If you’ve been around the Scottish empty homes scene a while you’ll know I’ve often focused on the details…how many empty homes cases do you have? What tools are you using? What percentage of your time is dedicated to empty homes and how long is your contract? What legislation or lack of it is getting in the way of doing your job?
I am still very interested in all of that and it is very important, but now that our team has expanded and we’ve started to set our sights higher it has become increasingly clear that we can’t stay in the practitioner focused bubble all the time. We need to branch out and become, if anything, less specific than we’ve been when we talk about empty homes work.
I’m talking about aiming to effect a larger culture shift that says that leaving a home empty is unacceptable. To do this we need to speak to a broader audience. Namely the public. There was a time when folk thought it was acceptable to smoke on airplanes, in offices and in restaurants. Now we all understand the health risks and the effects on other people. There is also a greater awareness of where to go if you want help to quit smoking and the variety of options there are about how to do this. That’s the kind of shift I want to see for empty homes. I want your average Joe or Jane to immediately grasp why leaving a home empty is unsafe for neighbours, detrimental for communities, and a waste for society. And I want them to know there is help out there and easily be able to find out how to access that help.
The media already like empty homes stories, we aren’t trying to explain something overly complex, if anything it’s simpler than the risks of smoking, because on some level you understand the problem just from seeing a picture of a badly off empty home. You can see that it would make you shake your head in disappointment each time you passed if it was on your street and how you might find yourself waking up in the night listening for mysterious noises if that house was next door to you and how it’s such a shame because your cousin’s been looking for a family home in that village for 2 years and they just can’t find anywhere. So I’d like to think we are pushing at an open door. What we need to do is step it up a notch and demonstrate the problem more often to more people so that it becomes accepted fact.
If we can achieve that I believe it will be easier for us to fight those specific battles about temporary contracts, lack of enforcement powers and the need for a wider variety of financial incentives. Once we get to the point where societal pressure makes it harder to leave your home empty and we are left with those empty home owners who are truly ‘stuck’ I believe policy makers and funders will find it easier to grasp the specifics that we all spend our days immersed in and that should in turn make them more open to the solutions that you all are calling for.
The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership have a great resource at our home here at Shelter Scotland with a top rate media team and access to a wider marketing and communications team covering social media, online presence and marketing materials. What we need from you to use this resource to its fullest is your stories. We know many of you already contribute case studies on the Scottish Empty Homes Officer Network and we encourage you to continue to do so, but there are other stories you can tell us as well, stories we can use to ‘hook’ our communications efforts on to. For example, have you smashed your empty homes target ahead of schedule? Have you started a new way of working with owners? Do you know a new owner or tenant of an empty home who is so grateful that they are able to live where they do know? Do you want to appeal to the public for information about a property and who owns it? Do you have a local councillor who is frustrated that you don’t have the tools you need to get the empty home in their area back into use? We can get media interest, national, local or industry on the back of a whole range of your stories, even ones you might not have considered.
So let’s all get a little less specific. Here at the Partnership we will aim to talk to as wide an audience as we can about empty homes and we would ask you to consider sending us your successes and frustrations even when they don’t fit into the perfect before and after case study package. We’ll take it from there.