Changing Climate, Changing Housing: Community-led Solutions to Our Climate Crisis

This is the first in a series of monthly blogs about community-led housing in Scotland, jointly written by Mike Staples, Chief Executive at South of Scotland Community Housing (SOSCH), and Ronnie MacRae, Chief Executive at Communities Housing Trust (CHT). Between us we’ve delivered hundreds of community-led housing projects across Scotland, providing well over 1,000 affordable homes.

Amid all the noise about Glasgow’s COP26 and the world’s net zero targets, progressive and creative climate action has been quietly taking place in communities across Scotland.

Scotland has ambitious climate goals. We’ve committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2045 and having 1 million zero-emission homes by 2030. The built environment has widely been acknowledged as a key area for opportunity in meeting these goals, and communities are making great progress through community-led housing.

This isn’t new. Community Land Scotland’s recently commissioned research, Community Landowners and the Climate Emergency, finds that communities are good at climate-friendly regeneration and that environmental sustainability is a key tenet within their activities. The report finds that communities have “an over-riding concern to care for the community and the local environment,” (p.7).

A second report by the Community Land Trust Network of England and Wales finds that community-led housing organisations in the UK routinely meet and exceed local and national carbon reduction requirements.

Why? Because communities focus on their experiences, their needs, and their aspirations for the future. They look long-term. They want to thrive. They prioritise wellbeing. And this all translates into genuine, grassroots commitment to sustainability and environmental protections that we find in so much of their activities.

Both SOSCH and CHT know this to be true. We frequently work with communities who are generating their own power through, for example, hydro schemes, rather than relying on fossil fuels. We work with communities retrofitting abandoned buildings and bringing them back into productive use as low-energy homes. We work with communities using vacant and derelict land to develop diverse and creative combinations of housing, services, and social and green spaces. Providing homes and services within easy reach contributes to the national aim of 20-minute neighbourhoods and reduces travel.

These are just a few aspects of a wide picture of how we’re supporting communities in working towards net zero, and indeed carbon negative.

Green design and energy efficiency

SOSCH - Castle Crescent, Closeburn, Dumfries
Tom Manley photography

SOSCH partnered with Nith Valley Leaf Trust to deliver Scotland’s first community-owned passive certified homes at Castle Crescent in Closeburn, Dumfries. The Trust’s commitment to a low-energy design and low-carbon, high-quality homes brought three families into the community in 2020. The building materials, design, technology, and the Trust’s use of a vacant site all contribute to the new-builds green accolades, while also protecting residents from fuel poverty.

A mix of facilities supporting a local circular economy

The GALE Centre, part of CHT’s regeneration of Achtercairn in the centre of Gairloch on the west coast, is run by the Gairloch & Loch Ewe Action Forum (GALE). It embodies GALE’s ambitions to provide services and lead sustainable, community-led development in the region.

Rupert Shanks photography
  • Showcasing the first public building in Scotland to be awarded Passivhaus status. The materials include Scottish-grown Douglas fir and larch, and the building has a living roof.
  • Establishing a community shop and café which supports the wider circular economy to the tune of £75,000pa.
  • Growing space at the rear of the building also provides fruit, veg and herbs for the café.
  • Providing a University of Highlands and Islands classroom to local people of all ages, reducing regular travel of hundreds of miles. This classroom has since expanded to larger premises.
  • Creating dedicated office space for GALE which has enabled them to grow, taking on year-round staff, supporting a more stable, local, year-round economy. They now employ 20 people and have 30 volunteers.

Retrofitting disused buildings

SOSCH partnered with the Eskdale Foundation to redevelop a former police station in Langholm, Dumfries. It had been vacant and derelict for 15 years until it was transferred to the community and transformed into four affordable homes. The Foundation worked with specialist architects to restore the B-listed building and create a diverse set of family, single-occupant, and accessible homes—complete with original cells and detailing! This project creates quality homes at truly affordable rates. It is a great example of how to recycle existing buildings into low-energy, productive spaces.

Tom Manley photography

Supporting rural trades and ‘green’ construction

CHT worked with Forestry & Land Scotland (FLS) and the community of Kincraig in the Cairngorms National Park to provide 10 low-carbon affordable homes in order to help keep the local primary school open.

  • Building materials were largely sourced within 30 miles of the site, including trees felled from the site itself.
  • Working with 39 local companies supporting the circular economy.
  • Establishing a skills training scheme for young people in the area.
  • Providing several live/work units, reducing travel for commuting, and providing paths to walk or cycle into the village.
Nigel Rigden photography

So, the good news is that community-led housing is regenerating places and making important contributions to tackling our climate crisis.

Community-led housing enables a just and inclusive transition to net-zero. It is an empowering, democratic way to involve everyone in reducing climate change without jeopardising the human right to a warm, affordable home.

Let’s widen the national conversation about net zero and the ways to achieve it. Community-led development, based on the everyday experiences of local people and their wishes for the future, is a fair and responsible way to deliver sustainable development that Scotland urgently demands. Support for community ownership and development means both people and planet thrive long-term.

We’re calling on the Scottish and UK governments to recognise the leadership of communities and increase support for community-led housing. It’ll allow more communities to deliver on climate targets as well as building the homes we so desperately need.