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Energy use and empty homes – making a difference on housing issues

Inspiration from our webinar.

Guest blog from the National Association for Neighbourhood Management, who ran our housing webinars

Housing can easily be thought of as ‘too big’ for Big Local. So at the first webinar on Big Local and housing, it was great to hear how two very different projects are tackling immediate housing issues in practical ways.

Dover Big Local tackling fuel poverty

Dover Big Local are working with Sustainability Connections, a local organisation set
up to alleviate fuel poverty in Dover and East Kent.

The founder of Sustainability Connections, Stephanie Karpetas, is also a local resident.
She got involved when Dover Big Local chose the environment as one of their five priorities.

Stephanie’s passion is educating people about fuel and energy issues. She explained to
housing webinar participants that in communities like Dover, home energy issues are not simply about families wanting to save a few pounds while reducing their environmental impact.

Often it is about vulnerable and elderly residents who
are scared of heating their homes because of cost, yet they may be paying over
the odds because they don’t understand their energy bills.

Plus, as is true in all communities, people in Dover on the lowest incomes often end up paying the most for their energy.

By working together, Sustainability Connections (pictured) and Dover Big Local are developing two projects to reduce fuel poverty and increase residents’ confidence and knowledge:

  • Energy champions: This project will use external funding from the government’s Big Energy Saving Network to train energy champions to advise vulnerable residents about their fuel bills, saving energy, and swapping tariffs.
  • Energy cafés: Energy cafés will be drop-in sessions (with tea and cakes) for the whole community aimed at raising awareness of all kinds of energy issues from home insulation to changing energy providers. For this, Dover Big Local are also seeking National Lottery Awards for All funding.

You can find out more about Dover Big Local here.

Bringing empty homes back into use

Empty Homes Doctor is a Leeds-based organisation, set up by Rob Greenland about four years
ago. They are not part of Big Local but their approach to getting empty homes back into use is on a scale Big Local areas could replicate.

Empty Homes Doctor discovered that 90% of empty homes in Leeds are privately owned. They also discovered that many people who own an empty home want to rent them out or sell them, but simply don’t know how to. Many are in a poor state of repair and have become a burden for people with little experience of major renovations.

Rob gave the example of one elderly couple who moved into residential care leaving their
home boarded up for 7 years. They had lost the keys, and the house had begun to crumble. Empty Homes Doctor approached the couple to find out more about their situation and what they wanted. The couple were introduced to a local organisation called Latch, who buy and renovate derelict properties to rent to families in housing need.

The couple were helped to sell to Latch, who did up the house with their
network of local traders and volunteers. Within three months a family of
three were able to move in.

Last year, Empty Homes Doctor brought 59 homes back into use under a contract with the council which pays £100,000 annually. One of the reasons they have managed to achieve a lot with a small team and small turnover is the fact they have built strong relationships with local property experts, estate agents, local charities, local businesses, and the council. Not only does this enable them to understand what the real problems are and how to solve them, but it is also these partners who help them solve the problems faced by the homeowners they work with.

You can find out more about the Empty Homes Doctor on their website, which has more examples of the kinds of people who find themselves stuck with an empty home, and how they can be helped.

Stephanie also mentioned an empty property initiative in Kent called No-Use Empty. For more
information, see their website.