Small-scale, big impact: why community-led development deserves more support

This is the last 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 worked with hundreds of communities across Scotland, providing well over 1,000 affordable homes.

We’ve spent the last 12 months illustrating the different benefits of community-led housing by featuring delivered projects across Scotland. This is our final blog – for now – and we simply wish to underline the many and deep-rooted impacts projects can have when led by the needs and wishes of communities themselves. Even one or two homes make a big difference in communities by helping them become more inclusive, resilient, and prepared for the future.

It’s not a theory, or just a nice idea on paper, but proven in practice – see our gallery for examples of developments.

What are the benefits of community-led housing?

Beyond providing forever affordable homes, protected for use by local communities as assets that communities can use to acheive broader economic and social changes, community-led housing is also:

  • Climate-friendly: Community-led housing organisations routinely meet and exceed local and national carbon reduction requirements, because they look holistically and long-term, they want to thrive, and they prioritise wellbeing. They do this by using local materials, ensuring energy efficient or ‘green’ designs, supporting active travel, and encouraging a local circular economy.
  • Boosting skills, employment and rural trades: Skills development or apprenticeship programmes can be and are embedded throughout community-led builds, providing work options for young people, additional employees for local construction companies, and ultimately boosting and helping ensure the future of rural trades. This is crucial as communities cannot afford to rely on a limited number of centralised contractors – it’s impractical and expensive.
  • Role in repopulation: With declining populations in many areas of rural Scotland, particularly by those priced out of the market, community-led may be the only option to keep townships and villages (and associated local services) alive. While a handful of homes may be unattractive to large-scale builders, community organisations, sometimes partnered with local authorities or housing associations, are the way forward.
  • Role in regeneration: Community-owned assets such as homes or workspace can generate income for the community to invest in future projects. Ensuring repopulation with a range of ages – young workers, families with children attending school, older people volunteering or with changing needs – means that services remain and new opportunities for living and working are created.

All this with just a few houses!

As such, community-led development fulfils human rights commitments and future planning agendas, as well as many other Scottish Government policies linked to the list above. We believe it should be at the core of policy decisions in Scotland going forward.

We’ve seen coverage and understanding of community-led housing in Scotland grow over the past few years, with continued support from the Scottish Government through the Scottish Land Fund and Rural Housing Fund. Politicians are now more aware of how community-led housing delivers on national targets and community needs—so why not scale it up?

SOSCH and CHT’s work in Scotland is being recognised internationally as models for responsible housing, and shared in European knowledge exchange networks. Just last week, projects that CHT & SOSCH supported made up all three finalists for the ‘Housing & Regeneration’ category of the SURF Awards, underscoring the notable contributions of community-led housing to places up and down the country.

Scotland is well-positioned to expand community-led housing developments, as a leader in the field.

On behalf of communities, we are asking for further support from the Scottish Government and other funders, into normalising community-led housing as a key option for Scotland, particularly in rural and island areas where communities lack capacity to undertake projects themselves.

These blogs have highlighted what communities are achieving through community-led housing, and we ask for recognition and scaled-up funding—for both communities and support organisations—to keep more of these projects coming.

Here’s to realising more community dreams in 2023 and beyond!