Our newest team member and recent graduate, Kirsty Glover, tells us about her passion for rural issues which led to her dissertation comparing rural depopulation in northern Spain and the Scottish Highlands. As a resident of Applecross, Kirsty also shares her thoughts on what better rural housing would mean to communities like hers and explores the wider challenges and potential solutions to the rural housing crisis.
What attracted you to the job with Rural Housing Scotland?
I returned to Applecross after graduating from university but I never imagined being able to settle here long term. In part this was because of a lack of affordable housing but, tied in with that, was the fact that I wanted a job that would be challenging and rewarding. Like many rural areas in the Highlands, existing opportunities in Applecross are heavily weighted towards hospitality, and, like hundreds of Highland teenagers, I spent all my summers working in local restaurants, but I wanted something more for my career. So when I came across this post with Rural Housing Scotland, it felt like a perfect opportunity to use my skills and develop on my passion for rural issues.
Tell us more about that passion for rural issues.
My interest in rural housing stemmed from witnessing the struggle people have faced, for decades, when trying to settle in Applecross. Now, since returning home from Glasgow, I am encountering this challenge myself.
I believe that lack of housing should not be a barrier to those who wish to move to a rural area, especially where population levels are fragile, and incomers are needed. Housing is the dominant issue for numerous rural areas. In Applecross, it has been at the centre of local conversation for many years, with great efforts from development officers and volunteers to drive change.
At the core of these efforts is a determination to maintain a sustainable population and safeguard the future of our rural community. Maintaining a sustainable population has long been the biggest struggle facing rural areas, as young people leave their homes and find new life in the city for work or study, adequate housing or a better quality of life – either because they want to or because they feel that have no choice.
Personally, I left Applecross to further my studies in Glasgow and get a taste of city life. Urbanization isn’t unique to Scotland – it is a global phenomenon and whilst the contributing factors may differ, cross-country cooperation and discussion could prove useful in developing strategies for endangered communities. This idea became the topic for my university dissertation, in which I compared rural depopulation in northern Spain and the Highlands of Scotland, leading to some interesting findings.
Whilst parts of the Scottish Highlands have had some success in increasing the population to a healthy level, many of the more remote communities are still facing a crisis. There is a need for innovative and dynamic solutions and, whilst addressing the housing issue will not solve rural depopulation on its own, it is a key issue and a good place to start.
What impact do you think better rural housing would have?
Adequate housing, which provides shelter, security and dignity, is a basic human necessity, yet one which is ill-afforded to many in our society. According to the charity, Shelter, 1.5 million people are currently impacted by the ‘housing emergency’ in Scotland.
The housing emergency refers to more than rough sleeping, it is also concerned with the number of people without safe and stable accommodation, for instance, those in temporary accommodation or people living in over-crowded, dangerous housing, with unaffordable rents and poor conditions.
The effect of this crisis is devastating. In a rural context, lack of housing can push people from an area, further contributing to the overarching issue of depopulation. Poor housing options or, as is often the case in rural areas, no housing availability at all can cause a multitude of further problems: from the extreme stress of simply having nowhere to live to health problems which arise when people are forced to live in substandard housing.
Better housing has the potential, when combined with other development efforts, to transform the outlook for many rural areas.
How will we know when we have solved the rural housing crisis?
In simple terms, we will have solved the problem when adequate, efficient and affordable supply meets latent demand. In reality, it’s my hope that whilst we work to solve the crisis, we continue to create sustainable demand through wider rural strategies to promote repopulation of our rural areas.
In 1831 Applecross had a population of 2,892. Today it is just 230. Emigration has been a fact of highland life for centuries. If we can create better housing, greater employment opportunities, improved services and infrastructure, and harness the technological revolution, perhaps the 21st century presents our best opportunity to reverse that trend.
Interview with Kirsty Glover conducted July 2021.