Radical rural housing

Welcome to the ‘Smart Clachan’, a response to rural homelessness, writes Derek Logie, of Rural Housing Scotland…

LAST month, I was asked to make a presentation on rural homelessness to an international conference. 

I was stuck on how to make the speech relevant to the largely Canadian audience, until I realised that many Canadians are able to trace their roots back to Scotland; that their ancestors had been made homeless during the Highland Clearances. 

We have homelessness to this day, in rural Scotland, this 21st century version of The Clearances now being caused not by the introduction of sheep farming but by a mix of house prices being pushed up by demand from relatively wealthy retirees, properties being diverted into the holiday let market and a basic lack of house-build activity.

The Scottish Government has an active affordable housing policy, to be proud of. But, by its own figures, during 2019/20 (the latest figures available) just nine per cent of its affordable housing budget went to rural parts of the country.

The flight of young people and the subsequent decline in the working-age population, combined with an ageing demographic, has severe implications for the sustainability and health of rural communities. 

But it could be so different. If we just listened to what young people want, if we used our imaginations, if we only thought differently about rural housing, rural communities and rural life. 

We could do so much better by designating land for housing which integrates environmental and social benefits; by releasing land for community-led housing, self-build, Cohousing, mutual home ownership co-operatives and social housing.

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us of a need to re-focus on community, place, well-being, smaller-scale and climate-friendly development – in turn, sparking opportunities for local food production, shared working space and renewable energy generation.

Here, at Rural Housing Scotland, such a model for sustainable rural development is being actively pursued.

We have called it the Smart Clachan, a 21st century revival of the small Scottish hamlet known as a clachan. 

We are recruiting to set up two such Smart Clachans: at Comrie Croft in Perthshire and by Stòras Uibhist in South Uist.

They will offer residential living with a farm-to-table focus for young, active families seeking a lifestyle centred around simplicity and sustainability. The housing will be affordable and community-led, with shared work spaces and vegetable growing areas.

And the hope is that, once up and running, they will enable young people to remain, or return, as a counter to the de-population sweeping across rural Scotland. 

Derek Logie is chief executive of Rural Housing Scotland, a national charity which supports community action on rural housing issues.

Picture credit: Mock-up by Richard Graves, of G+GA architects

This is an edited version of an article published on the RHS website, here.

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