The village of Helmsdale today (Friday 28 March) celebrates the start of construction on its own social housing project, which will see the first affordable housing to be built in the village for 35 years.
Rob Gibson MSP will perform the opening ceremony for the project, led on behalf of the community by Helmsdale and District Development Trust (HDDT).
In early 2011, HDDT undertook an extensive community consultation which identified the need for local affordable housing. Over the previous three decades, all statutory housing provision has been built elsewhere, resulting in a decreasing, ageing population in Helmsdale, with few opportunities for families or young people to stay in the area.
Since this consultation, HDDT has worked tirelessly with the wider community to finalise its plans, fundraise over half a million pounds and appoint a contractor. Advice and support was offered through the Small Communities Housing Trust and Albyn Housing Association.
Now work is to begin on four rented homes, which will be managed and maintained on behalf of HDDT and the community, by Albyn Housing Society Ltd. The four homes will be 100% owned by the community and held in perpetuity by HDDT. This project will generate a small rental income, which will be reinvested in other community initiatives.
Housing Minister Margaret Burgess said: “I am delighted that this development is ready to start and that new homes will be built in Helmsdale. To get to this stage has required a huge amount of effort and the Helmsdale and District Community Trust should be commended for their perseverance in bringing this project to fruition. This project is a great example of partnership working to allow a community to deliver its own social housing.
“The project is not just about the buildings, but is more importantly about the people that will benefit from them. Well built, warm, affordable homes can improve quality of life and make a real difference to people and their families. This development will provide quality housing for people living in Helmsdale and further benefits to the community through the ownership of these homes.”
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) awarded £89,350 specifically towards the housing project, but also lends further support to the trust, including funding the Local Development Officer post, through its Strengthening Communities team.
Peter Guthrie, Head of Strengthening Communities for HIE in Caithness and Sutherland, commented: “This project is an excellent example of what can be achieved by a community who are enabled though HIE’s support to resolve their problems for themselves. This will provide high quality but affordable housing for local people and the income made will be directly invested back into community projects. I salute Local Development Officer Paul Harrington and the HDDT Directors for taking this project forward and we are delighted to have supported it.”
Councillor Dave Fallows, Chair of Finance, Housing and Resources Committee commented: “The Council welcomed the opportunity to work with this very determined community in their aim to bring additional affordable housing to Helmsdale as part of their far reaching plans for the area. I am sure that I speak on behalf of fellow Councilors in congratulating the Community in reaching this important milestone and wishing them every success in what is an innovative approach to meeting local needs”
Many other bodies have pledged support for this project. Among these, the Scottish Government Innovation and Investment Fund awarded £110,000, and the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund awarded £29,844. The Highland Council awarded £7,000 as well as providing support and advice and gifting the land to the community for the purpose of community housing. Additional funding has come from Quaker Housing Trust, Gordonbush Community Benefit Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Trusthouse Charitable Foundation, SSE Community Trust and Highland Housing Alliance Charitable Trust.
Calum Macaulay, chief executive at Albyn Housing Society, said: “Albyn Housing Society is committed to supporting sustainable communities. This project will achieve just that, and we are very pleased to be part of it. By developing and leasing these properties, HDDT will be able to generate income that can be reinvested into other community initiatives whilst boosting the provision of affordable housing for local people. This is a model that could be replicated by other communities – it’s fantastic to see a Highland community spearhead such an exciting and innovative scheme which I am certain will be of interest to pioneering communities like Helmsdale across the country.”
The housing project is one of a number of ambitious plans led by HDDT, which include re-opening the village petrol station, upgrading harbour facilities and investigating a community broadband project.