Trust's solution to Orkney islands abandoned houses

By Huw Williams
BBC Scotland reporter

Image source, Scottish Empty Homes Network
Image caption,
Thirty homes in North Ronaldsay have been identified as empty and having potential to be used again

The housing charity Shelter Scotland says Orkney has one of the highest proportions of empty homes in Scotland, taking population into account.

Orkney Islands Council has just become the first Scots island authority to appoint an Empty Homes Officer.

She is working with North Ronaldsay Trust - who have identified 30 abandoned properties in the island - to bring them back into use.

They claim the project could be a model for other communities.

Image source, Scottish Empty Homes Network
Image caption,
Some houses are too far gone to be re-used but could be replaced

They plan to start with the former school house - which has just been handed over for community use - and run it as a "gateway house".

That is designed to give people - especially families with young children - a chance to experience island life. To try before they buy.

But the dilemma is, where do those people move on to if they decide they want to stay?

And that's the really ambitious part of the project.

Image caption,
Peter Donnelly from the North Ronaldsay Trust says they want to renovate one house a year for the next 30 years

Peter Donnelly from the North Ronaldsay Trust told BBC Radio Orkney they have identified 30 abandoned houses in the island that could be brought back into use.

The aim is to renovate them, at the rate of one a year for the next 30 years.

He said: "Instead of waiting for a council property, we as a community take the action. We work with islanders to try and get the property available.

"The development trust would simply get the money for the property. We'd look at getting professional organisations to run and manage the property for us.

"And we'd look at having it on a long-term lease, so people from the island would lease it to the development trust. And at some stage in the future they could get the property back all done up, if they wanted it for their own family."

'Lots of opportunities'

Luke Fraser from Housing Services at Orkney Islands Council says Orkney has a lot of second homes.

"We've got a lot of properties that are old and derelict out in the rural and island areas. Some of them are properties you could bring back into use. And others are ruins that you probably could replace, one for one, but are probably too far gone to be able to bring back into use."

But: "I don't think it's a really bad thing for us. It's an opportunity. We've got a lot of opportunities now to utilise the property stock we have available to us."

'Nowhere to live'

And Peter Donnelly from North Ronaldsay said if you get housing sorted on the island, a lot of other needs would become much easier to solve.

"We need to get people into the island, like a Community Development Officer. And then we'd be looking at getting a Ranger, to help run some of the activities.

"And then we need a property for these people to move into, so the gateway house becomes available for the next person that comes in.

"At the end of the day you cannot do anything in a small, remote community like ours without people. We've got to take that leap of faith. But if we're looking at one property a year, then if you manage to fill them up on a regular basis, that would demonstrate that there is a real need."

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