Top marks for Highland schoolhouse conversion

The empty schoolhouse in Achiltibuie will soon be transformed into two flats
The empty schoolhouse in Achiltibuie will soon be transformed into two flats

Rural communities struggling to meet demand for local housing are being encouraged to follow in the footsteps of the Highland village of Achiltibuie and apply to a Scottish Government fund to help convert empty properties into homes.

The Coigach Community Development Company, based in Achiltibuie, along with the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT), have successfully secured backing from the Rural Housing Fund for a project to transform an empty schoolhouse into two flats.

The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP), which works across Scotland with local authorities to help owners of empty properties to bring them back into use, has congratulated both organisations on their project and cited it as an ideal use of the fund. It is urging more communities to follow Achiltibuie’s lead.

The local development company worked with community-led housing specialists, HSCHT, which was able to lead the way in attracting financial support for the project from the Rural Housing Fund and Nationwide Foundation. The Highland Council gave them the building for a nominal sum. It’s hoped the first tenants will move in later this year. HSCHT has also taken a 21-year lease on the building and will manage the tenancies.

Kristen Hubert, Scottish Empty Homes Project national manager, said: “This is a first class example of a small community recognising that a rundown schoolhouse in their area is a huge asset that can be turned into badly needed affordable housing. It’s exciting to see the Rural Housing Fund helping local people deliver this vital resource for their area. This project embodies the type of work the fund was meant to support and I congratulate both organisations on its success.”

The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership has helped to bring over 1600 properties back into use since 2010 by working with local councils and others. The average cost of renovating a property is much lower than a new building, making it a cost effective way of providing housing.

Kristen Hubert added: “Our Local Project Service can help communities take action on neglected properties. In rural communities like Achiltibuie creating just two new properties out of one old one can make the world of difference to those who need a home they can afford to live in. If communities feel daunted at the thought of sourcing funding and managing projects we can help them find a way forward.

“Anyone who wants to see a private empty property in their area given a new lease of life should find out what services and funds are available to help them realise their ambitions.”

The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership is funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by Shelter Scotland. It’s free national empty homes helpline makes it easy for people to report empty homes in their area, and for owners to receive help to bring homes back into use. To report an empty home, get advice if you are the owner of an empty home or to register interest in buying empty properties, call 0344 515 1941.

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