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 - July 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

Revolutionising rural housing – launch of a groundbreaking design guide

English Rural Housing Association, in collaboration with a panel of rural experts and advocates, has launched a groundbreaking initiative aimed at transforming the perception of affordable rural housing. The publication, titled 'A Design Guide: Building Tomorrow's Rural Communities', was officially released on Friday, 5th July  as part of Rural Housing Week 2024.

The guide features a compelling Foreword by HRH The Princess Royal, underlining the significance of this pioneering work in addressing the rural housing crisis and promoting sustainable, beautiful, and affordable homes in the countryside.

Unveiled at the picturesque Ellenborough Park Hotel, the guide demonstrates that, with the right approach, new homes built in the countryside can be both beautiful and affordable. It showcases exemplary design principles from across England, featuring distinctive illustrations by renowned author and architectural illustrator Matthew Rice.

The guide is divided into five main sections: the future of rural communities; the importance of well-designed homes; the village landscape; designing with tradition; and building towards tomorrow. Alongside HRH The Princess Royal's Foreword, it features expert contributions from Martin Collett, Jo Lavis, Matthew Rice and other respected rural advocates.

The launch event also highlighted the broader rural housing crisis:

  • Rural house prices have skyrocketed by an astonishing 29% over the past five years, far outpacing growth in rural wages.
  • Shockingly, only 8% of the rural housing stock is classified as affordable, compared to 19% in urban areas.
  • 28% of people in social housing face stigma from their neighbours and 15% from housing officials

The guide includes a practical toolkit for villages looking to inform the design of new homes in their community. This toolkit is designed to empower local communities to take an active role in shaping the future of their built environment.

You can read more at this link.


Rural Housing Week 2024

Every year, Rural Housing Week highlights the many social and economic benefits of affordable housing to rural communities. Taking place from 1 to 5 July, this year’s Rural Housing Week focused on why rural communities need the new government to commit to a long-term plan for housing.

The National Housing Federation (NHF) write: “Affordable housing is essential to the prosperity of rural communities. Research shows that building just 10 affordable homes in a rural area generates £1.4m for the economy and supports an average of 26 jobs in the area. However, despite the relatively small scale of these projects, building new affordable homes in rural areas is extremely challenging. The delivery of affordable rural homes is often hampered by complex planning policies, a shortage of investment and stretched resources, leading to limited development in rural areas. These barriers combine to restrict housing supply for rural communities, which threatens their long-term sustainability.”

Since it coincided with the general election, Rural Housing Week 2024 was an opportunity to highlight the role rural housing providers can play in meeting need, and the huge economic and social benefits that a proper rural strategy would bring.

Events included a wide range of events, national and local, including launch of the a new Rural Housing Design Guide, publication of the 2024 Rural Life Monitor, and a national webinar exploring how the housing crisis impacts rural areas - from the local economy to the people who live and work there. NHF members can access the content of the webinar at this link.


Rural Life Monitor published at start of Rural Housing Week

This 2024 report, published by the National Housing Federation (NHF) explores how the housing crisis affects rural communities, services and business. It examines the issues today and the ways in which housing associations in rural areas are working to address these.

NHF write: “Affordable housing is essential to the prosperity of rural communities. It means that people in rural areas have the option to live and work where they grew up, close to their families. Unfortunately, this is increasingly difficult for many due to high house prices and private rents. It also means that the people needed to work in and support local businesses and services are too often having to move away, leaving key amenities in rural areas struggling.

“The housing crisis is often discussed in terms of the number of new homes needed to address the housing crisis in England, but less often in terms of how this looks in different parts of the country. In fact, the number of new affordable homes needed to sustain a village is relatively small. Research published by CPRE, English Rural and Rural Services Network found that building just 10 new affordable homes in a rural area benefits the wider economy, generating an extra £1.4m and supporting an average of 26 jobs.

“Despite this, building new affordable homes in rural areas is extremely challenging. The planning process often takes longer due to stretched and under-resourced planning departments. Rural projects tend to be smaller too so do not benefit from the economies of scale typical in larger developments. This means that once planning is completed, high skilled labour and materials costs are often higher. 

