Blog: Empty Homes Advice Service – One year on
By Frances Snee, empty homes adviser at Shelter Scotland
I realised this morning (Monday 9th) that it’s been a year to the day that I arrived at the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership to work on the Empty Homes Advice Service. It certainly doesn’t feel like it. It has been a busy time and the months have flown by.
One of the first things I arranged when I started was a couple of shadowing days. The first day was with Allyson, the Stirling/Falkirk shared service Empty Homes Officer and all round Tasmanian devil. She picked me up at the train station and we were off around the towns and countryside. We visited both of her offices too and squeezed in a follow up visit to the new owner of a former shell on the banks of Loch Earn.
As we drove around Allyson pointed out all the properties that she’d worked on. “It’s all about people, not buildings” she told me. She multi tasked the whole day, fitting calls in between site visits while generously sharing her knowledge and experience. Just as she was dropping me off at the station her council tax colleague phoned to thank her for her part in a large council tax debt that had just been settled.
Later that week I was in Perth & Kinross with Isabel and Katrina. In the morning I met the new owners of a stripped down shell of a flat in Kinross. The conversation was about building consents for the renovation, and the plan to let it out after years empty. In the afternoon all three of us walked round in the Perth sunshine visiting loads of projects in progress. We took some pictures of this impressive sandstone lower flat in Perth that Katrina later used for a case study.
The Empty Homes Advice Service provides advice for owners, neighbours and organisations. Hopefully you’ll all have received some referrals for your areas. Reports have been steadily increasing over the months with nearly 345 to date, and counting. I get a lot of calls from neighbours who see the empty properties every day. They’re glad when they hear that there’s something they can do about it. A lot of them say things like “that would make a great house for a family, I know there are lots of people who need a decent home.” But for some it goes much deeper because they’re right next door, or even in the same building. The problems triggered by the empty property affects their home. Often they say how frustrated they are and that it’s having an impact on their health.
Promotion of Empty Homes Advice Service contact details can be a trigger for the owner to pick up the phone for the first time. I try to get as many details as possible. If it’s a report I’m passing on I don’t want them to have to repeat their story from scratch straight away. If there’s little or no empty homes provision for their area then I want to get as clear a picture as possible so that I can best guide them on their options. I get a lot of calls from developers and individuals who’re very keen on the Matchmakers Scheme. A lot will sign up for everything that’s in place and ask to be told when more become available. Individuals and groups will get in touch with an interest in empty homes work and I’ll link them with the best person to help them with this.
I really enjoy working with the Scottish Empty Homes Network. I keep saying this but it’s been great to join such a talented and friendly group of colleagues. There’s something very positive and collaborative about the group. I’ve noticed that people don’t think twice about sharing their experience and helping each other out. The bimonthly best practice groups have been well attended and extremely useful for increasing my knowledge of empty homes good practice and for putting faces to names. The best practice groups have expanded this year to cover the north of Scotland too which is broadening the experience and talent for the whole network. I was a bit spoiled when November came along and I attended my first Scottish Empty Homes Partnership Conference. I’m now expecting Empty Homes Champion and TV architect George Clarke to be at all our conferences. The theme of the event was Local Effort, Local Impact. It was a highlight to be part of the Scottish Empty Homes Network and to get our heads together with investors, community groups and commercial partners to celebrate the successes of the previous year and to look at what more could be done for the year ahead.