Living communities – the case for rural social housing

Chris Hinchliff, 13 August 2020

At CPRE, the countryside charity, we believe that everyone needs a secure, stable and affordable place to live. Just like our towns and cities, communities in the countryside need a healthy mix of homes, including for social rent. Social housing offers long-term stability to families on lower incomes in rural areas, where life is more expensive and work can often be insecure and seasonal. Above all, social homes allow people to put down roots and plan for the future.

Currently, however, there are huge waiting lists for social housing in the countryside, and no rural area is building enough. At current rates, it will take rural councils more than 150 years to provide a social home for everyone waiting for one. Meanwhile, private rents are so high in rural areas that many towns and villages have become unaffordable for desperately needed keyworkers like hospital porters and care workers.

The need for more social housing in the countryside is all the more pressing as we begin to feel the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, which is hitting many rural areas hard. Parts of the Lake District in Cumbria have seen 40% of eligible employees furloughed. We need to act quickly to prevent rural life becoming the preserve of the well-off.

The great work done by housing associations like English Rural shows the huge differences new social homes can make to both their residents and the local community. While working on CPRE’s recent call for ‘homes for heroes’ I heard the stories of several families who have been able to move into a rural social housing development, and it is clear from their experience how genuinely affordable homes can do so much more than change your financial circumstances. Social housing can often allow rural people to live much closer to their workplace, as well as giving them a route out of cramped low quality conditions in the private rented sector, transforming their mental and physical health.

By giving people with varying jobs and backgrounds the ability to put down roots in a town or village, social housing can help create a community that is both diverse and closely-knit. More than this, research by the NHF has shown how building new affordable housing in a village can help young families stay in the area, ensuring that local services like primary schools, post offices, and even pubs stay open, maintaining a flourishing sense of community spirit. This is why social housing is so important to CPRE’s vision for thriving and sustainable rural communities, and why we are proud to support the Homes at the Heart campaign.