How Sustainable Housing Is Helping To Build Resilient Communities

Bank Ecology Building Society
Client Ian Stewart
Location High Bickington, Devon, UK

Growing up in the small rural village of High Bickington, Devon, Ian knew he wanted to stay as near to home as possible for life. His job as an engineer took him around the local area and he felt settled with his friends and family, rooted in a tight-knit community.

But as with many other rural areas, the limited availability of homes and inflated house prices (often due to second home ownership) meant that Ian’s dream of owning his own property in High Bickington seemed destined to stay just that. In his early twenties he became resigned to the fact that he would have to move to Barnstaple, a large town half an hour away.

This wasn’t just a disappointment for Ian: it was a serious problem for the future of High Bickington. As young people moved away, frustrated by the lack of affordable homes, the community’s economic sustainability was threatened. The future for many such communities is a gradual decline, with vital local services such as post offices and shops disappearing, along with a loss of social cohesion and economic resilience.

But working together, the community of High Bickington took control of their future. In 2000, a group of villagers formed the High Bickington Community Property Trust and acquired a council-owned farm site to develop into affordable homes for local people, as well as workspace, community facilities and woodland. Some of the homes were to be sold on a shared ownership basis, meaning that the Trust sold a share of the home and residents paid rent on the remaining share. In 2009 the Trust contacted Ecology to see how we could support the project.

One of the barriers to affordable housing developments is the lack of mortgage funding for potential residents. In the UK, mortgage providers are often hesitant to lend on projects which are considered unusual or innovative, or they apply rigid lending criteria which take no account of an individual’s circumstances. Ecology Building Society wanted to support the High Bickington project as part of its commitment to building a greener future: securing the future of sustainable communities is central to its holistic approach to ecological lending.

Ecology assesses the environmental benefit as well as the financial risks of each loan. Key to its support for the project was the fact that all properties were constructed to Code for Sustainable Homes level 4. This national building standard meant that the homes had high levels of energy efficiency, minimising the environmental impact of the properties and reducing running costs – often an overlooked aspect of affordability. The UK has one of the highest levels of fuel poverty in Europe, and with energy costs continuing to rise, the problem is set to increase.

In support of the development, Ecology waived its administration fee for the mortgages and produced bespoke information to help first time buyers such as Ian understand the lending process. Despite his concerns about his future housing options, Ian had been saving for a deposit for two years. When he heard about the shared ownership properties he was keen to apply.

Ian approached a number of mortgage providers, but found that most wanted him to provide a very high deposit or were not interested in lending for shared ownership. In contrast, he says,

‘Ecology were easy to communicate with and made me feel like a valued customer’. Ecology’s prices are aligned with climate risk, so the high level of energy efficiency of Ian’s home meant he benefitted from a discount on his interest rate.

Building on the site started in 2011 and in March 2012 Ian moved into his new home at High Bickington, with the support of an Ecology mortgage. He’s an incredibly proud homeowner – and proud to be able to stay in the village. He’s not just kept his connections with the villagers; he’s also forged new friendships with his neighbours, playing darts and football together. He even negotiated a group discount for them at the local carpet shop, extending the co-operative values of the Trust to his purchasing habits. Ian is a convert to the sustainable features of the properties: the insulation means he rarely has to turn on the heating and when he does, it’s fired by the community wood chip boiler.

The older villagers are happy that younger generations are now able to stay in the area and take the community into the future.

Since moving into his home, Ian has joined the Community Property Trust, so that he can help others to benefit in the way he has done, and is setting up a residents’ association to deal with day-to-day issues on the site. Now a leader within his community, Ian faces a much brighter future – as does High Bickington.