Next week, the country will start to emerge out of lockdown, as shops, hairdressers and pubs will begin opening their doors in a very different world. This is a moment to stop and reflect on the impact that the coronavirus outbreak has had, and will continue to have, on the mental, physical and economic health of us all.
Next week is also Rural Housing Week, a week where we shine a spotlight on our rural communities, and this year we are looking at the challenges they face due to the crisis as well as some of the opportunities that lie ahead.
In many rural communities, the impact of the pandemic has been felt hard. If local businesses lose income in rural areas, it’s local people who are hit hardest. And, as feelings of social isolation have hit us all, it is those people who do not have high-speed internet, or whose only bus route was cut off, who will feel most disconnected.
How we respond to these challenges tells us so much about who we are and the new reality we want to build together.
In rural areas, even in normal times, housing associations often act as the glue connecting local communities together, and this is more important now than it ever has been. There have been fantastic examples of rural housing associations supporting residents and the wider community during the crisis.
In Northallerton, Yorkshire, Broadacres Housing Association has teamed up with Greggs to fund breakfast for key workers at a local primary school. And Housing Officer Dean has been spending time at a social distance providing invaluable companionship for older and vulnerable residents in Broadacres’ extra care scheme.
In Cornwall, Coastline Housing has been working closely with Cornwall Council to prepare emergency accommodation, enabling hospital patients to be discharged with support more efficiently. Separately, Coastline has also set up Click & Connect, a service run via a Facebook page where residents contribute their hobbies and get connected with others with a similar creative interest – successfully joining up some of the most vulnerable people living in the area.
Right now, housing associations are playing a critical role in supporting people through this crisis, through the homes and services they deliver, and our members are clear about our mission beyond lockdown and towards a more positive future.
The National Housing Federation’s (NHF’s) plan for social and economic recovery puts homes and communities at the centre of rebuilding hope, prosperity and health in every part of the country. We have five clear ambitions for the residents and places that housing associations serve:
For rural areas, the tailored development of much-needed affordable homes offers the lifeblood that villages need to keep their shops, pubs, services and communities alive. Our sector’s offer to the government to play our part in building a new generation of affordable homes could be game-changing for rural areas hit hard by the crisis. Each new home built represents jobs in that community, a home for essential workers, and a chance to build an exciting new place.
Housing associations cannot achieve the ambitions of the sector alone, and in order to deliver the next generation of homes that rural communities need, we need support from our partners in government. This is why, through our #HomesattheHeart national campaign, we are calling on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring forward significant investment in building high-quality affordable homes.
The work that housing associations do in rural areas every day shows us that we have so much to be proud of as a sector. We have the potential to make an enormous contribution to the future of rural lives, if the government can put Homes at the Heart of the national recovery programme.