13 Jan 2023

Regeneration nation: Learning from people-powered models in rural areas

Regeneration goes hand-in-hand with long-term sustainability. We at the Communities Housing Trust work with rural and island communities who face a lack of available, secure and affordable housing, higher rates of fuel poverty, and where the cost of living is higher.

With nearly half of all young people in the Highlands & Islands forecast to leave within the next five years, affecting healthy demographics across the region, regeneration is critical to ensuring the futures of many communities. 

There are growing opportunities however, and communities are looking – and acting – holistically to regenerate. This includes recognising that specific community needs differ and tailored solutions are best; that homes must be protected for the future – both their affordability and use for local communities; that choice of tenures must be provided, to provide security and long-term planning to individuals and families; and of course, that it may not only be homes that are needed.

Excellence in regeneration

This approach has now been recognised two years in a row at the CIH Scotland Housing Awards, with community-led projects receiving the excellence in regeneration accolade.

In 2021, the regeneration of Achtercairn in Gairloch received the award for excellence in regeneration. The Communities Housing Trust facilitated the regeneration together with around 50 partner organisations and input from local residents. Together, we transformed the derelict brownfield site into a thriving new geographic centre for the village.

Achtercairn now includes 25 affordable homes (five affordable housing tenures, with three different providers); Gairloch Farm Shop, which also houses the local vet; Air Training Corps facility; and the GALE Centre which is Scotland’s first public building to be awarded Passivhaus status. The Centre includes a Tourist Information Hub, a community-run shop and café, an outlet to support the wider region, community rooms to rent, and veg-growing and composting area for the café. A University of the Highlands and Islands classroom which enables people of all ages to access learning opportunities has moved to larger premises.

Taighean ‘ Chaiseil (Houses of the Weir) in Staffin

In 2022, the new development of Taighean ‘ Chaiseil (Houses of the Weir) in Staffin received the award for excellence in regeneration and sustainability. Here, 40 people left this small Gaelic-speaking crofting community in the north of Skye between 2009 and 2013. This was a 6.6 per cent population drop in four years.

The Communities Housing Trust worked with Staffin Community Trust to provide a range of affordable homes, but also to improve access to services with a new NHS health centre, and improve opportunities for local businesses with commercial units and workshops. All this was achieved on a small site with partnership working.

Community-owned assets such as homes, workspace, or even an NHS Health Centre can generate income for the community to invest in future projects. Ensuring secure homes for a range of ages – young workers, families with children attending school, older people volunteering or with changing needs – means that services remain and new opportunities for living and working are created.

Regeneration is absolutely key for Scotland’s communities, particularly in rural areas. There is now good support and tools to tackle this as a whole, through providing not only housing for all ages, but also opportunities for growing and sustaining rural economies and services for the long term.

We look forward to sharing more detail on the projects above and others at the Regeneration Nation session at the upcoming CIH Housing Festival – hope to see you there!

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Written by Ronnie MacRae

Ronnie MacRae, chief executive officer at Communities Housing Trust shares more about recent regeneration developments ahead of Scotland's Housing Festival 2022.