The Scottish Empty Homes Conference 2018 is taking place at the Engine Shed in Stirling on 26 November. From a goods transfer shed, and strategic base for the army during both World Wars, to a learning and tourism venue that brings Scotland’s built heritage to life, the Engine Shed is a great venue for the conference; an empty property brought back to use to once again become a vital part of its community.
2018 is the start of a new three-year phase in the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership. The Partnership kicked off in 2010 and has made significant progress in influencing empty homes work since then. Currently, we have 22 out of 32 local authorities in Scotland committed to empty homes work and we have supported them to bring over 3,200 long term empty properties back into use. This has been a tremendous achievement, but it is still only the tip of the iceberg. There are approximately 37,000 long term empties nationally, and there is no silver bullet when it comes to addressing this.
That’s why the theme of our 2018 conference is Step Change. What we aim to do at the conference is to start the discussion on where we go to next, how we can achieve more and how we can work with third sector partners to bring more empty homes back into use to address housing supply shortages as well as deliver other social goals. Conference speakers will be showcasing innovative and unique approaches to empty homes challenges to stimulate discussion on how these initiatives could be replicated or adapted elsewhere.
Without giving too much away (no one likes plot spoilers!) I’m excited about the very broad range of initiatives that our speakers have been involved with. They show the wider benefits that bringing empty homes back into use can have for people and communities.
Rachael Bowes, Orkney Islands Council’s empty homes officer, will be presenting on The Gateway House in North Ronaldsay. This is a project where the development trust has worked in partnership with the council to use one of the empty homes as an opportunity for a family to test out island life. It offers people the chance to experience life on the island, including a true North Ronaldsay storm, helping them to decide whether or not it’s for them, before they commit to buying a property. In this way, it’s not just bringing empty homes back into use, which is of course our main priority, but it’s also contributing to sustaining communities, increasing local spend, welcoming new people to the island and encouraging them to make it their home.
I am also really looking forward to hearing James Hartley from The Latch in Leeds. The Latch purchase empty and rundown houses and refurbish them to create good quality supported housing for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and are ready to make positive changes in their lives. Their ethos goes further than just providing homes, as they provide work experience, skills training and other social benefits for the people they employ to transform the properties, acting as a stepping stone to independent living for many of them.
These are the kind of things I was thinking about when I thought about Step Change as a theme for the conference. Tackling empty homes and making use of our existing stock to help housing supply issues as well as making a fantastic contribution to the other challenges councils and communities are facing. These organisations bring people together to produce ideas and solutions that deliver so much more than any of us might be able to achieve on our own and I am keen to share these experiences with you.
The conference is also an opportunity for us to recognise what has been achieved so far by all of the Empty Homes Officers since taking up their posts. The Howden’s Scottish Empty Homes Champions Awards are always a highlight of the event and only tell part of the story. Each year, we receive so many nominations for each of the categories. The decision on who to choose as the winners can be a headache for our panel, even if it is one they are pleased to have!
This year we’re also running a people’s vote on our website I would encourage everyone reading this blog to take a look at this, to see for themselves how hard it is to pick a winner!
I would also encourage everyone reading this to come to the conference. We have a really interesting agenda that should spark interest and conversation on how together we can tackle Scotland’s empty homes. If you work or have an interest in housing strategy, planning or policy, if you know about empty homes or want to find out more, we’d love to see you at the event. You can find out more and book your place online today.