Guest Blog - Lorna Mackie, Nationwhide Foundation - a funder's perspective on empty homes

This guest blog is from Lorna Mackie, Programme Manager for empty properties at the Nationwide Foundation.

A funder’s perspective on empty properties

Lorna Mackie, Programme manager for empty properties, The Nationwide Foundation

Bringing empty properties back into use as homes for people in need is something we are passionate about, so much so, that we recently ran a second funding programme offering a total of £1 million, which we are currently in the process of assessing.

Funding long-term empty properties has confirmed to us what we already suspected; that the work to bring these empty properties into use has far deeper and richer outcomes than just creating homes. Our work has mostly been with smaller community groups, which really understand the needs of the vulnerable people in their communities and which use their housing expertise as a tool to support these beneficiaries.

Once you peer beyond the brand new plasterboard and freshly painted walls which go towards the physical renovations of bringing an empty property back into use, there are many more changes taking place – lives can be dramatically improved, as well as buildings. A good many social issues can be addressed this way. Work we’ve funded has led to:

  • unskilled young people learning a trade in the construction industry;

  • long-term unemployed accessing a meaningful route to paid employment through volunteering;

  • families with young children who have suffered living in damp squalid conditions, having their health and wellbeing transformed by moving into a decent affordable home;

  • communities blighted by streets of boarded-up houses and the ensuing anti-social behaviour, undergoing dramatic transformations into pleasant neighbourhoods.

Yet despite all the obvious benefits, earlier this year the UK government’s Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (available in England) ended. And yes of course, while converting empty homes can’t single-handedly solve the housing supply crisis, this work nevertheless still offers a significant opportunity to provide genuinely affordable homes. Going forward, there needs to be a collective approach to maintaining a focus on empty properties: many agencies have a part to play, including local authorities, owners of empty properties, housing associations, socially minded investors and philanthropic organisations like ourselves, to name but a few.

The lack of funding in this area has meant our grants are even more in demand. When we launched our new funding programme in the autumn with £1 million to distribute, we had almost 150 applications, with over £24 million requested in funding.  There are clearly plenty of organisations around the UK which recognise how renovating long-term empty properties really supports people in housing need within their communities. With more worthy projects than our pot of funding can accommodate, we find it very difficult having to decline good work.

As we move into the next phase of preparing to fund new organisations, we’re positive our contribution will make a difference to the communities we work in. Our approach as a funder means we offer choice of grants or programme related investment. We also spend time visiting the projects we fund, not just at the start, but throughout their journeys. This allows us to provide support when required and get a greater insight into the challenges of the refurbishment projects and also the needs of the beneficiaries within the communities; which is ultimately what it’s all about for us.

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