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 - January 2024

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

Housing crisis threatens survival of rural communities

Communities in rural England face an existential threat from an acute and overlooked shortage of genuinely affordable housing. This is the clear finding of a recent report published by CPRE.

‘Unraveling a crisis: the state of rural affordable housing in England’ sets out the causes of the problem, lays bare its impact on real people and explains what the government can do to fix it.

CPRE state: “A chronic shortage of genuinely affordable housing is creating huge social housing waiting lists and forcing people out of the communities they know and love. This worrying crisis is being fed by record house prices, stagnating wages and an increasing number of second homes and short term lets.

“The countryside, where levels of homelessness have leapt 40% in just five years, is being drained of skills, economic activity and vital public services.

“There is an extreme disparity between rural house prices, which are higher than those in other parts of the country, and rural wages, which are much lower. House prices in the countryside increased at close to twice the rate of those in urban areas in the five years to 2022. While the average cost of a home jumped 29% and is now £419,000, rural earnings increased by just 19% to a total of £25,600.”

For the 300,000 people currently on waiting lists for social rented housing in rural England, at the current rate of construction, it will take 89 years to offer a home to everyone!

The report contains a list of recommendations that CPRE believes will help to solve the severe housing crisis in the countryside. It includes calls for the government to:

  • Redefine ‘affordable housing’ to directly link to average local incomes.
  • Increase the minimum amount of genuinely affordable housing required by national planning policy and implement ambitious targets for the construction of social rented homes.
  • Support local communities to deliver small-scale developments of genuinely affordable housing and make it easier for councils to purchase land at reasonable prices.
  • Introduce a register of second homes and short-term lets, with new powers for local authorities to levy additional council tax on second homes.
  • Extend restrictions on the resale of ‘affordable housing’ to all parishes with fewer than 3,000 inhabitants to ensure local workers can continue to use properties, rather then allowing them to become second homes or holiday lets.

You can read the full report at this link.

A victory for visibility – Rural Homelessness campaign receives national award

In November, staff at English Rural Housing Association were over the moon to share that their campaign “Homelessness in the Countryside – A Hidden Crisis” and the launch of the ‘Rural Homelessness Counts’ Coalition, had won the Campaign of the Year award at the Affordable Housing Awards 2023.

The Association stated: “This win is not just a feather in our cap; it is a milestone in our journey to highlight and tackle the issue of rural homelessness in England.

Winning this award has underscored the importance of our objectives to illuminate the challenges of rural homelessness, which often goes unnoticed. The comprehensive research conducted, and the subsequent establishment of a coalition have played a pivotal role in making rural homelessness a subject of national conversation.”

The alarming statistics revealed by the research, showed a 24% increase in rough sleeping in rural areas.

The Association went on to state: “Winning this award means more than just recognition for our hard work; it means that our message about the crisis of rural homelessness has resonated and created waves of change. It reaffirms our belief that when academic institutions, housing associations, and charities come together, remarkable impact can be achieved.

“The ‘Rural Homelessness Counts’ Coalition has already started to see the fruits of our labour, with increased commitments from political figures and a growing public awareness of the crisis. With this award, we aim to propel our advocacy further, ensuring that the crisis of rural homelessness remains in the public eye and on the political agenda.”

You can read more at this link.

Reducing rough sleeping in rural communities – webinar for Council officers and members

Taking place on Monday 29th January between 2.00pm and 3.30pm, this joint session by the Local Government Association (LGA) and English Rural provides an opportunity for attendees to hear directly from the LGA and English Rural on good practice themes that have emerged in reducing rough sleeping in rural areas. It is also an opportunity to hear directly from councils on interventions that they have undertaken to reduce rough sleeping in their rural communities.

Anyone wanting to attend the webinar can book a place via this link.

Rural exception site scheme welcomed in Staffordshire village

Housing Plus Group has celebrated the completion of a new development of homes for social rent and shared ownership in a South Staffordshire village.

