The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

Spotlight on Rural Housing - April 2019

A quarterly bulletin facilitated by your membership of the Rural Services Network and produced in partnership with the Rural Housing Alliance, highlighting a selection of current rural housing issues and opportunities

Organisations urged to sign up to call or a National Rural Strategy

The Rural Services Network believes that the government should take the lead and work with interested organisations to produce a comprehensive long term and funded Rural Strategy.  

RSN have developed a Template Rural Strategy which sets out the rationale for calling for such a strategy including the following component parts:

  • A Thriving Rural Economy
  • A Digitally connected countryside
  • A Place everyone can get around
  • An Affordable Place to live
  • A fair deal on health and social care
  • A Place to learn and grow
  • A settlement (including fair funding for rural services) to support local action
  • A rural proofed policy framework

RSN us asking as many organisations and individuals as possible to join the call on Government to produce a Rural Strategy to set out their priorities for England’s Rural Communities and the Rural Economy for the future. If you would like to find out more, read the Template Rural Strategy and sign up to the call please follow this link.

Affordable Housing Commission gathers evidence

The Smith Institute, with the support of the Nationwide Foundation, have established an independent Affordable Housing Commission (AHC). The Commission is chaired by Lord Best, with 15 commissioners from across the housing world.

The Commission states: “Many households on average incomes face rising housing costs. Yet housing affordability is poorly understood, and policy makers and politicians have struggled to find any lasting solutions.”

The Commission has been gathering evidence from many quarters and intends to produce a series of blogs, papers and reports on housing affordability.

You can find out more about its work here.

Affordable homes set to transform Northamptonshire’s villages

Northamptonshire Rural Housing Association (NRHA) has announced plans to bring more affordable homes to local villages to prevent people from being priced out of the villages in which they’ve been born and bred. A potential 39 affordable homes, specifically for those with a local connection to the village, are set to be developed across rural Northamptonshire.

February saw the completion of 10 new homes in Walgrave, which have been built in partnership with local developer, Whiterock Homes.  This is the housing association’s first cross-subsidy scheme in Daventry where any surpluses generated from the four homes for local market sale are being used to subsidise the six affordable properties.

NRHA’s first development in Little Addington will be starting on site imminently, bringing two homes for affordable rent and four for shared ownership, along with five for open market sale.

Following Local Housing Needs surveys, which showed community support for more affordable homes in their villages, plans are being submitted for a further three new developments.

A decision is currently awaited for eight new properties in Nassington.  The five homes for affordable rent and three for shared ownership will form phase 3 of the small development.

It is also hoped that planning will be approved for a scheme in Brigstock, comprising one property for affordable rent and five for shared ownership.  Work is scheduled to start on site later in the year. This Summer, plans will be submitted for the second phase in Norton, with a further eight homes proposed.

Northamptonshire Rural Housing Association Company Secretary, Richard Mugglestone, commented: “Affordable properties are vital to the sustainability of our rural communities.  The fact that we are returning to the same villages in Northamptonshire shows that there is still a real need for more affordable homes in these areas, with local people being forced to move away. We may only be developing small schemes, but they will each make a big difference in these villages, keeping families and communities together.”

Community Hospital brought back to community use

Hastoe is working hand in hand with the local community in Southwold to do something unique.

 Southwold is a picturesque seaside town on the Suffolk coast, but 60% of homes are now second homes, turning the town into a shadow of its former self. Southwold Hospital was closed in November 2015 and there were considerable fears the site would be turned into market housing, with 95% of these to be second homes.

 So Hastoe joined forces with community group, SouthGen, to buy the site in March 2018. Henry Lee from Hastoe says: “We have completed a plan to turn the site into nine new affordable homes for local people, as well as community facilities, such as public library, space for businesses and community services and a farm to fork café. It’s the first ever time a community has bought back a community hospital for community use.”

The community is fund-raising, including a community shares offer, to build the community facilities. The Edwardian Hospital façade will be restored retuned to its former glory. Construction is set to start in Spring 2019, with completion in 2020. It’s a great example of a community and housing association working together to deliver affordable homes where they are needed most.

Perseverance and partnership pay off

Working with Rural Housing Enablers, Teignbridge District Council and a local landowner, South West Housing Society have gained planning permission for an affordable housing scheme in Denbury, Devon.

The scheme will be a mixture of 9 affordable rent and shared ownership homes in a village of 300 households with farms surrounding it in an idyllic location in Devon. The size mix enables people to move within the scheme over time as life circumstances change, without the need for them to leave the village. South Western Housing Society is committed to ensuring those working in the traditional low income areas of agriculture, health and public service can access homes that would otherwise be beyond their means. Like most villages in Devon, house prices compared to average income ratios in the area are out of reach of many local workers or people disadvantaged due to age or ill health.

