Much More Than Bricks

David Barrowcliff, Communications Manager, English Rural

When I first started working in the rural housing sector in 2019, my initial thoughts were: “How do I get excited about bricks? What is so interesting about hard-hats and Hi-Viz?”

I was wrong.

It didn’t take me very long to realise that the rural housing sector is so much more than bricks. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s not about bricks at all.

It’s about people, first and foremost.

It’s about communities. Thriving, vibrant communities.

It’s about people of all ages and backgrounds being able to live in the villages they know so well, near the people they hold dear.

It’s about breathing life back into communities that may have lost their pubs, shops and schools because people have been forced to live elsewhere.

Then it struck me. We don’t build homes, we build communities. Every brick laid is a step closer to that community being able to thrive once more. And who wants to see their village wither on the vine?

Then there’s that phrase…’property developer‘. Shudder. What springs to mind when you hear that phrase, particularly in the context of a small village? I’m guessing it’s one or more of the following:

“They’re just greedy and only out to make huge profits.”

“They will swallow up our village and turn it into a town.”

“They will build ugly, cheap-looking, soulless rabbit-hutches.”

“They don’t care about our community. They don’t know our community and what we need.”

“Anyone will be able to live there.”

That’s what I thought. And again, I was wrong.

As a non-profit organisation and developer, I learned that any money English Rural makes is ploughed back into developing more much-needed homes in other villages and investing in looking after our residents and their homes.

And it doesn’t stop when the keys are handed over. We don’t simply develop and disappear. What makes us different is our commitment to the longer-term stewardship of our homes, residents and to the communities we serve.

I learned that our average development size was six homes. Just six. But those homes have a huge, positive social and economic effect on the local community. Small-scale, big impact.

I learned that we don’t barge into villages unannounced, like gate-crashers at a party. That instead we are invited in by the community because they have a proven need for affordable homes.

I learned that only people with a local connection to the village can only live in our homes. Key workers, family generations, old and young alike.

I learned that the homes are beautifully designed, built to very high standards and sympathetic to the local style, using local materials wherever possible.

I learned a lot. And I heard so many stories.

The story of a woman forced to live in a horsebox because she couldn’t afford to remain in the village she worked in all her life. The story of a young couple who were on the brink of giving up their agricultural careers because they couldn’t afford to live near their place of work. And the story of a single parent, unable to remain in their family village, living in an expensive, substandard, private rental home in a nearby town. These are real stories. And those people are now happily living back where they belong, thanks to affordable rural homes being built by housing associations such as English Rural.

It made me focus on how, what we do, really does change lives. It’s as simple as that. Young people and families, desperate for somewhere to live can remain in their village. Older people wanting to downsize can remain in their village. The young take care of the old and vice-versa.

There’s a theme here. Remaining in their village.

The only way they can do that is by being able to live there. And shop there. And school there. And drink there. And work there. That’s the beating heart of a community. The people are the lifeblood, and the home is the heart.

If we can do our bit to help a community thrive, then it’s a job well done.

Communities need people. And people need homes.

That’s why, more than ever, English Rural continues to be firmly Committed To Rural Communities. We’re committed to serving our residents in the best possible way. We’re committed to keeping our homes up to scratch and energy efficient. We’re committed to building affordable homes in villages that desperately need them.

And I learned that building them is so much more than bricks.

If you are a Parish Councillor and would like to help your village community thrive, why not download and read the new 2021 ‘Parish Councillors’ Guide To Affordable Rural Housing’. You could help secure a legacy for the future of your village.

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