The scheme has delivered a two-bedroom bungalow, 4 one-bedroom bungalows, 1 three-bedroom house and 4 two-bedroom houses, including shared ownership properties which are helping buyers get onto the housing ladder in an increasingly challenging market.  

Built to meet local housing need, the homes were designed to resemble a farmhouse, workers cottages and barns, with distinctive features such as decorative roof ridge tiles, arched windows and farmyard-style boundary fencing. The properties have been constructed to accept electric charging points and most have either a bird or bat box to encourage and protect local wildlife.

Sepp Sargeant, Head of Development at Housing Plus Group, explained: “We are delighted that these attractive, high-quality homes have been completed, for local people to rent as well as to help them get onto the housing ladder through shared ownership. These homes will help us to make a positive difference to homes, lives and communities for many years to come, by providing affordable housing for local people."

Elected Members from South Staffordshire Council recently visited the site to have a look round the finished properties.

Leader of South Staffordshire Council, Councillor Roger Lees, said: “South Staffordshire has a strong track record of delivering affordable homes for local people and this scheme is very welcome. 

“It is the result of close liaison and partnership working between the council and Housing Plus Group.”

South Staffordshire Council chairman and local member for Codsall, Councillor Meg Barrow, said: “We know that staying within the community in which they were born and brought up is very important to many local residents. This scheme, which was granted under the council’s rural exceptions policy, will enable families to do just that.”

Solar panels, heat pumps and EV charging points for new affordable homes in Somerset

Willowtree Housing Partnership is nearing completion of an affordable homes scheme in the Somerset village of North Petherton.

The scheme is a development of 7 affordable homes comprising 5 affordable rent and 2 shared ownership, all semi-detached properties. The homes form part of a wider development of 33 homes and have been built to a very high standard, incorporating renewable elements including solar PV, Air Source Heat Pumps and EV charging points. Works commenced on site in Autumn 2022 and the homes are due to be handed over by March this year.

Early engagement with Somerset Council’s Development Enabling Team on this section 106 development, ensured that the mix in terms of both tenure and size of properties will directly meet the need of the local area.  Working with a local innovative builder has meant that the properties have incorporated renewable elements and completed to a very high standard.

Housing Association community activities take centre stage

Trent & Dove Housing Association operate across parts of Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. A proud member of Placeshapers, they take their community anchor role very seriously.  “Reaching all of our areas of operation is so important in the current economic climate and we do this in a number of ways through our Community Engagement Team.” Projects include:

  • Ladies Cycling in partnership with Everyone Active. Over 22 ladies attend every week making use of a stock of 10 bikes purchased with external funding.
  • Places of Welcome. A weekly 2-hour volunteer-led session to reduce isolation, access hot drinks and food, and signpost to relevant service providers.
  • Pop Up Café. Taking place twice a month where people can access a warm and inviting space and have a free hot lunch.
  • Kingfisher Project. Weekly gardening activities for social prescriber clients growing produce for the Association’s 2 Community Cafés.
  • Community Allotments. Currently undergoing maintenance and preparing fences, raised beds and greenhouses in readiness for next growing season providing fresh fruit and vegetables for local community fridges.

In addition, a Coffee Connect service takes an orange vintage van out to communities on a weekly basis to engage with residents over a free cuppa. Since July 2022, over 10,000 people have visited the van establishing an engagement route with previously hard to reach communities, and building strong relationships built with community partners. Funding received in 2023 has enabled the purchase of a trailer which is already out and about at the Association’s events and supporting community partners with theirs.

Warm Spaces run from the Community Café have provided a warm and inviting place for people to access low cost or no cost food with the added benefit of reducing isolation. Over 6,000 meals have been served and 1,300 visits have been made to the Association’s community fridges since the first one opened at the end of February 2023. Originally set up to reduce food waste, these are now used more commonly to provide access to surplus food for families struggling with the increased cost of living.

Affordable homes in Hampshire highly commended

A scheme of 12 affordable homes developed by Hastoe Housing Association has been highly commended in the Sustainable Communities category of the CPRE Hampshire awards.

