lack of investment and red tape has seen my own home fall victim to damp, poor guttering…I could go on but I’m not here to tell you about my personal fight with local housing association (not today anyway will keep that for a blog special), I’m here to tell you about a truly well worthy winning Rural Innovator project in our “Housing” category.
Ulva Ferry Housing Project, the winners in the Rural Innovators Housing category, is a joint venture between Mull & Iona Community Trust (MICT) and the Ulva School Community Association (USCA). The purpose of the project was to build two affordable rental houses for local families in the very remote and isolated Ulva Ferry area on the Isle of Mull. The project itself is very much community led, with community members being involved in the decision-making process at every stage from appointing the architect right the way through to agreeing the allocation policy. The brief was simple: high quality, low energy housing at an affordable rate with secure tenancies. The houses themselves are almost completed, with work being completed hopefully within the next month, a little over 8 months since construction started.
So what are the biggest achievements of the project so far?
These new houses will not only be accessible for families with Ulva Primary School next door to them, but will address a major talking point in rural Scotland also: Fuel poverty. It is estimated that due to the “passive house” design, heating bills for the houses are estimated to be no more than £350 per year. Rental figures are £443 per calendar month, making the new houses both affordable to rent, and to keep warm.
One of the biggest challenges any similar project would face would be financing the idea. Funding for the project came from a number of sources including the Scottish Land Fund, who gave means in which to buy the land and also offer employment in the form of a Housing Project Manager’s post for 2 years. Further funding and grants came from Scottish Government, Argyll & Bute Council, Quaker Housing Trust and the Trusthouse Charitable Foundation. Alongside these main streams of funding, community members, visitors and those supportive of the community land movement also made their own donations, including a significant anonymous donation to assist with the costs of building. Further advice on leading the project came from Community Land Scotland, Rural Housing Scotland and the West Highland Housing Association, all playing a part in making this project get from pre-foundations level to completed.
One part of funding and financing did prove to be the biggest challenge faced by the project, that being securing the relevant funding package to appoint the contractor to carry out the works. There was even a doubt during a few very stressful weeks in the planning process that the project may not go ahead. However with a lot of hard work by all involved a sense of optimism, these fears were eradicated. A high profile PR campaign picked up interest not only on social media, but also in the national press and BBC News. The “Buy-a-Brick” campaign generated over £22,500 in donations to the project, and raised awareness of the benefits of what MICT & USCA were trying to achieve. Indeed the last brick funding came from Scottish Government’s new Rural Housing fund, of which Ulva Ferry Housing Project was the first recipient.
Does the project stop at the end of handing over the keys to the first two families? Definitely not it would seem. MICT and USCA are keen to explore options for further affordable housing in the future, either looking at more rental properties, or possibly looking at developing plots themselves to sell on affordably. Securing finance for self-build is a huge challenge for many young families in the local area.
It would be safe to say that this project has been a success, albeit with some hurdles, which are always to be expected in a project of this scale in a small community. These 2 new houses are a testament to the dedication of good teamwork and communication between all parties involved, and dedication of the local community in Ulva Ferry, and hope that this groups hard work and effort can be replicated right across rural Scotland. Even here on Bute, new, affordable, energy efficient homes are hard to come by. Food for thought maybe for after my time with Scottish Rural Action is over in July.
This is the last of our Rural Innovator Awards winners blogs. I would personally like to thank the projects who assisted with the background and information over the past 8 weeks, and hope that those reading can take some inspiration from these fabulous projects that have been featured and use their stories to make your own stories. It won’t be long until Rural Innovators Awards 2017-18 are underway.
Blog by Chris Kinloch
Ulva Ferry Housing contribution by Helen MacDonald (MICT)
Image from Ulva Ferry Housing project
You can keep up to date with developments from Ulva Ferry Housing project by visiting their website.