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SEHP conference

The theme of this year’s conference, held at The Engine Shed in Stirling was sustainability with the title ‘Repair, Reuse, Revitalise’. Speakers included Shona Robison MSP, cabinet secretary for housing, John Kerr, housing development & homelessness manager at West Dunbartonshire Council, and Chris Morgan director, John Gilbert Architects.

The conference also saw the launch of our Empty Homes Framework template and guidance, covered elsewhere in this impact report.

Finders International, the gold sponsor of the conference, also sponsored the 12th Scottish Empty Homes Awards recognising and celebrating the outstanding work and achievements of individuals and organisations in the revitalisation of empty homes across Scotland.

The next pages look at the winners and shortlisted nominees at this year’s awards.

Best use of empty homes work to create social/affordable housing

For strong contribution to increasing supply of social/affordable housing.

WINNER – Grapes, South of Scotland Community Housing

The C listed Grapes Hotel in an Outstanding Conservation Area in Whithorn dates back to 1800 and had been empty for 30 years. With assistance from South of Scotland Community Housing, All Roads Lead to Whithorn, a local development trust, was able repurpose the hotel into much needed, community owned housing for local families. This has helped sustain local services and provided the community with an income to support other local development projects.

Other shortlisted nominees

Holmhead Place, Glasgow City Council

This property came to the attention of the council in 2018. It had remained empty for 13 years. The absentee owner acted as a barrier to carrying out the significant repairs the property needed. A Compulsory Purchase Order was promoted, with ownership passing to Cathcart and District Housing Association in 2021. The property was amalgamated with another hard to let flat, creating a larger, much needed, accessible family The housing association has now been able to acquire all flats in the block voluntarily, creating more social homes.

Alison Mclavin, EHO Glasgow City Council tells the story of how the home was brought back to use in the video below.

High Street, Perth & Kinross Council

This building is in a prominent town centre location. It was empty for 24 years. The site was a blight on the community attracting anti-social behaviour and criminal activity. When the building came under new ownership in 2019 Perth and Kinross assisted with a vacant property feasibility grant. The owner also received assistance from the Empty Homes Grant initiative. The building now consists of 7 rental properties at affordable rents within LHA rates and has made a significant contribution to supply, at comparatively low cost.

Best retrofit of an empty home

For an excellent environmentally friendly improvement to an empty home.

WINNER – Jameswood Villa, Argyll & Bute Council

This tenement of 4 flats sat empty for 20 years before being ‘accidentally’ purchased by Cal and Claire, the current owners, at auction. It was in a precarious condition, causing a number of issues for the local community. Rescuing materials and extending the longevity of the building was a key aspect of the new owner’s sustainability goals from the offset. With a tight budget, they focused on maximising the efficiency of the building, rather than expensive renewables. The building has been reconfigured – the upper floor converted from two flats into one to create their family home – with the lower flats being refurbished as rental property to generate income.

The couple who purchased the property have gained a large following on social media, and their story was told in the BBC One Scotland show, Accidental Renovators. A specially recorded film of their empty homes journey is part of the conference programme this afternoon.

Other shortlisted nominees

Niddrie Regeneration, LAR Housing Trust

Lar Housing Trust, in conjunction with Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership, developed this building, which had been empty for seven years into homes for people with autism. It is Lar’s first ever project dedicated to people with specialist housing needs.

The extensive refurbishment included new wiring, plumbing, windows and utilities as well as new kitchens and bathrooms. The 6 flats it has created will have a huge impact on people’s lives allowing them to remain in their communities.

Balantrushal, Lewis, Western Isles Council

The village of Balantrushal has several long term properties and has seen a severe population decline. This property had been empty for 24 years and had no insulation. In bringing it back to use, the concrete floor was lifted and insulation and underfloor heating fitted through a new air source pump. The full property was fully insulated and a multi fuel stove fitted to aid the EPC value. The property was also re-slated and double glazing fitted throughout. Now restored, the house will once more have a family live there.

Best use of data to inform empty homes practice

For outstanding examples of using information to get results.

WINNER – Matchmake to rent, Aberdeen City Council

Analysis of local housing data identified there was a large demand for 1-bedroom properties that council stock could not fully provide at the time. At the same time, local research revealed a surplus of 1-bedroom properties on the rental market that had been empty for more than a year. This led to the creation of the Matchmake-to-Rent Scheme, the first in Scotland, to match private housing with tenants, reduce waiting list numbers and bring empty properties back into use. 146 properties that registered on the schemes have now been let or sold.

Other shortlisted nominees

Empty Homes Register, Fife Council

Fife Council’s Empty Homes Service working closely with their Property Acquisitions team to identify properties that can be brought back to use through the buyback process. Using data from Fife’s Empty Homes Register, cross referenced with data regarding house sales, areas of regeneration, criteria of Housing Need across Fife and priorities of the Mutual Owners team, they interrogated the data to identify the empty properties which may be of interest to Fife’s Property Acquisitions team. More than 20 properties have been brought back into use through buy back and there are a further 11 properties that where a Buyback letter has initiated contact with the owner and led to them bringing the property back into use with help from the Empty Homes Officer.

Data Insights, Homes for Good

HFG uses data from several sources to bring empty homes back into life as part of its pilot programme. From identifying a property, finding the owner, assessing property condition, understanding the value, being able to purchase, renovating costs, then creating a new home – data is an essential decision making tool, enabling HFG to very quickly do a thorough assessment of an empty homes opportunity, both before visiting a property and then quickly thereafter. Where they are able to offer to buy a property, using data enables them to be certain and take action quickly – within 48hrs -and completion within 4 weeks.

Empty Homes rising star

For a new start making a positive impact on empty homes work.

WINNER – Michelle Morrison, Dundee

Michelle was appointed as Empty Homes Officer in 2021. She has shown a tenacity of purpose in promoting the principles and benefits of bringing empty homes back into use, within the council and further afield. Michelle has brought 19 Properties back in to use, with a further 4 currently on the market and is actively working with around 10% of Dundee’s empty home owners. In addition, she has engaged with Helm Training, a local youthwork charity who specialise in supporting young people to transition into adult life, and who are looking to purchase properties which will provide a home for a young person, with Michelle’s support.

Other shortlisted nominees

Rachel Whale, Scottish Borders

Rachel started in post almost 18 months ago, and in this time she has made a significant, and positive, impact in relation to empty homes activity in the Borders. She has developed a wealth of knowledge, and also finds creative ways to proactively engage owners, as well as other stakeholders across the Borders. Rachel has also developed an empty homes grant initiative. To date she has been able to make grant offers available for 9 homes, with more potential projects and applications in the pipeline. Her efforts and achievements in a short space of time help to inspire and drive all of those who work alongside her.

Karlene Docherty, Perth & Kinross

Karlene seeks creative and pragmatic solutions to vacant and derelict properties in both a rural and urban context. She quickly grasped regeneration priorities, and since joining PKC, has built effective working relationships with colleagues in Housing and with external partners and stakeholders. Her expertise in working with community groups is helping them unlock empty buildings in their area to create affordable housing and or community facilities. This is shown in projects with YMCA Tayside who are converting 2 long term empty buildings into a community resource and affordable housing, and Breadalbane Trust in Aberfeldy, who are refurbishing 2 empty flats for affordable housing.

Conference feedback

After the conference, a survey was prepared on Survey Monkey and distributed to all delegates in person at the event and via email for digital participants. There were 33 responses. Delegates rated the conference highly across all areas. Comments and feedback have also been reviewed and taken on board, so that the delegate experience is improved for future conferences.

Some of the comments from the day include –