This piece of land was brought to the Society by a local landowner concerned about the inability of their children to be able to purchase a home and stay in the village. SWHS agreed to provide a serviced plot to sell back at an affordable price so the owner could support their family to live close by. In return, the Society was able to buy the land at a price that made the scheme viable for affordable housing development; this was critical, since as is always the case, building homes in rural areas has additional levels of complexity that attract higher costs, particularly in respect of drainage and highways requirements.

Work started on the project in the summer of 2016. Now, in April 2019, with perseverance on the part of local planners, rural enablers, the employer’s agent, Alan Fox and the Society’s board, full planning permission is in place and the Society own the land. The build will commence in the autumn of this year and is testament to the will of local authority partners as well as housing association developers to work together to meet a critical need in a rural area. Donna Johnson from SWHS says: “We are proud to be a part of it. While there is work still to be done, we are confident that people will be moving into brand new homes sometime next year.”

On hearing that the land transfer was complete, the Teignbridge Housing Enabler said: “That is indeed the best news I have had all week…well done South Western Housing Society for persevering.”

Raft of legislation drives up living standards for tenants living in privately rented houses in rural areas

Joanna Oakes, Community Projects Officer at Daventry District Council, writes:

“Rural house prices have risen over 82% in 10 years.  This has led to the inability of many people living in rural communities to access home ownership and it has contributed to massive growth of the Private Rental Sector.  2018 figures suggest there are 2.5million landlords and 11 million people living in rented accommodation.

“Whilst the rental market plays a vital part of providing housing for people living in rural areas, 1 in 3 rental properties are not of a decent living standard and 1 in 6 houses are dangerous to live in.  Whilst many Landlords take their responsibilities to their tenants seriously, a small minority don’t.  Either wilfully, or through ignorance, they allow their tenants to live in poor conditions, causing ill health and distress.

“Legislation has been introduced in recent years to improve living conditions and rights for tenants and, more clearly outline the obligations placed on Landlords, many of whom start out as “accidentals” through inheritance or investment opportunities.  You should check with your Local Authority if you wish to ensure you are compliant with the new legislative requirements.

“Under new legislation, rented properties are generally required to have a minimum of an E on the Energy Performance Certificate rating scale.  In some cases renting out properties with F or G ratings can be unlawful and breaching this rule could lead to fines and legal action.

“The Fitness for Human Habitation Act 2018 has been introduced to ensure that all Landlords must ensure their rental properties are fit for human habitation at the beginning of and throughout a tenancy.  If they are not, tenants have powers to take landlords to court for breach of contract, force them to carry out improvement work and claim compensation. 

“Landlords have extra legal responsibilities if the house or flat tenants share with others is a house in multiple occupation (HMO).  Landlords can be fined and ordered to repay up to 12 months' rent if the property hasn’t been licensed. 

“Legislation allows Local Authorities to take action against landlords whose properties are not safe or fit to live in.  The council now has powers to fine landlords of HMOs, or any manager they have employed, if they break the law with fines of up to £30,000 per offence. In extreme cases, the council can take over the management of the property and landlords can be added to a National database of rogue landlords.

“If you need help and further clarification regarding any of these legislative changes, please contact your Local Authority, Shelter or Citizen’s Advice Bureau.”

SARH shows it CARES with charity grants

Two Stafford-based charities have received a welcome boost from the area's leading provider of affordable housing, Stafford and Rural Homes (SARH).

Kind-hearted employees stage regular fundraising events for groups making a real difference in the community, prompting the housing association to set up its own charitable foundation to distribute the money they raise.

Now Stafford Brigades Youth Marching Band and Stafford and District Stroke Club are amongst the first to benefit from the SARH C.A.R.E.S. Foundation  named after the organisation's core values; Communication, Approachable, Respectful, Empowering, and Supportive.

In March SARH Chief Executive Karen Armitage presented a cheque for £500 to the Stroke Club, money that will be used to support weekly social and therapeutic activities for local people recovering from strokes and their families. Geoff Brookes, the club's chairman commented: We're totally reliant on generous grants and donations and I'd like to thank SARH for its support. As well as helping towards the costs of running our minibus, regular visits by a specialist physiotherapist and our annual trip to Llandudno, we'll also be able to put some of the money aside to help fund our 40th birthday celebrations in June.

With plans to set-up a new dance and colour troupe, Stafford Brigades Youth Marching Band are set to receive a grant of £450. Karen Armitage explained: "Both organisations are doing fantastic work in the communities we serve and we're delighting to be able to support them through the SARH C.A.R.E.S Foundation. Young and old alike will benefit from the money raised by SARH employees who've taken part in a wide range of fun fundraising activities over the past 12 months. They really do jump at any opportunity to put something back into the community and help fulfil our mission to make Stafford and surrounding areas even better places to live, work and grow."

Exciting plans revealed for WRHA’s anniversary year

Warwickshire Rural Housing Association (WRHA) has announced exciting plans to expand into new areas and new types of affordable homes as it celebrates its 30th anniversary during 2019.

