Since joining Action on Empty Homes as Director in August, I have had my sights firmly fixed on delivering Empty Homes Week.
We organise Empty Homes Week to give local authorities the chance to celebrate successes and reflect on what more needs to be done to bring empty properties back into use. It also gives a focus for national and local media to report on the issue, and this in turn pushes empty homes up the policymaking agenda.
Crucially, the week brings into focus the social purpose that underpins our activities: the refurbishment and supply of empty homes to those people who are at the sharp end of the housing crisis - young people leaving care, those leaving criminal justice and others facing challenging life circumstances which can, with the right support, be addressed successfully.
If you are already familiar with our activities, you will have noticed we have changed our name, to Action on Empty Homes from the Empty Homes campaign. The name change signals the intention to evolve from a singular campaign focus to a broader action strategy that involves bringing together national and local organisations with communities most impacted by empty homes.
To begin this shift in strategy, we have brought together a powerful national cross-sector Coalition for Community Investment to call for a programme of government investment which focuses on the concentrations of empty homes in what we identify as ‘under-invested communities’. Coalition members believe that this issue can only be effectively addressed with the support of targeted regional investment. The recent rise of 5,000 in the numbers of empty homes, documented in our publication Empty Homes England 2018, underlines the need for a renewed national government focus.
Action on Empty Homes aim to create a network of local communities and individuals who want to challenge the growth of empty homes in their neighbourhoods. We believe if local communities have the support of a national network then they will be able to speak with a much stronger voice to local and national policy makers and challenge the blight of empty homes in their communities.
There is great practice on the ground that shows what can be done. Giroscope, based in Hull, has always had housing young people as a central part of its work - recently LandAid supported their renovation of 5 empty properties with 14 bed spaces for young people. Blackburn with Darwen Council are collaborating with a local youth homeless charity to get six properties back into use, providing homes for a dozen young homeless people, LandAid gave support there too. Both show what can be done with the right mix of financial support and collaboration.
The key question is how can we spread these and other examples of good practice around the country to leverage the government support needed so that the hundreds of thousands of empty homes in England can house some of the most vulnerable citizens in our society? I hope our Coalition on Community Investment and development of local networks can play a role in answering this question, and look forward to collaborating with LandAid and others in delivering social action that rebuilds under-invested local communities.
Action on Empty Homes