In her blog for the 2021 #ReachingRuralNI campaign, Our Rural & Regeneration Manager, Sinead Collins, reflects on the impact our Rural Housing Need Test had in her village.
I love living in Derrymacash. I love the semi-rural location on the shores of Lough Neagh and I love being a five minute drive from the shops while also being a two minute walk from the open countryside. I love that we have a park, a shop, a chippy, a hairdressers and a school all within walking distance, but we can still enjoy the slower pace of village life, avoiding the noise and bustle of the busy nearby town.
More than all of this though, I love that my family are close-by and we are immersed in a small community where everyone matters and there’s always someone that can help.
The only downside is, that most people who have lived here, want to stay here and there are just not enough houses to go round. We were fortunate to snap up our first home as a newly married couple but it was soon bursting at the seams as our family grew. It took us ten years to finally find a home in the village which had the space we needed. This made me realise that so many families in the same position are likely forced to move into a town where there is a greater availability, and turnover of housing, or to settle for a home which doesn’t fully address their needs.
Back in 2018, there were calls from local community representatives for the Housing Executive to examine the need for more social housing in the village and wider rural area. This gave me a greater insight into the true level of demand for housing here. It was eye-opening and heart-breaking.
I could see clearly for perhaps the first time how important the message we promote through the Rural Strategy is: Demand for housing in rural areas is often hidden when there is little to no availability of existing housing. This is because people don’t see the point in coming forward to be another name on a waiting list and for those who spoke to us who sadly had urgent accommodation requirements, this was not an option which would result in a quick allocation of a home.
However, I also witnessed how when we engage at a very local level and tell people that they should come forward, because without their name on the waiting list houses will never be built and the cycle will never be broken, we are able to make a difference. This rural housing need test led to the development of 12 new social homes in the area. This meant 12 households were able to stay exactly where they want to be, in a home they can afford and with housing support should they require it.
The #ReachingRuralNI campaign is about promoting how social and affordable housing has a role in supporting and sustaining rural communities, as well as the importance of reaching rural households to ensure that their voices are heard and their needs represented.
To me, this encapsulates everything we want to achieve through our Rural Strategy, for rural communities to understand that we are there for them and through meaningful engagement and partnership working, we can make a difference.