Churches of all denominations in East Anglia can play a key role in regenerating rural communities by using their land and buildings to provide new affordable homes and community resources, the Anglican Bishop of Norwich says.
The comments came at the Faith in Affordable Housing (FIAH) event at Norwich Cathedral last weekend.
Giving the opening speech at the FIAH East Anglia conference on 7 July 2011, Lord Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, declared: “Strengthening and breathing fresh life into our rural communities is vital if we are to retain them as real places to live and work."
He continued: "Churches are exactly in the right place at the heart of our village life to take the lead role in creating sustainable communities. Working in collaboration with other churches we can renovate and regenerate our land and buildings to provide affordable homes and community resources for local people.”
Alastair Murray, deputy director of churches' campaign group Housing Justice, explained that high property prices caused in part by the growth of second-home ownership in rural areas is causing a breakdown in the very communities where people want to spend their weekends and retirement.
Murray said: “This is creating a housing crisis, where local people can no longer afford to live and work in the communities where they have roots – priced out by second home owners. That’s why Housing Justice is holding a series of FIAH conferences to explore how central and local government, together with local communities and churches of all denominations can provide much needed affordable homes.”
Helen Kelly, team leader for Rural and Community Affordable Housing at the Department of Communities and Local Government, spoke about the role that emerging policy can play in helping local communities, and what incentives there are for local landowners.
FIAH East Anglia is the third in a series of regional events that are being held across the country organised by national Christian housing charity Housing Justice and sponsored by Quaker Housing Trust (QHT).
These events bring together a range of key organisations from Government to local housing groups to look at imaginative ways of providing affordable homes for local people by using church land and buildings.
QHT is currently looking at an application from Solo Housing (East Anglia) for a finance package to help them provide accommodation for single homeless people in rural Norfolk: “This illustrates the extent of local need that FIAH can help to tackle,” conference speaker QHT Secretary Paula Harvey said.
Many churches have more space in their buildings than they can make full use of, or are simply no longer using land or space. The conference held in Cumbria last year highlighted examples where housing need is being met successfully in areas such as Coniston through church involvement.
Mitre Housing Association acquired land from the Parochial Church Council to build 11 houses, and bought Coniston Church Rooms from the Diocese of Carlisle to convert into three more homes. The end result is that this should meet the need for affordable homes in the area for some time to come.
“This is exactly the kind of excellent example that Faith in Affordable Housing would like to see replicated across the country. We want to encourage communities to look imaginatively at how church buildings and land can be used for the future,” said Alastair Murray.