Prioritised for people with a connection to the village of Odiham, the nine homes for social rent and three for shared ownership are all built to Hastoe’s New Build Standard which incorporates 8 key elements: energy efficiency; water consumption; beautiful design; quality control; environment; property size; accessibility & adaptability; future proofing.

You can read more about the scheme and the standard at this link.

Energy efficiency drive for historic homes

Government has published new plans which aim “to remove barriers and drive energy efficiency in historic homes, cutting energy bills for households across the country, while also ensuring that the important historical and beautiful features of these homes are properly protected.”

Government state that they want “to see the energy efficiency of historic homes improved but without the blight of ugly or inappropriate retrofit damaging these properties.”

The Government has published its review into the challenges households face when retrofitting in conservation areas and listed buildings. They state: “Currently, owners of home built before 1919 face paying on average £428 a year more on energy bills if their home is not energy efficient, while the review found planning was a major issue faced by households, with frustration about the time it takes to get planning permission.”

The review has set out a series of commitments to drive energy efficiency and low carbon heating improvements to listed buildings and buildings in conservation areas across England, as part of the Government’s commitment to reach Net Zero by 2050.

Commitments set out in the review to drive energy efficiency?include:?

  • A consultation on new national development management policy specially for historic buildings, ensuring greater certainty and consistency in decisions.
  • Consulting on the greater use of Listed Building Consent Orders to support building improvements, removing the need to submit individual listed building consent applications.?
  • Developing clearer guidance for historic homeowners on improving energy efficiency and supporting the construction industry to better deliver retrofitting services.?
  • Consulting on reforms to Energy Performance Certificates to ensure they are accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

You can read more at this link.

Bats protected whilst solar panels fitted to affordable homes

A colony of bats who have made their home in a terrace of 150-year-old houses are being protected by White Horse Housing Association during a £600,000 refurbishment programme.

The bats were found in roof spaces of homes in Ammerdown Terrace, Kilmersdon in Somerset during preparations for the major refurbishment programme, due to start this month. The work, which will include new roofs, better insulation, double glazing, new heating and solar panels, is aimed at raising the energy rating standards of the housing association’s 32 homes in the village.

The first phase of the work will be at a row of 15 two and three-bedroomed cottages in Ammerdown Terrace, just outside the Somerset village. The two and three bedroomed homes, which were built in 1872, will all have new double glazing to the front, internal ceiling, cavity wall and loft insulation. Solar roof panels will be installed to reduce heating costs and also divert any excess power generated to heat the water.

Homes that have not already had their heating upgraded will have a new smart, modern and energy-efficient electric storage heating system installed. Operations Director Belinda Eastland said: “We first acquired these homes in 2015 and the only form of heating they had in them was multi-fuel burners which ran the back boiler for the central heating. The tenants had to get up in the morning and light the fire to get hot water and heating. The new Quantum storage system, which is far more modern and efficient than older storage heaters, it is programmable and cheap to run.” Mrs Eastland said the work is essential to meet the government’s energy rating targets.

Tenant Maggy Large, who has lived in Ammerdown Terrace for 30 years, said she is looking forward to the improvements. “It is going to be lovely,” she said. “I’m looking forward to having the solar panels and the double glazing and I’ll be really glad when it’s all done. White Horse Housing are looking after us very well.”

The cost of the work is being met by a £300,000 grant from the government’s Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, with the rest being match-funded by White Horse Housing Association.

Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund wave 2.2 closes 31 January

The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) will upgrade a significant amount of the social housing stock currently below Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band C up to that standard. It will support the installation of energy performance measures in social homes in England, and aims to help:

  • deliver warm, energy efficient homes
  • reduce carbon emissions
  • tackle fuel poverty
  • support green jobs
  • develop the retrofit sector
  • improve the comfort, health and well-being of social housing tenants

The SHDF Wave 2.2 ‘top up’ competition will allocate up to £80 million of grant funding from April 2024, building on the allocations made under the previous Wave 2.1. The Wave 2.2 competition is now to open to applications which must be submitted by 31 January 2024.

More information is available at:
Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund: Wave 2 - GOV.UK (

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 20,000 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.


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