Empty homes initiative pays off in Lancaster and Morecambe

Part of a former funeral directors empty for 15 years (during the works) and now home to 14 houses.
Part of a former funeral directors empty for 15 years (during the works) and now home to 14 houses.

A scheme aimed at bringing empty homes back into use has paid dividends in the Lancaster district.

Recent statistics suggest around 240,000 every year - with a third of these needing to be at prices or rents which are affordable.

New interiors are contemporary and finished to a high quality.

New interiors are contemporary and finished to a high quality.

The north west has one of the highest dwellings to empty dwellings ratios in the country at 3.29 per cent – more than 105,000 homes in 2015.

This week is National Empty Homes Week, an annual event promoted through the national campaigning charity Empty Homes, who raise the profile of this issue with the help of organisations such as the link between empty properties and affordable homes is Methodist Action (North West) Ltd. The award-winning charity has been involved in bringing empty properties back into use for those in need since 2012, including in the Lancaster district.

Through the Community Empty Homes Programme launched by the previous government, the charity developed a ‘one stop shop’ solution for empty home owners – refurbishment, funding and lettings management ensuring that as many properties were brought back into use at a fraction of the cost of building a new house, in a fraction of the time.

During the three years of the programme they tackled a variety of empty properties; including existing houses and flats and the conversion of retail and commercial buildings into homes.

The kitchen area of a terraced property before refurbishment.

The kitchen area of a terraced property before refurbishment.

The programme allowed them to create accommodation to meet the local authority’s wider housing needs – from single person flats to four bedroom family houses.

By the end of the programme in 2015, Methodist Action had brought 107 properties (222 bedrooms) back into use, providing accommodation for more than 250 people who were desperately in need of a home.

This has culminated in recent months with Lancaster City Council funding a further programme for at least the next three years.

Stephen Hetherington, CEO of Methodist Action, said: “Partnership working was crucial and enabled us to take a proactive approach to the problem, and respond in a flexible and strategic way to each property.

The kitchen area of the same terraced property after refurbishment.

The kitchen area of the same terraced property after refurbishment.

“It enabled us to build upon our existing social lettings portfolio, creating high quality, affordable accommodation – encouraging long term, sustainable tenancies. As the relationship with our Local Authority partners evolved, this allowed us to jointly develop the credibility and sustainability of the programme and build up the trust of property owners, the local community and local businesses.”

As part of its new three year business plan, Methodist Action is aiming to bring a further 125 empty properties back into use to meet the increasing demand for affordable rented homes.

Stephen said: “Charitable and community organisations like Methodist Action are providing a vital, affordable, alternative for social tenants accessing the private rental sector. As a not for profit service to those in housing need, we are successfully filling the gap between homelessness and traditional affordable housing routes.”