Could you help us develop our Toolkit for communities and local authorities?

The core aim of the toolkit will be to help bring local authorities and communities together into informed, knowledgeable partnerships, able to work effectively together to bring more empty homes into use, where they are needed most and for those in most housing need.

By working together these partnerships between communities and local authorities can regenerate and revitalise currently excluded communities and contribute to meeting local housing needs, including the needs of high priority groups.

We would like to bring together a small ‘reference group’ of colleagues  drawn from councils and community groups to give feedback on an early draft in a few months time, around March / April 2020. 

A completed draft of the toolkit should then be available for broad consultation amongst a wider group of colleagues next May.

We would like to stay in touch with the ‘reference group’ through next year to test out the second draft.

The final toolkit should be finished by May 2021.

Why we are creating a toolkit

Drawing on the experience of following six community-led housing demonstration projects over a three-year period* and our wider professional experience in the housing sector, we have developed a better understanding of the most effective role that local authorities can play in working with communities to deliver homes from empty homes.

The project showed us that in working with communities their role becomes one of leadership and enablement. Local authorities embrace the idea of being able to achieve a broad spectrum of outcomes through bringing empty homes into use, including but not limited to, provision of secure affordable housing. They begin to think in terms of investment rather than spend, and to recognise the significant returns that can be achieved.

* For details of the work of the six community-led housing organisations and our learning over the three years of the project, see our ‘Community Action on Empty Homes – using empty homes to regenerate communities’ (May 2019) report 

However, while many communities see the waste and potential in empty homes, it is clear that they are often unclear about how to bring them into use, in order to provide the secure homes for local people which they would like to see delivered. They are likely to be both unaware of the processes involved and of how to develop the partnerships required to access properties, raise funding and bring empty homes into use.

Our work on this project has taught us that while every community and every local authority area is unique, there are clear similarities across all areas. Communities in areas with high levels of empty homes all face common challenges. Equally, many will have similar aspirations. 

In July 2019 we carried out a survey of local authorities which showed that while many were interested in working with communities to bring empty homes into use, they were unsure of how to go about it. However the value of community action was recognised and local authorities understood that this could provide an alternative route to tackling empty homes, and be a complementary approach to use of the statutory enforcement powers at their disposal.

The problem is therefore a shared one, for communities and for local authorities. And the opportunities can also be shared, with solutions proving most effective when communities and local authorities work together.

In working to deliver community-based 'homes from empty homes' projects there are common consultations to be held, decisions to be made and challenges to be faced. While each project will be unique, there are common processes to be navigated and problems to be negotiated. These can be most effectively managed through a wider learned experience, rather than by re-inventing the problem-solving wheel on each occasion.

Through the Toolkit we will:

  1. Provide information about legal structures and legal and regulatory requirements and processes.
  2. Enable both communities and local authorities to help anticipate common difficulties and provide options for avoiding or resolving them.
  3. Offer advice on access to funding and the pros and cons of the leasehold and/or asset-based ownership of homes brought into use, and importantly:
  4. Provide clear guidance on the development of sustainable business plans.

All these are areas which, in our experience, can present barriers to progress. Understanding how to manage the process of project development and delivery can make the difference between a community-based scheme coming to life or remaining a dream.

The Toolkit will be a guide on how to deliver a successful outcome and include reference to case studies. It will be structured to allow easy navigation, making use of signposts to guide users through the content and to existing sources of online expertise on partners’ sites.  The language will be accessible and interesting to appeal to a wide audience. 

The Toolkit will be available free as a download from our website with an offer of support and training services to encourage and support take-up and implementation, working closely with communities and local authorities alike.

If you are interested in helping to develop the Toolkit, or want to become part of the core Reference Group,  please email [email protected]