The housing association has been providing much needed affordable homes, specifically for local people, in Warwickshire’s villages since 1989.  As a result, hundreds of residents have been able to stay in the villages where they have grown up or have family or work ties.

During the coming year, WRHA has plans to bring a further 21 affordable homes to four Warwickshire villages.

In February, WRHA moved into North Warwickshire for the first time when it took ownership of two affordable bungalows in Corley.  North Warwickshire Borough Council provided some funding to enable the housing association to purchase the new homes.

With funding from Stratford-on-Avon District Council, WRHA is due to complete a development of seven homes in Great Alne in June.  Following a Local Housing Needs survey, which showed community support for more affordable homes in the village, a scheme of two, three and four bedroom homes is now underway.  The site will also comprise public open space, landscaping and an attenuation pond to store runoff water.

In July, WRHA will come full circle when it celebrates the completion of its development in Stretton on Fosse.  WRHA’s first ever development, Harolds Orchard, began in the village 30 years ago, followed by phase two in 2009.

Now the housing association is returning to Stretton on Fosse for the third and final phase of Harolds Orchard.  A further four houses and one bungalow are being built to meet the ongoing need for affordable homes in the village.

This Summer will see another first, with WRHA aiming to submit plans for a ground-breaking site in Bearley.  WRHA is investigating the possibility of a modular development, which would mean the seven affordable homes would be completed in record time.

The houses would be built in sections and craned into the site, including fully fitted kitchens and bathrooms.  In a bid to reduce fuel poverty, the homes would have a high level of thermal insulation to make them as energy efficient as possible.

Richard Mugglestone, Company Secretary of Warwickshire Rural Housing Association, commented: “Our 30th anniversary year is set to be an exciting time.  As a small rural affordable housing provider, expanding into North Warwickshire is a major move for us. Our aim has always been to make a real difference to local people.  The energy efficient modular homes we are proposing in Bearley will help families to keep their fuel bills low, saving energy and money.  Affordable properties are vital to the sustainability of Warwickshire’s rural communities and we are pleased to be bringing more small schemes to local villages this year.”

Homelessness facility created in Chipping Norton

The refurbishment of a large house, designed to provide emergency accommodation for people threatened with homelessness, is nearing completion.

The property in Horsefair, Chipping Norton is being converted into a five-bedroom hostel with shared facilities and has a self-contained basement flat while the garden area is also being given a major clean-up.

 The move is designed to help prevent residents from being forced to move into bed and breakfast accommodation outside the District while a suitable longer-term property is found.

Cllr Steve Good, Cabinet Member for Housing Management at West Oxfordshire District Council, said: “Preventing homelessness is a key strategy. We have a dedicated officer post working with people at risk, and we formally link with the prison and health service as they have a duty to refer any potential homelessness cases to us. This facility gives us a valuable resource which will ensure residents at risk of homelessness are given somewhere to live as well as some valuable breathing space so they can make arrangements for a permanent local housing solution. We believe we now have more than adequate capacity to deal with homelessness within the district and may be able to help other authorities within the county if required.”

Valley Community Rehabilitation Company, which involves individuals serving sentences by working in the community, is working to clear the garden.

The Council generally has about five households in emergency accommodation at any one time with occupation averaging 28 days. As a result, the property is expected to be fully occupied at all times.

Funding for Community-led Housing

Together with the Confederation of Co-operative Housing, Locality and UK Cohousing, the National Community Land Trust Network have created ‘Community Led Homes’ to support their mission of making community led housing a mainstream housing option.

Community Led Homes will provide training, funding and practical support to community led housing groups, councils and developers. This includes a summary of various forms of funding available which you can view on their website.

Consultation on homelessness services

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government is consulting on structures that support partnership working and accountability in homelessness services. Government is seeking views on:

  • the effectiveness of existing non-statutory and statutory local accountability and partnership structures in homelessness services
  • whether the government should introduce Homelessness Reduction Boards and, if so, how this could be done most effectively
  • how else they might improve local accountability and partnership working in homelessness services

This consultation closes on 16 May 2019 and you can read more via this link.

Keep Calm and Join Up!

RSN exists to enable the issues facing the rural areas of England to be identified, information and good practice to be shared and government to be challenged to address the needs and build on the opportunities which abound in rural areas.

If you know a rural housing organisation that would benefit from membership, please ask them to consider joining us.  RSN is a solely rural focussed organisation with an electronic distribution network in excess of 25,000 individuals.  We reach right across all the rural areas of England and provide a sustained and respected voice for rural areas at national level.  Anyone who wants to talk to us about our role and services in relation to rural housing should contact Andy Dean to find out more.

If you are a small housing organisation operating in rural England, you can have access to all the services of RSN for an annual subscription from just £250 plus VAT.  RSN exists to share information, promote good practice and represent the voice of rural England at a national level.  Check out our website for more information or contact Andy Dean to join up.


Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.