“I live in a beautiful English Rural home in the heart of a Kentish village with my husband. Our youngest daughter and her partner are living with us at the moment while they save for a deposit for a home of their own. My eldest daughter has bought a house just four miles away. My family have lived in the village and the surrounding villages for the last 300 years, apart from one very adventurous soul who took off to America in the last century. My husband also grew up and worked in the village and his family had a farm on the edge of the parish. When his father passed away at the age of 52, the family lost everything. Unfortunately, he had no life insurance and had to move into rented accommodation in the neighbouring parish. They couldn’t afford the very high private rentals to remain in the village.
A couple of years later when my husband and I started looking for a home of our own we had to move to the nearest large town. We managed to find a small, privately rented flat and settled in and started a family. Our first daughter was born a year after we moved there. Commuting to our respective jobs, which were still in or near to the village, became difficult. Our respective Mums helped and looked after my daughter during the day. We would drop her with them so we could work but we found it increasingly difficult to pay for travel costs and our rent which was high and getting higher. We were on a six month tenancy agreement with the landlady and heard constant rumours that she was going to sell up. The flat had no central heating, was damp and on a very noisy road. We missed our friends and the wider village community. While we got to know our new neighbours, it was very different to living in a rural community you have always known with the people who will support you.
Every week we looked for a property in the village and neighbouring parishes. Even very small homes in the private sector were very expensive and completely beyond our wages. We tried to apply for a mortgage but just didn’t earn enough to borrow the amount needed. Then we heard about some new homes that were being built that were for people with a link to the village. I phoned English Rural to apply and the housing manager came to see us at our flat. She helped us fill in the application forms and talked to us about our connections to the village. Then, a few weeks later, a letter came and to our delight we had been offered a home. On the day we got our letter we drove to see the houses; they had no doors or windows in yet but we could see how nice they were going to be. To know that we were going to be able to live in the village, near to our family, friends and jobs was such a relief. When the houses were completed in the summer of 1996 we were given the keys to our new home.
Life changed completely when we moved in. Our rent was affordable and our cost of living went down as our rent and travel costs decreased. We were no longer asking our parents to help us meet our rent each month or put petrol in our car. Our new neighbours had young children too and we knew several of them already. Just as importantly, we were able to stop worrying about losing our home at short notice.
Since living here, my husband and I have been able to take an active part in our community, which is something we both love to do. When our girls went to the village nursery and then on to the primary school I changed jobs to work there. Two of my neighbours were able to do the same. I became a Brownie leader, which I did for 13 years, and became a Parish Councillor. For a few years I helped to edit the parish magazine and I periodically write for the Church website. My husband is a Churchwarden and I sit on the Church Council. We both volunteered as adult youth leaders on a project run from the village, taking young people from the village on a team building, cultural trekking adventure overseas.
We are not unusual in what we contribute to our community. Many of our English Rural neighbours have done the same. One Dad is a sports coach and helped the school to get funding for sports facilities and set up a tennis club. Another runs fundraising days for a local autistic children’s charity. My neighbour has elderly parents who need care and she is able to help them to stay in their own home – something she would have found impossible had she not been able to move back to be near them. There are so many ways that everyone has contributed to village life.
None of this would have been possible if we hadn’t been able to live here. Our daughters have benefited enormously from growing up here. I’m sure that we would have had to move from property to property if we had stayed in the private rented sector and would not have been able to put our roots down properly as we have done. Both my children are keen to stay in the area. The connection we had with the village was so important.
When you know a community there is a sense of ownership and responsibility to be part of it. Very often the families with history in a village are the ones who keep it going in a community sense. They provide a lasting social framework for newcomers and youngsters.
I firmly believe that when a community invests in local needs housing it is investing in its future.“
An English Rural resident, Kent, July 2020.