Rural Housing Conference 2023

About the Conference

Our 22nd annual rural housing conference took place at Birnam Arts Centre on the 24th February 2023. This was our first in-person conference since the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and we were delighted to be back! Thank you to everyone who came along – we hope you found the event useful. Slides from the presentations are now available on this page.

Programme Overview

This year, we looked at how we can secure the sustainability and health of our rural communities.

Daytime TV is filled with the promise of A Simple Life, an Escape to the Country or a New Life in the Wild, a popular internet meme is #cottagecore – an idealisation of a pastoral life and escape from the dangers of the modern world. These trends have been exacerbated by the COVID 19 pandemic and the post pandemic changes in working practice which allow more people to work remotely.

But, what do we need to do to ensure that rural communities benefit from the growth in remote working, how can we enable young people to remain and return to rural communities, and prevent depopulation and enable repopulation, without precipitating the gentrification and geriatrification of our rural communities?

The programme examined a range of ideas which seek to address these issues including; Rural Housing Scotland initiatives Smart Clachan and Radical Rural Housing; learning from the approach of our neighbours in Ireland to Rural Development; securing a Just Transition for rural homes; how rural communities can benefit from the energy generated in their communities and how rewilding and repeopling can go hand in hand.

2023 RHS Conference Presentations

Our Rural Future

In May 2021, the Irish Government launched, a shared online booking platform that now hosts more than 300 enterprise, co-working and community hubs across the State. These hubs act as incubators for new businesses and also play a significant role in supporting remote workers in rural communities. The Department of Rural and Community Development and the Western Development Commission, the two State bodies managing the initiative, will provide an overview of the project from inception to implementation and discuss the future of the network.

Next, Morven Fancey (HIE) made the link between housing and economic growth in the Highlands and Islands outlining why national policies to support both need to be aligned and adjusted to fit with the specific conditions in remote rural and island communities; how important housing is if we are to optimise the significant economic opportunities facing the region in the coming years; and will refer to work being undertaken by the Convention of the Highlands and Islands Population Working Group to address depopulation. Morven has 30 years’ experience of working in rural economic development in the region, mostly focusing on the research, education and skills landscape. More recently she has been focussed on addressing depopulation in rural locations in island and west coast communities where the lack of housing is now recognised as the major barrier to sustaining and growing the population AND the economy.

Smart Clachan

In this session, Donna Young, RHS Smart Clachan Development Officer and Richard Graves, co-owner of G+GA Architects gave an update on RHS pilot Smart Clachan projects in South Uist. Andrew Donaldson, a rural social entrepreneur from Comrie in Perthshire, with a passion for the potential of rural people and places, told us the story of the Tomduie Smart Clachan so far. Learn more about this pilot projects and whether a Smart Clachan could help alleviate housing issues in your community.

Uist Smart Clachan Presentation
Tomduie Clachan Presentation

Empowering Rural Communities

In the context of sustained high energy prices, attendant rates of fuel poverty, and demanding targets set by Scottish Government a proactive approach to energy has never been more important for social landlords. At this session you’ll hear from Power Circle and from Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association about their work together and about how smart local energy systems can be leveraged to deliver tenant affordability, progress towards net zero goals, and even to create new revenue streams.

Empowering Rural Communities

Rewilding and the Rural Housing Crisis 

Nature recovery and community prosperity have the potential to go hand in hand. Highlands Rewilding discussed what they’ve been learning about the rural housing crisis and how they envisage repeopling – through zero-carbon nature-positive rural housing deployment – and rewilding fitting with their land management model in future, where locally appropriate. Trail Architects have worked with Highlands Rewilding to develop a strategy for the holistic and responsible master planning of rewilding land. Trail will discuss their strategic approach to development of a masterplan, identification of individual sites, phasing and an approach to the planning process to responsibly address the rural housing crisis.

Trail Architects Presentation

Book Launch

Poverty is perceived as an urban problem, yet many in rural Britain also experience hardship. This new book (published 22nd February by Policy Press) explores how and why people in rural areas experience and negotiate poverty and social exclusion. It examines the role of societal processes, individual circumstances, sources of support (markets; state; voluntary organisations; family and friends) and the role of place, drawing on 3 case study areas in Scotland and England.

It concludes that the UK’s welfare system is poorly adapted to rural areas, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and cutbacks exacerbating pressures. Voluntary organisations increasingly fill gaps in support left by the state. Invaluable to those working in policy and practice, the book recommends a combination of person-based and place-based approaches to tackle rural poverty.

Rural Poverty Today Presentation

Housing and the Rural Economy

In many rural areas, lack of affordable housing is becoming detrimental to the economy. In order to thrive, we must
enable businesses to survive, grow and be resilient. To achieve this, we must find a real solution to the lack of
housing available to those looking for employment here and for those already working here, for businesses of all
sizes, across sectors.

Tavish Scott, CEO Salmon Scotland Presentation

Financing Your Rural Housing Project

Jon Lee, Business Development Manager for Ecology Building Society took a look at what to plan for, and the ups and downs of developing homes and community resources in the face of a global pandemic and volatile economic times. Jon also touched on some of the recent rural housing projects that Ecology Building Society has supported in Scotland.

A Just Rural Transition

Scotland’s rural communities are being hit hard by the energy cost crisis. Rural Housing Scotland is supporting the
Existing Homes Alliance in a call for the the Scottish Government to provide a Rural Homes Package to ensure
fairness and equality for remote and rural Scotland. Gillian will discuss the key policies and measures needed to
support rural communities to move to zero emissions heating. The Existing Homes Alliance is a coalition of housing, environmental, fuel poverty, consumer and industry organisations calling for action to transform Scotland’s existing housing stock. Gillian Campbell supports the Alliance, working across sectors and with government to shape the policy, regulatory and funding framework so that it delivers the scale of retrofit needed to ensure Scotland meets climate change and fuel poverty targets.

Community Led Housing – How We Did It!

Two communities highlight how they delivered affordable community led housing, providing insights on the process of developing a community led housing project from feasibility to reality. Vicky Davidson will describe how EYCDC successfully converted a derelict steading into community led housing and state of the art offices; and Helen MacDonald will outline how MICT have delivered three community led housing projects and their future ambitions. 

Sponsors & EXPO

We are delighted that Ecology Building SocietyHighlands Rewilding and Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Salmon Scotland are sponsoring this year’s event. Several organisations will also have exhibition stands. Visit the sponsors and expo page to read about them and what they do!