Bringing empty homes and buildings back to life across the Scottish Borders - Mike Staples

We have 43,000 long-term empty homes in Scotland. There are also countless more buildings lying empty that were formerly at the heart of their communities, such as schools, churches, shops and pubs.

These buildings are often unattractive to commercial developers given the costs and complexities involved in bringing them back into use, and some lie empty for many decades.

Many of the vacant buildings in urban areas are linked to services or businesses ending and high street decline. These buildings are often central, visible, and can greatly affect local pride and spirits – and the economy – if they sit empty.

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In rural areas, they may also be an indicator of wider depopulation and decline within the community. There’s an understandable sadness at seeing schools, homes, and other buildings that were important to generations, now lying empty. Too often there can be a sense that the decline is inevitable and irreversible.

We believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. South of Scotland Community Housing (SOSCH) has successfully driven a community-led approach to converting empty buildings into housing in Dumfries and Galloway.

Our projects have included the conversion of a hotel that had been empty and semi-derelict for over 30 years into community-led homes, the restoration of a former police station into 4 homes, the revamp of a former bank into housing and affordable visitor accommodation, and the conversion of spaces above empty high street retail units into housing.

Partnership with local organisations and active community involvement in all aspects have been key to the success of these projects.

We are therefore truly excited to now be taking the partnership model to a new level by launching a new project with the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership that will allow us to expand our support into the Scottish Borders.

The two-year project is centred around the hiring of a new Community-led Housing Coordinator who will identify and drive new community-led conversions of empty homes and buildings to deliver affordable and sustainable housing solutions in communities.

The postholder will work with community organisations to develop and deliver community-led housing projects that will address the specific housing needs of individual communities across SE Scotland whilst promoting enhanced community asset ownership.

As well as increasing the availability of much-needed housing in the Scottish Borders, we understand the project can also have a broader potential impact, by supporting other non-housing outcomes.

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Restoring and repurposing older buildings is an important part of an environmentally-conscious approach to increasing housing supply, working towards meeting net zero goals by preserving buildings rather than demolishing and starting again.

Where projects are community-led they embody its personality, character, and history and allow the community to become responsible stewards for both its present and its future.

Our projects to date have created much-needed opportunities for skills development in rural communities and have boosted local economies by engaging services and suppliers from the area wherever possible.

We have seen a palpable boost in pride and confidence in local communities when buildings that have been lying empty for decades have been brought back to life. We look forward to bringing this partnership model to life in communities across the Scottish Borders over the coming years.

Mike Staples, Chief Executive, SOSCH (South of Scotland Community Housing) On behalf of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership



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