“Consequently, we are not building the homes necessary for rural communities to thrive, socially or economically. This is not only hurting local communities but wider economic growth as well. Services such as schools and pubs are the pillars of rural community life. These services are increasingly at risk of closing where rural areas have suffered from lack of investment in new affordable homes. Without this investment, it is difficult for families to grow and remain in the same area, and more difficult for people to move to these areas, putting the long-term sustainability of local businesses at risk. “

In 2017, NHF published a report called the Rural Life Monitor which explored this issue. In this new 2024 report, they examine the issues facing rural communities today and the ways in which housing associations in rural areas are working to address these. This report helps make the case for the government to produce a long-term plan for housing.

You can access the Monitor at this link.


Dean of Ripon visits new Yorkshire Dales affordable homes

A Housekeeper, Mechanic, Catering Manager and Ambulance Practitioner are among those set to benefit from a new affordable housing scheme which will assist local people to get on the housing ladder in the much sought after Yorkshire Dales National Park.

And the £1.2 million scheme has received the official seal of approval from The Dean of Ripon, the Rev John Dobson, who was recently given a sneak preview of the homes which have been built in the centre of the village of Bainbridge, near Leyburn.

Broadacres Housing Association is preparing to hand over the keys to five properties on land at the back of the Grade 2 Listed Rose & Crown pub in Bainbridge.

Two, two-bedroom semi-detached properties and three, three-bedroom terraced homes are being offered via shared ownership to people with a connection to the village and the surrounding areas, as part of Broadacres’ strategy of ensuring rural communities like this remain sustainable for future generations.

Providing access to high quality, affordable rural housing has been one of Dean John’s key priorities since he arrived at Ripon Cathedral in 2014. He chaired the North Yorkshire Rural Commission which identified rural housing as one of the seven key areas in its Rural North Yorkshire – The Way Forward report.

Dean John said: “It is a great encouragement to see this wonderful, high-quality housing development at Bainbridge.

 “It shows that the North Yorkshire Rural Commission’s recommendation that five houses be built in each parish is possible – at least, in many parishes. The Commission asked for 40% of the provision to be affordable, Broadacres have gone further by making 100% part-ownership for those with a community link.

“This is just the sort of initiative which the Ripon Cathedral Rural Housing Forum is now trying to inspire and facilitate across the region by bringing together organisations who can and wish to make a positive difference for families and communities.”

Broadacres worked in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, North Yorkshire Council, and its local contractor Richmond-based Randall Orchard Construction, on the scheme, which attracted grant funding of £250,000 from Homes England.

The homes have been built using reclaimed stone of a colour and texture similar to adjacent properties, ensuring they are in keeping within the village. Each property will be heated by a renewable energy heat pump and have been built with high levels of energy efficiency in mind.


RSN seminar highlights pressing issues, and solutions, for rural affordable housing

In the lead up to Rural Housing Week, the Rural Services Network (RSN) hosted an exceptionally well-attended seminar on rural affordable housing. The event brought together a diverse group of stakeholders including housing associations, community leaders, rural local authorities and rural advocates to discuss the pressing issues and potential solutions for affordable housing in rural areas. This seminar was a key highlight ahead of Rural Housing Week, underscoring the ongoing efforts to address housing challenges in rural communities.

Martin Collett, Chief Executive of English Rural Housing Association, set the stage with a detailed analysis of the political party manifestos through a rural housing lens. Patrick Merton-Jones, External Affairs Manager at the National Housing Federation, presented a compelling argument for a long-term housing plan tailored to rural needs. Tom Chance, Chief Executive of the Community Land Trust Network, explored the role of community-led development in addressing rural housing needs.

The RSN Rural Affordable Housing Seminar was not only a forum for sharing knowledge and best practices but also a catalyst for action. As Martin Collett aptly put it, there are reasons to be hopeful as rural communities increasingly recognise the need for more affordable housing. The seminar highlighted that with the right policies, funding, and community involvement, significant strides can be made towards solving the rural housing crisis.

