One of my favourite experiences from 2016 was last November’s Scottish Empty Homes Conference, held in Edinburgh. So I was determined to attend the 2017 event, which this year was held in Glasgow.
People make Glasgow
Back in the 1970s, when I lived in Edinburgh, Glasgow seemed rather grey and foreboding. It was a place to visit for rock concerts and football matches, but I didn’t get to know the city at all.
As it happened, in June this year my daughter Hazel decided it was time to leave home, and announced she was going to move up to Glasgow. (Yes, quite a long way from dear old Dad in Exeter, read into that what you will.) Anyway, while staying up there to sort her room out in her flat-share, I finally got a better sense of what the place is about. I was struck by its energy and diversity. Hazel, who has the knack of being au courant, has declared it to be her spiritual home. But tentative suggestions that I might move up to Glasgow in her wake have so far been met with a heavy silence.
As a lover of buildings, I found much pleasure in wandering the streets to enjoy the architecture and it was an inspired choice by Shelter to hold this year’s event in the ‘The Lighthouse’. This was a building designed by Charles Rennnie Mackintosh in 1895 and then – having fallen into disrepair – given a new lease of life in the late 1990s as Scotland’s Centre for Architecture, Design and the City.
The exciting internal spaces were complemented (estate-agent speak) by the outlook from the Viewing Gallery, which also featured a lone pianist whose jazz improvisations in the empty space – it was just me and him - were an unexpected bonus.
Kevin Stewart, MSP, the Scottish Minister for Local Government and Housing rightly pointed out the merit of holding the Empty Homes Conference in what had been an abandoned space now turned to productive use. But he had a lot more to say than that, including a doubling of funding for the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership from £200,000 to £400,000 per annum. Exactly how the funding will be targeted is not at this point clear. But the Minister was keen to emphasise the value of the Empty Homes Officers that the funding had so far helped support and eloquently described the difference in outcomes between the authorities that had a dedicated Officer and those that didn’t.
Among the key figures the Minister recited were:
- £425 million - value of 2,840 empty homes brought back into use so far
- £5 billion – value of Scotland’s 34,000 long-term privately-owned empty homes
- 100,000 tonnes greenhouse gas emissions saved by renovating empty homes
I particularly appreciated the invitation from Kevin Stewart to contact him with further information about some of the issues that were raised in the Question and Answer session: there was a real sense of a dialogue and an interest in the practitioner perspective.
Scottish Empty Homes Champions 2017
A major part of the Scottish Conference is the recognition given to the Scottish Empty Homes Champions by awards which are sponsored by joinery manufacturer Howdens. At our English Conferences we have tended to sacrifice the awards ceremony to cram more onto the main conference agenda, and I wonder if perhaps we are not doing our winners justice. Here are the Scottish Champions in a collective shot: