October 12, 2021
Like every other wicked problem, Scotland’s rural housing crisis is multi-dimensional and so if it is ever to be resolved, it is going to take an approach that reflects all that complexity and is equally multi-layered. Rural Housing Scotland may be onto something with an approach that takes an age-old concept, the clachan – the old name for a settlement or hamlet – but with a modern twist by adding a number of ‘smart’ components. Working with community landowners in Western Isles, the Smart Clachan is based around cooperative principles while using modern technology and energy systems.
Rural Housing Scotland will lead the development of an ambitious new initiative to tackle the interlinked issues of depopulation, demographic change and the climate crisis in Uist.
In partnership with community landowner Stòras Uibhist and with funding from Emsée Fairbairn Foundation, Rural Housing Scotland plans to develop Smart Clachan which will incorporate cooperative community-led housing, workspaces, growing space and the use of renewable energy.
The project aims to create a community-based initiative to support repopulation, with live/work spaces which are affordable, cooperative, interconnected, sustainable and low carbon.
These Smart Clachan are proposed for several locations across Uist, to help stem depopulation and encourage relocation, as well as to support Gaelic language and culture.
Smart Clachan are a modern interpretation of a ‘clachan’; a traditional island township consisting of a few houses and crofts. They utilise community-led, cooperative housing models to create modern, affordable homes.
This community-led, cooperative ethos is fostered through a range of shared services and facilities to enhance sustainability and connectivity, including a community work hub to enable households to establish their own business or work remotely for local, national and international companies.
Research from The James Hutton Institute has shown that sparsely populated communities are facing a demographic time bomb, threatening their sustainability; an exodus of young people and decline in the working age population, and an increase in the older population.
One driver of the out-migration of young people is lack of affordable housing and the competition faced by local young people from the in-migration of cash rich older households. This was highlighted in a newspaper letter from young people on Uist which gained national prominence and called for action to sustain the population, language and culture of the island.
Vital grant funding has been awarded from Emsée Fairbairn Foundation to enable Rural Housing Scotland, in partnership with Stòras Uibhist, to recruit a project manager to lead the delivery of Smart Clachan in several locations across the island.
Stòras Uibhist is providing sites for the development of Smart Clachan in South Uist