Highland Small Communities Housing Trust rebrands as Communities Housing Trust

The Highland Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT), a social enterprise which delivers a range of affordable housing and supporting developments in Scottish communities, has rebranded as the Communities Housing Trust.

Highland Small Communities Housing Trust rebrands as Communities Housing Trust

The CHT team and Ronnie Macrae outside its HQ in Inverness

Communities Housing Trust, which was founded as Highland Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT) in 1998, boasts an impressive track record of facilitating and delivering multi-use, multi-tenure and multi-partner developments for Scottish community groups.

A leader in their field - the not-for-profit organisation was instrumental in keeping development opportunities moving along following the financial crash, during which, their housing development activities grew significantly in the Highlands - the company have played a key part in changing the landscape of community development across Scotland having been involved in the provision of hundreds of homes in multiple communities across Scotland.

Communities Housing Trust famously worked with the Scottish Government to revolutionise the self-build sector in Scotland, leading to the introduction of the highly successful Self Build Loan Fund - of which they are now the official agent - and also played a key role in the introduction of the successful Rent to Buy scheme.

Working closely on behalf of communities with local authorities, the Scottish Government, charitable trusts and private partners such as estate owners and housing developers - Communities Housing Trust has driven forward a move away from the short-term funding initiatives that used to characterise the sector.

Highland Small Communities Housing Trust rebrands as Communities Housing Trust

Staffin site

The new era of longer-term support gives groups the confidence needed to develop housing and other infrastructure in their local communities over time, and in a sustainable manner.

Ronnie MacRae, chief executive officer, said:  “There has been a massive increase in community-led development in Scotland in recent years, largely due to the Scottish Government’s Scottish Land Fund and Rural & Islands Housing Fund, which has seen a large spike in the demand for our services. Increasingly, we felt groups - particularly beyond the Highland region - who really needed our support to better understand, present and ultimately meet their needs for additional affordable housing - were missing out because they thought we were an organisation that only supported small rural Highland communities.

“In fact, we are here to help communities and working collaboratively with Dumfries and Galloway Small Communities Housing Trust, we are able to cover the whole of Scotland. As a leading organisation nationally in the sector with offices in Inverness, Oban and Perth we believe ‘Communities Housing Trust’ better reflects who we are and what we do and will help us continue supporting more communities.”

Twenty-two years on from being founded, demand for Communities Housing Trust’s services has never been higher. Mr MacRae continued: “We were seeing a big increase in demand for people wanting to move to more remote areas even before the global pandemic. Now, with people increasingly able to work from home or remotely, we think that demand is set to grow.

“But at the same time, with potentially challenging economic times ahead we are also working hard to look at new solutions to keep community development going in the face of increased construction costs and financial challenges.”

Highland Small Communities Housing Trust rebrands as Communities Housing Trust


Gairloch: a case study:

Communities Housing Trust, which is working on well over 50 live community development projects at time of writing, has recently completed a major multi-use, multi-partner project in Gairloch. There, the company acted as a facilitator with support from Highland Council, bought three separate parcels of land on behalf of the community that were rolled up into one site. The company then set up a community steering group which decided how the site would be developed.

The original plans had housing on the seafront, overlooking the beach, but the steering group were able to change the planning system to request commercial units there to help encourage tourists passing through the village to stop. Now there’s a community-owned tourist information centre there with a cafe and bookshop and a University of the Highlands and Islands office to enable distance learning. Beside that is a privately-run local shop that the community felt would also encourage tourists to stop.

Behind the commercial units, is an Albyn Housing Association development of 12 affordable houses of mixed tenure. Highland Council has eight flats for affordable rent on the site while Communities Housing Trust has also built five further houses for low cost ownership or rent.

Additionally, Communities Housing Trust brokered a deal with the Ministry of Defence who built a brand-new purpose-built Air Training Corps facility which local young people use as a social hub.

Ronnie MacRae said: “With three different housing partners with six different housing tenures as well as commercial and community-owned businesses, Gairloch is a great example of proper community place based development where there is housing, commercial and social elements as part of the mix. It really fits in with our holistic view of community being about so much more than just housing.

“Developments need to be sustainable, by considering the housing stock available and its impact on the wider community - for example providing workspaces and commercial units alongside housing can help to reduce the reliance on transport.

“New developments need to deal with current issues and create future opportunities - that is what Communities Housing Trust is all about.”

Since development began at Gairloch, two further neighbouring sites owned by the local estate and a local landowner have been opened up to future development through this project, which will further benefit the range of housing options available in the community.

Just as the Gairloch project completes, a similar scheme in Staffin is starting, providing mixture tenure housing, commercial units and health facilities.

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