Spotlight on Rural Housing - January 2021

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

Vision for Planning launched

A broad range of housing, planning, transport, environmental, heritage, built environment and public health organisations have come together to set out a shared vision for planning and their suggestions for how the government can maximise the potential of planning.

They argue that the planning system has vast potential to deliver positive outcomes for people, nature and the economy, supporting the delivery of new homes in order to solve the housing crisis.

You can read the vision document via this link.

What are your top ‘asks’ for Rural Housing?

Last month, English Rural Housing Association launched their 12 ‘asks’ for Rural Housing. They are as follows:

  1. That everyone deserves a safe, secure, and affordable home.
  2. That affordable rural housing is understood by Government and accommodated in policy.
  3. That affordable rural homes continue to be delivered through key rural housing partners.
  4. That there are increased flexibilities that support local affordable rents.
  5. That by investing in rural partners, Homes England smashes the 10% rural delivery target.
  6. That homes are allocated in a way that helps households and neighbourhoods achieve their potential.
  7. That a legacy for future generations is preserved by allowing people to live locally.
  8. That affordable housing is understood as the essential ingredient in supporting prosperous rural economies.
  9. That stigma associated with affordable homes falls away and the value of all residents is fully understood.
  10. That rural communities understand the true value affordable homes bring to their village.
  11. That for communities to thrive, they need people. And people need homes. Affordable homes.
  12. That the word NIMBY disappears because charity, selflessness and community-spirit flourishes.

What would yours be?

Local authority support delivers new homes in Teignbridge village

Willow tree Housing Partnership has recently completed a development of 9 homes, comprising 7 affordable rent and 2 shared ownership, along with one self-build plot, in the Devon village of Denbury between Newton Abbot and Ashburton.  Willow Tree Housing Partnership is committed to ensuring those working in the traditional low-income areas can access homes that would otherwise be beyond their means and these homes have played a fundamental part in enabling many locals to remain within the village.  

The development has been the culmination of several years of hard work by the Parish Council, Teignbridge District Council and the project team, working with Classic Builders.  As is so often the case when building homes in rural areas, the site did not come without its complexities, but the hard work and determination of the project team has ensured that these were dealt with quickly and appropriately.

Work commenced on site in early January 2020 but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the site was closed at the end of March until May 2020.  This caused delays taking the anticipated completion dates beyond September 2020.  Classic Builders worked consistently hard to ensure the build was completed to a high standard, despite the challenges brought about by coronavirus.  Willow Tree Housing Partnership were pleased to take handover of the properties in mid-December, enabling tenants to be in their new homes before Christmas.

The scheme was funded by grant from Homes England together with £100,000 from Teignbridge District Council to support the viability of the scheme, which included £50,000 from the Council’s Community Led Housing Fund.

Housing Associations as anchor organisations – a toolkit

In 2019, the Great Places Commission reported its ten recommendations for creating great places to live. The Commissioners identified a huge opportunity for housing associations as anchor institutions to embrace community wealth-building. 

The National Housing Federation, in partnership with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), has now produced a toolkit which explores this issue. It outlines how housing associations can contribute to local communities as community anchors and includes a wide range of practical advice and insight.

It is divided into five sections, across the five pillars of community wealth-building:

  • Making financial power work for local places.
  • Fair employment and just labour markets.
  • Plural ownership of the economy.
  • Progressive procurement of goods and services.
  • Socially productive use of land and assets.

The final section puts this practice into the wider policy context, linking this progressive action to the sector’s social purpose, and reiterating the role housing associations can play in building back better after coronavirus.

You can access the toolkit via this link.

Housing Insights from RSN

RSN Member Insights is the place to discover the statistics that define communities within membership of the Rural Services Network (RSN).  It is regularly updated with new analyses, and these will be highlighted in the 'What's New' section of the RSN's Weekly Rural Bulletin.  The Rural Bulletin also provides a selection of the most rurally topical news items, so do subscribe and encourage your colleagues to subscribe to what is an invaluable weekly periodical.

Updated Housing Insights and other housing related analyses can be accessed via this link.

To make a suggestion of data that would benefit you by being included in the Member Insights section, please email Dan Worth, RSN’s Research and Performance Analyst, at

What does the future of regulation mean in practice?

Kelsey Walker of Savills has suggested some key takeaways on the future of social housing regulation: what’s staying the same, what’s changing, and what everyone should start to think about now. This informative paper, produced towards the end of 2020, is available to view via this link.

Top tips for partnering as a smaller Housing Association

Pam Reynolds, board member at New Forest Villages Housing Association writes:

“New Forest Villages Housing Association (NFVHA) is a small rural housing provider which has built 47 houses for rent for local people across six New Forest villages.

“In 2015, we were looking for a trusted partner who had strong rural housing credentials whilst our sole member of staff took maternity leave. After considering all the options and meeting with several prospective partners, we chose English Rural. Our values and culture aligned, and their offer was transparent, good value and genuine. We had a lot of potential as an organisation, but the partnership offered access to a range of expertise and skills that we would not otherwise have had.

“In September 2019, we merged with English Rural, by becoming a subsidiary within their group. I cannot pretend that our board and shareholders were 100% in favour of this idea at the outset but once we delved further into the advantages of being part of a better resourced organisation, opposition soon faded away. English Rural had a flexible approach and were prepared to tailor the merger to suit both parties. They helped us to develop a new, ambitious business strategy, whilst improving our financial and operational performance. The amount of choice and support available to our residents also increased in terms of how they pay their rent, report repairs and more ways of communicating with us.

