Rural Housing Scotland is working with Stòras Uibhist and Comrie Croft to develop Smart Clachan, a new housing initiative for modern life in rural locations. Keep up-to-date with developments on their project pages: Tomduie Clachan and Uist Smart Clachan.
What is a Smart Clachan?
A clachan is a traditional Scottish hamlet consisting of a few houses, with farm outhouses such as byres and barns, and kailyards, walled areas for growing vegetables. Clachans were close knit communities often working cooperatively on shared land.
Smart Clachan are a 21st Century revival of a clachan. They are community based initiatives to support repopulation by creating affordable housing and shared facilities which enable new households to remain, return and settle.
Smart Clachan take the build form of a clachan and utilise community led/cooperative housing models like cohousing or collective self build to create modern affordable homes. The community/cooperative ethos is fostered through a range of shared services and facilities to enhance community and connectivity, including a community work hub to enable households to establish their own business or work remotely for local, national and international companies.
Other shared elements could include shared workshops, cooperative growing space/poly tunnel, community renewables, district heating systems, and shared electric vehicles. Smart Clachan can incorporate all or just some of these shared services and facilities.
The development of a Smart Clachan is a response to a range of threats facing rural communities, such as lack of affordable housing, demographic change, COVID and climate change. It is also a response to a range of opportunities such as cooperative housing, remote working, energy generation and food production. Smart Clachan have the potential to substantially increase community resilience and foster cooperative community responses. Community groups or local councils looking to establish a Smart Clachan will have identified a range of threats and opportunities in their area to which a Smart Clachan is an ideal response. This may have come from research into demographic change or housing need, the Local Housing Strategy, local place plans, local interest in self build/food production, or demand for community work hubs or workshop space.
Community Led Housing
There are a variety of community led housing options and tenures. A Smart Clachan could be developed utilising any or a mixture of the following options:
- community trust development of affordable housing for rent
- community trust development of housing for low cost home ownership options (like shared equity)
- community trust releasing plots of land for development of self build housing
- collective self build
- mutual home ownership cooperatives
Shared working space
The concept of a Smart Clachan includes the development of co-working space as part of the housing development. In the post-COVID world, more people will be working at home and there will be greater opportunities for remote working with greater potential for people living in rural areas, as more organisations adopt distributed working models.
Whilst working from home has significant benefits, there are also considerable downsides. Working remotely can lead to isolation and loneliness and reduce opportunities for collaboration and networking. This is the motivation for co-working spaces allied (but not exclusive) to the Smart Clachan – to create a community work hub where people can interact, collaborate and network, and become more productive and creative through cross pollination of ideas.
Energy Efficiency and Low Carbon Construction
The aim for homes at a Smart Clachan is that they meet a level of energy efficiency that achieves the twin objectives of eliminating the risk of fuel poverty and addressing the Climate and Biodiversity Emergency. The construction or the retrofitting of homes should include sufficient insulation, draught-proofing and design measures to reach Passive House or EnerPHit standard.
In addition to optimising the amount of energy needed to run the buildings of a Smart Clachan, materials used in their construction or retrofitting will be from renewable sources, e.g. timber and other homegrown, plant-based materials such as straw and hemp. Reclaimed, non-toxic mineral materials from local sources, for example stone, sand, brick and gravel, will be used where appropriate. All of this will be measured against the RIBA’s Climate Challenge targets for embodied carbon and will aim to achieve the 2030 standard.
Reducing energy demand in buildings has three long-term benefits for any project, but particularly for Smart Clachan.
The size of renewable energy equipment necessary for the project (e.g. solar PV) will be minimised, reducing capital cost, maintenance cost and replacement costs. Renewable energy technology tends to be made from energy-intensive and polluting materials and components, for example lithium and aluminium. Minimising the size of equipment minimises the amount of pollution generated. Rural areas are, by their nature, often some distance from centralised repair and maintenance hubs. Minimising the amount, and complexity, of renewable technology installed on buildings in rural areas helps minimise the requirement for call-outs, as well as any emissions from maintenance teams’ travel.
Smart Clachan Car Sharing
The lack of public transport in rural areas is often cited as the reason that rural households need to have a car. However, the cost of owning a car (or two) can be a significant drain on incomes and the cost to the climate of car use is increasingly evident. As we travel less and increasingly work in offices or workshops that are close to home, many people are questioning the need to own their own car and looking to car sharing arrangements. These are as viable in a rural setting as they are in urban locations and there are several excellent examples.
Car sharing initiatives, which allow you to rent a car without owning one, are becoming increasingly popular and viable. They often utilise electric cars and mobile technology to ease access and booking arrangements. Such schemes are increasingly popular with cohousing or cooperative housing arrangements with the housing cooperative owning vehicles which are leased by the day or by the hour to residents.
Car sharing is also a potent argument to counter concerns planners may have to establishing Smart Clachan in rural locations. In some parts of Scotland, housing in the countryside is seen as inherently unsustainable since households have traditionally required petrol vehicles to commute and access services. However the post-COVID environment with distributed workplaces or home working, combined with limited car use and zero emissions vehicles, potentially charging from in situ renewables, could change rural sustainability. Alongside facilitating car sharing, a Smart Clachan could develop EV Infrastructure to enable nearby vehicle charging.
More and more people are seeking to grow their own food, motivated by a wish to eat seasonal, locally produced food, and to reduce their carbon footprint and food miles. The COVID pandemic has also exacerbated concerns regarding food security, and with more people working at home, more people are spending time in their gardens.
Some local authorities have produced strategies and guides to Community Food Growing Space, flowing from the Community Empowerment Act which gives local people the right to request to lease an allotment from the council.
Not everyone has sufficient space, knowledge or equipment to grow their own food, but as part of their cooperative and sustainable ethos, Smart Clachan can build this in from the start by establishing communal growing space, allotments, a large polytunnel, shed and tool library. There are a number of excellent examples of community gardens and allotments established in recent years and there are a range of organisations which can provide support to help realise this aspect of the Clachan.