The agenda for this year’s Scottish Empty Homes Conference is well and truly packed.

Quite a number of music-heads around the Shelter Scotland offices are particularly stoked about the afternoon keynote address which will be given jointly by John Maher (former drummer for the Buzzcocks turned photographer) and Brian Whitington of Tighean Innse Gall.  John Maher has taken some stunning photos of abandoned croft houses in the Western Isles with household objects hauntingly left in situ as though the previous owners just vanished in the midst of everyday life.  His photos have already been displayed at various events across Scotland and Tighean Innse Gall have embarked on a project to breathe new life into some of these empty homes to stimulate local jobs as well as to demonstrate that these overlooked properties can provide viable, fuel efficient homes that people want to live in.

The musical provenance behind that keynote may be what’s exciting some, but there are others equally interested to hear what the morning’s keynote speaker Kevin Stewart MSP, the Minister for Local Government and Housing, has to say about empty homes at his first ever Scottish Empty Homes Conference.  The Minister will also be presenting the Howdens’ Scottish Empty Homes Champion of the Year Awards.  The deadline for nominations was Monday the 3rd October so we’ve all been a flutter watching the nominations come in and speculating about who the awards committee will choose to honour this year.

Of course the keynote speakers set the tone for the day and often provide the inspiration for personal eureka moments on the train home, but it is the workshops which, true to their name, provide the real nose to the grindstone work of the day.  As usual the topics range from practical best practice lessons and tools to broader policy discussions.

Steve Grimshaw from the award winning Kent ‘No Use Empty’ Project will be speaking about their 10 years of experience successfully using a range of types of empty homes loans to shift empty properties as well as what hasn’t been so successful.

Allyson Allison, Empty Homes Officer for Stirling Council, and David Sanderson, Empty Homes Officer for Carlisle City Council, are joining forces to share some practical tips for making the business case for employing a permanent Empty Homes Officer within local authorities.  Both Allyson and David have successfully achieved a permanent contract with their respective councils this year.

A Local Project Panel which includes a charity, a development trust and a commercial developer, will discuss their journey towards achieving their visions, including efforts to access external funding.  Their projects range from a single unit in Fife to multiple units across Tayside and the Western Isles.

Another exciting Panel session-style workshop will include representatives from a range of Glasgow Housing Associations who have been part of the Glasgow Empty Homes Project.  They’ll discuss what attracted them to get involved and reflect on their experiences to date, including the impressive amount they’ve managed to save in VAT charges through their involvement with the project.

The Empty Homes Officers from Fife, Joanne Saurin and Laura Beveridge, along with their Council Tax colleague Kerry Hutchison will be giving a workshop on Fife Council’s use of flexible council tax charging when it comes to applying the vacant dwelling council tax premiums.  The Empty Homes Officers in Fife have successfully used this flexibility to encourage owners to take action on their empty homes and bring them back into use sooner.

Diarmaid Lawlor from Architecture and Design Scotland will be leading a workshop to discuss some of the reasons that people chose to live in town centres and how empty homes work can contribute to national and local objectives to increase town centre living.

Last but not least, last year’s winner of the Howden’s Scottish Empty Homes Champion of the Year Awards for best project, Catriona Arbuckle, Empty Homes Officer from North Lanarkshire Council will provide details of the empty homes buy back scheme that won them this accolade.

So that’s all the buzz round here as we count down the days to the conference.  If you would like to join us on the day (15th November), more details of the programme, the venue and how to book can be found here.

West Dunbartonshire Empty Homes officer Kathryn Kelly surveys an empty property in Alexandria.

West Dunbartonshire Empty Homes officer Kathryn Kelly surveys an empty property in Alexandria.

George Clarke, Kristen Hubert and Phil Hanson at the Empty Homes conference 2015.

George Clarke, Kristen Hubert and Phil Hanson at the Empty Homes conference 2015.