“One of our greatest fears was that we would lose our local brand identity and goodwill, but happily this has not happened. We have retained our own logo and name and still have a local board. Our original housing manager also remains in post as an employee of English Rural. Retaining this single point of contact meant that residents have access to the same housing manager they have always had, but they were now better supported. The overall quality of service to our residents has been enhanced because of the merger.

“I joined the English Rural Board after the merger, and this has allowed a flow of information between the two organisations. This is hugely beneficial as it means our voice can be heard. This also enables me to participate in training sessions and this enhanced knowledge and skill can easily be fed back to the NFVHA board.

“There are four main advantages to the merger from my perspective:

  1. Anxieties around how to maintain good governance have been eased through the support we now receive as part of the group. We have adopted English Rural’s policies and procedures and their expert team updates these and ensures compliance.
  2. Our financial management is more consistent and clearer. The services of English Rural’s Financial Director and his team are invaluable. The reporting is clear and thorough, and we have expertise to call on when negotiating loans and investing our funds. We now have a clear and ambitious five-year business strategy to work to which was agreed between us. We have also managed to drive down costs, offering better value for money for our residents.
  3. The expertise of the English Rural development team have already been of great assistance and a programme is emerging that will restart our stalled development programme. We now have a target of investing in 14 new homes and upgrading our older homes over the strategy period.
  4. Our part-time housing manager was TUPEd across to English Rural. Her local knowledge and contacts have been retained but she now has the support and assistance from a team of property managers. This ensures holidays and sickness are now covered easily so our tenants have an improved continuity of quality service.

“If you are thinking of partnering with another organisation, ask what you want from the relationship. Think about finding an organisation that achieves shared objectives and can help you develop your potential into something real. Ultimately, it is about trust.

“While it’s only one of the ways to work in partnership and not the right solution for everyone, the merger with English Rural has been an unqualified success for both our board and more importantly our residents. We now look forward to the future with confidence and optimism.

“As we face this unprecedented crisis of coronavirus, I feel very relieved that we can shelter under the trusted umbrella of a competent and well-run organisation on this rainiest of days. We are now stronger, together.”

Rural Proofing for Health toolkit published

The National Centre for Health and Care and Rural England CIC have published a new toolkit which aims to help organisations working in the health and care sector to address the needs of their local rural populations when they develop or review strategies, initiatives and service delivery plans.  It can also be used by non-statutory organisations who review or monitor health and care service provision.

The toolkit recognises that certain characteristics typical of rural areas can prove challenging in terms of improving service provision and service outcomes, but it also recognises that rural areas can present opportunities.

The toolkit is based around six main themes:

  • Main hospital services
  • Primary and community health services
  • Mental health services
  • Public health and preventative services
  • Social care services
  • Workforce

You can access the toolkit via this link. You can read useful materials from the launch event which took place in December via this link.

Housing Association secures £70 million funding deal

Ambitious plans by a Midlands-based housing association to deliver 2000 new homes by 2023 have received a substantial boost with the announcement of a significant finance deal.

Housing Plus Group has extended its existing Revolving Credit Facility (RCF) from £15m to £45m for a further three years, bringing the total amount of finance available through all forms of lending from Barclays Bank to £70m. The new facility follows last year's merger with Stafford and Rural Homes and represents a huge vote of confidence in the financial stability of the expanded Group.

Phil Ingle, Executive Director - Finance, at Housing Plus Group, explained: "This latest arrangement reflects the strong finances of the group, although we are grateful to Barclays for delivering on this financial package during difficult and uncertain times for the economy due to the coronavirus pandemic. As well as providing us significant financial flexibility and liquidity in the medium-term, the arrangement will help us to deliver on our merger objectives, including a pledge to begin building much needed new homes in Staffordshire and Shropshire for rent and shared ownership."

You can read more via this link.

Good reasons why affordable homes are needed in small villages

English Rural have published an interview with one of their residents who was forced to live in a horsebox before she found an affordable rural home with English Rural in a village she knew and loved. It provides a very clear explanation of why many villages need new affordable homes to meet the needs of the community.

You can listen to the story here.

Government consults on rural transport strategy

The government has published a call for evidence which seeks views and evidence from all those with an interest in rural transport.

Following the government’s Future of mobility: urban strategy, which was published in March 2019, the Department for Transport are now seeking views and evidence on what could be incorporated into a Future of Transport: rural strategy.

The consultation document has 3 sections:

  • the context of the Future of Transport: rural strategy
  • the government’s assessment of the mobility trends in rural areas, and the emerging opportunities for rural environments that are being witnessed in transport innovation – this section seeks views on whether government have identified these correctly and further evidence for these trends
  • consideration of the approach that the government could take to help shape these opportunities to benefit rural areas

This consultation is part of the Future of Transport programme, which aims “to shape transport innovation and secure the UK’s position as a leader in the transport sector of the future.”

This consultation closes on 16 February 2021 and you can access all information via this link.

Green Homes grant scheme extended

The Green Homes Grant Scheme has been extended and now runs to March 2022. The government will provide a voucher worth up to £5,000 or £10,000 to help cover the cost of making energy efficient improvements to your home. Improvements could include insulating your home to reduce your energy use or installing low-carbon heating to lower the amount of carbon dioxide your home produces.

The government will provide a voucher that covers two-thirds of the cost of qualifying energy efficiency or low carbon heating improvements to your home. The maximum value of the voucher is £5,000.

If you are on a low income and receive certain benefits, you can receive a voucher covering all of the cost of the improvements. The maximum value of the voucher is £10,000.

To apply for the voucher, you must either:

  • own your home (including park homeowners, long-leaseholders and shared ownership)
  • be a private or social landlord

More information is available 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.

RSN exists to share information, promote good practice and represent the voice of rural England at a national level.  Check out the website for more information.

To find out more about membership for rural housing associations and to join up, contact Andy Dean


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