Community-led across the continent: Scotland’s work in Europe

This blog is part of a monthly series 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 worked with hundreds of communities across Scotland, facilitating well over 1,000 affordable homes.

Scotland’s involvement in European events and networks like the International Social Housing Festival, Sustainable Housing for Inclusive and Cohesive Cities (SHICC), and the European Community Land Trust Network sparks innovation and forges cross-cultural connection.

Collaborating on research and testing pilot initiatives together pools limited resource.

More importantly, it helps us keep our ideas sharp so that we give the best tried and tested support to communities here in Scotland.  Recognition of Scottish projects on the European stage also reminds us that our communities inspire others beyond our borders and connect us with policy, practice, and people elsewhere. Community is at the heart of our work in more ways than one.

Highland community-led housing sees international acclaim

Scottish community-led housing received international attention in June as the regeneration of Achtercairn in Gairloch on the coast of Wester Ross won at the European Responsible Housing Awards in Finland.

The awards are held annually as part of the International Social Housing Festival, organised by Housing Europe, to showcase outstanding examples from affordable housing providers from across Europe.

The project in Gairloch won the ‘More Than A Roof’ category, recognising it as a development where impacts go beyond ‘just’ homes and where equal opportunities for the community are supported.

This is deserving recognition for a small rural community who were keen to tackle the difficulties of depopulation, declining services, and lack of affordable homes and business premises that are affecting communities across the region. Rural communities pay more for less housing, which is less secure, even as they earn less than urban areas, and the cost of living is higher [1] – which makes this project a model for change.

With European countries recognising the model and all we’ve jointly been able to achieve in Scotland, It was therefore disappointing to see such little recognition on home turf: in the media, by authorities, and by policymakers. How loud must communities shout?

The Communities Housing Trust facilitated the regeneration, together with around 50 partner organisations and input from local residents.

Together they transformed the derelict brownfield site into a thriving new geographic centre for the village.

Achtercairn now includes 25 affordable homes (five affordable housing tenures, with three different providers); Gairloch Farm Shop, which also houses the local vet; Air Training Corps facility; and the GALE Centre which is Scotland’s first public building to be awarded Passivhaus status. The Centre includes a Tourist Information Hub, a community-run shop and café, an outlet to support the wider region, community rooms to rent, and veg-growing and composting area for the café. A University of the Highlands and Islands classroom which enables people of all ages to access learning opportunities has moved to larger premises.

Importantly for the long term, the homes are secure, provided by the local authority (Highland Council), a housing association (Albyn Housing Society), and the Communities Housing Trust. They are also highly energy efficient to help reduce living costs. The Rural Housing Burden is applied to the homes for sale which protects affordability and use for the local community in perpetuity.

An award-worthy model for responsible housing

The awards’ focus on ‘responsible’ housing looks for projects that show co-creation and involvement of partners; innovation; and true sustainable development, both for climate and community. This echoes the Communities Housing Trust’s and SOSCH’s practical work in community-led development as an excellent way to provide housing which creates truly affordable, decent homes for many generations to come.

The clear advantage of community-led development is that it allows residents to think and act broadly and holistically about their needs: How can we reduce bills? Are there any spaces for community groups to meet? Is there a key service lacking locally? How can businesses grow, or set up? Are all ages catered for? What happens when children wish to leave home and work locally? How can tackling climate change be integrated?

Because of the broad approach and long-term view, community-led developments give more bang per buck [2]. But it’s about so much more than just the money. When primary school rolls rise, a diverse range of businesses can pop up, and local residents are guaranteed secure homes forever, it helps to reverse a trend of outward migration and struggling rural areas. Residents can put down roots and thrive as vibrant communities into the future.

Achtercairn is one of many projects that shows what’s possible for rural communities in Scotland, as well as elsewhere in the UK – and Europe.

Scotland’s place in Europe – formal partner in European Knowledge Exchange

The Communities Housing Trust’s recent award continues a trend of Scottish involvement in the European community-led housing scene. In 2020, SOSCH were invited to become the formal Scottish partner in a North-West European Interreg knowledge exchange programme between seven countries. ‘Sustainable Housing for Inclusive and Cohesive Cities’ (SHICC) tackled rising house prices and unsuitable living conditions in urban areas. SOSCH’s involvement was catalysed by its support to the ground-breaking Midsteeple Quarter project in Dumfries Town Centre.

Midsteeple Quarter now have five buildings in community ownership and continue to pioneer community-led regeneration of a High Street in decline—a challenge that many urban areas around the continent face in the wake of Covid. Midsteeple Quarter also partnered with SHICC member Community Land Trust Brussels (CLTB) to test new governance tools within the Generative Commons Living Lab Horizon 2020 project, emphasising the lasting links of collaboration.

Although the programme formally ended in 2021, SOSCH are now founding members of the European Community Land Trust Network (ECLTN) . The next phase of this important information exchange includes learning from best practice in delivery models, innovative net zero and economic modelling, but also sharing some of the excellent work being delivered in community-led housing here in Scotland. SOSCH’s involvement in the creation of the ECTLN means the Scottish community-led housing network will support the development of new CLH organisations and projects beyond our borders.

The new ECLTN brings community land trusts and community-led housing enablers from SHICC together with design agencies, social enterprises, and researchers to develop a comprehensive response to the dual housing and climate crises. This initial stage of network development (January-June 2022) is funded by €100,000 from the Laudes Foundation. SOSCH returned to Amsterdam last week for a second series of workshops designed to kickstart the network.

SOSCH, along with our European CLT Network partners, are also jointly submitting proposals to Interreg and Horizon Europe programmes to grow the important work we have begun together. These programmes intend to test the effectiveness of community-led housing initiatives as circular developers, studying the community-led housing sector’s unique ability to deliver on social and environmental objectives in tandem for a truly just transition.

Scottish participation in international learning exchange networks has been valuable for our enabling work. Community-led housing takes different forms and responds to various local challenges, but cross-border collaboration indicates it is consistently impactful as a place-making approach to combat speculative markets and unaffordable homes. This will become only more important as Scotland experiences a cost-of-living crisis—another reminder that we operate within a broad European context.  We believe Scottish participation in collaborative learning projects such as the European Network for Community Land Trusts should be encouraged and supported by the Scottish Government.

Going forward

We are asking the Scottish Government to firmly support community-led housing and give it a central position within affordable housing and place-making policy and funding streams. The important contributions of the community-led housing sector are being recognised beyond our borders in our neighbouring European countries, many of whom have progressive and well-established policy support. SOSCH and CHT are asking for full recognition of the model and related support here at home.

You can read more about CHT at the Awards ceremony on the International Social Housing Festival  website and more about the project on CHT’s website.

You can read more about SOSCH’s participation in the SHICC project and European CLT Network in our recent blog.


[1] See Registers of Scotland Property Market Report 2021 p47; the Scottish Government’s Poverty In Rural Scotland Evidence Review 2021: and

[2] See e.g. Capital Economics’ report (2020) ‘Housing by the community, for the community’ and Community Land Scotland’s report (2020) ‘Home Delivery: Community Led Housing in rural Scotland’