Kerry Booth, Chief Executive, Rural Services Network said: "At the RSN, we recognise that the future of rural communities hinges on our ability to provide affordable, high-quality housing. The insights and strategies shared during our recent seminar highlight the urgent need for collaborative efforts to address the housing crisis. By prioritising sustainable development and ensuring that our rural areas have the necessary resources, we can build thriving, resilient communities. This, in turn, will contribute significantly to our national prosperity as a whole, strengthening the backbone of our nation and fostering growth and sustainability across all regions."

You can access all the information from the seminar at this link.


Housing association Connexus on the hunt for 11 apprentices

Rural affordable housing association Connexus is recruiting for 11 apprentices as it looks to create more career opportunities for local people.

There are apprenticeships available in business and administration, plumbing, carpentry, customer services and electrical installation. All successful applicants will be supported to work towards a qualification in their chosen area. Apprentices receive the national living wage, up to 30 days holiday, non-contributary healthcare and rewards scheme and continuous training and development opportunities.

Connexus has been providing apprenticeship opportunities for over 10 years with many apprentices having gone on to have successful careers with the business.

Duane Parker who joined Connexus in 2021 and is in the third year of his plumbing apprenticeship said: “I previously struggled to find an apprenticeship elsewhere due to being slightly older than the average applicant, but this was never an issue with Connexus. I have been supported through my training, supplied with all the tools I need, and work alongside great mentors.”

Noah Sylvester started work with the communities team as an administrative apprentice in 2023 having completed a level 2 business course at Hereford and Ludlow college. Noah said: “I really like working for Connexus and I’m enjoying meeting new people. Everyone is included, and they take care of everyone equally. They have really helped me gain confidence when talking to people. Everyone is friendly, helpful, and welcoming.”

The importance of apprenticeships is reiterated in Rural Ambition, Connexus’ recently published call to action for the next government. Jennifer Preedy, head of organisational development at Connexus said: “Apprenticeships are a great way to begin your career or take that step towards a new one. We’re committed to supporting people in our communities to develop new skills and gain employment by providing a variety of practical, vocational, and business careers and opportunities.”

For more information email: communications@connexus-group.co.uk


When urban meets rural – ‘incomers’ and ‘locals’

The Spring/Summer edition of ‘Countryside Voices,’ a publication of CPRE, the Countryside Charity, includes an article looking at the different local views that exist to change and to new affordable housing schemes.

The article opens: “Rural communities are often characterised as a mixture of ‘locals’ and ‘incomers’ – but how does that play out in everyday life?”

In the article, Anna Jones, a Shropshire-based writer, broadcaster, and farmer’s daughter, looks at the changing face of one English village – Baschurch in Shropshire.

Kerry Bolister of Rural Housing Alliance member, Housing Plus Group, is featured in the article discussing a development of affordable homes in the village.

You can read the article on pages 12-15 at this link.


Grant programmes open for veterans’ housing

The Armed Forces Covenant Fund has grants available through its Major Capital Grants Programme.

This programme will award grants of between £75,000 and £500,000 towards projects that support significant refurbishment, including extensions and new builds, of rental accommodation that will offer high quality support for Veterans with a housing need.

They want to support projects that need help to refurbish or extend existing accommodation or build new accommodation to house Veterans. You can apply for this programme if your project will:

  • Enable major refurbishment of existing social rented or affordable rented homes for Veterans
  • Enable extensions of existing buildings to increase the availability of Veteran housing
  • Increase the number of new build, homes/housing units available to Veterans at affordable or social rents
  • Ensure properties meet decent homes and energy efficiency standards

A separate Refurbishment Grants Programme is also available. This programme will award grants of up to £75,000 towards projects that assist in the refurbishment or extension of rental accommodation that will offer high quality support for veterans with a housing need.

To be eligible for this funding, you must be one of the following:

  • A registered charity that can show it works with veterans or
  • A registered social housing provider that can show it works with veterans.

The next deadline for expressions of interest to the Major Capital Grants programme is 8 January 2025. For the Refurbishment Grants Programme, the deadline is 3 January 2025.

Major Capital Grants Programme : Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust


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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