Empty Homes Community Grants Programme Legacy (2016)

What is this project about?

Community Campus on siteThis Impact Acceleration Project is about the Legacy of Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (2011-2015). This project:

  • tracks the impact of our research in making the case for this £50 million government programme;
  • explores the impact of the programme in terms of housing and wider social impacts; and
  • maps future scenarios (PDF) and the legacy options to sustain impact through a) local authority partnerships and b) asset based development strategies.

What is it really about?

Recognising, promoting and enabling a simple idea – ‘local communities bringing empty properties into use to meet housing need and improve neighbourhoods’.

EHCGO grant refurbished homeThe EHCGP has demonstrated that grant aid can enable local people to generate substantial impacts through their involvement in bringing empty homes back into use. This can be empowering:

'As a local community trust; it opened our eyes to the huge impact investing in property can have in a deprived area: Creating quality homes for local families Significantly improving the quality of life of neighbouring residents, whose lives had been blighted by living by a vermin ridden, dangerous property. It demonstrated our commitment to the regeneration of the area.' (Moat House Community Trust)

‘As things stand - it's enabled us to develop a functioning Empty Homes Scheme, through which we have the funds, knowhow, contacts, systems and networks to identify, refurbish and rent out empty properties. We benefit from a number of leases (typically 5-7 year) and own one property outright, which gives us some financial stability and enables us to invest further in our empty homes and social enterprise lettings activities’. (Developing Health & Independence (DHI)

'The multiple benefits (PDF) of this activity include training and employment opportunities, reduced neighbourhood blight and fear of crime and individual well-being through participation.' (Jon Fitzmaurice, Self-help-Housing.Org)

It can also have a magical effect on the sustainability of grass roots organisations by providing them with a sustainable asset base and income stream: ‘The magic of housing as both a physical asset and a source of rental income is being rediscovered as a basis for sustainable community-led action in a period in which organisations dependent on revenue support have found survival an increasing problem.' (David Mullins)

This success has been recognised by local authorities such as Hull City Council – 'partnerships are crucial, especially with community organisations who know and understand their local areas'. (Hull City Council)

HartlepoolSuccess is also recognised by Tribal, the agency who allocated the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme for the Government.

'The most apparent benefit of successful project delivery is the availability of decent affordable housing. Organisations have however reported other benefits to project delivery, including the provision of training and apprenticeships, an increased asset base, safer neighbourhoods and raised organisation profile. It can be argued that value for money should not just be measured in terms of pounds and pence, but that the added value delivered by projects should also be a factor in grant assessment.' (Tribal End of Programme Report on Empty Homes Community Grants Programme 2011-15)

Global recognition was provided by the World Habitat Awards for 2015/2016 for housing projects that are ‘innovative, replicable and sustainable’ in which two self-help housing projects in the North of England were winners at the award presentation in Quito in October 2016.

'Canopy and Giroscope are pioneers in a movement of UK housing providers called 'Self-Help Housing', which has gained momentum and grown significantly in recent years. Together they provide a model that has inspired many others. Today, over 100 organisations in the UK follow their Self-Help Housing model. By renovating empty homes to provide affordable housing to disadvantaged people, the organisations tackle multiple issues for local communities.'

Video: Self-help housing in the North of England

Self-help housing in the North of England

The World Habitat Award Statement references 'two regional evaluations of the £50 million Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (EHCGP), the the Midlands, and in the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside (where Canopy and Giroscope are based)' by the Housing and Communities Group at the University of Birmingham.

Brief chronology of research and impact

The impact activities presented here relate to three main phases of research led by Professor David Mullins at the University of Birmingham:

2008-2011  Making the case

Third Sector Research Centre: Scoping work on Self-help Housing  (Part funded by ESRC as part of Third Sector Research Centre Grant 2008-13) 

This included:


'There is a desperate need in this country for affordable housing, and yet for every two families that need a home, there is one property standing empty. This is a national scandal, and after years of inaction and inertia, this Government is determined to get to grips with the problem. That’s why I am today announcing that community and voluntary organisations will now be able to apply for a slice of £100m to tackle empty homes. With the new homes bonus applying to empty homes as well as new ones, councils can also receive six years worth of funding for every home they bring back into use. And I will continue to explore all options so it is always in the interest of councils to tackle empty homes.' (Andrew Stunnell, Communities Minister, Coalition Government 2011 ) 

2012-15 Evaluating the impact

Housing and Communities Research Group: Evaluation of Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (part funded by Building and Social Housing Foundation through two regional evaluations)

This included:


Evidence of broad social impact, case for further support and recognition from a range of potential supporters (Local Government, Charitable Foundations, Social Investors) but no Government commitment to renew programme.

2015-16 mapping the legacy and future scenarios

Housing and Communities Research Group: Legacy Impact Project (Part funded by ESRC Impact Acceleration Grant, Nationwide Foundation, Tudor Trust and Unity Bank)

This included:

  • fifteen follow up case studies 
  • twelve month survey report
  • three scenarios for further development of the sector
  • three Impact Briefings 


Who are the main Project partners?

The project has been co-funded by ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, Nationwide Foundation, Tudor Trust, and Unity Bank. The practice partner is Self-Help Housing.org with whom the impact activities have been co-produced. This has directly involved many of the 110 self-help housing projects based in local communities who bring empty properties into use to meet housing needs, often providing training and employment opportunities and generating extensive social impacts and community benefits. Other partners closely involved in the project include Big Society Capital, Building and Social Housing Foundation, Empty Homes, Empty Homes Network, HACT, Land Aid, Nationwide Foundation,Shelter Scotland, and local authorities in Hull Leeds, Middlesbrough and Liverpool.

Who have the impact activities been targeted at?

Central Government (including Department of Communities and Local Government) who following early  research by TSRC and promotion by BSHF, established the £50 million Empty Homes Community Grants Programme 2011-15) – DCLG officials attended events during the programme (including presentations in Hull,  and London, February 2015) . The research has supported lobbying activity to restore funding after the end of EHCGP in 2015 – e.g. letters to Secretary of State Greg Clark from Big Issue Invest, Ecology Building Society and others June 2015, letter to Under Secretary of State Marcus Jones by Land Aid July 2015, submission to All Party Parliamentary Group, Summer 2016, letter to new Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell from Giroscope November 2016 inviting visit to Hull). Central Government

HullLocal authorities (including Leeds City Council, Hull City Council, Liverpool City Council and Birmingham City Council) who have all actively promoted self-help housing in their areas and been implementing some of the impact activities documented here including the use of Right to Buy receipts to fund empty homes; the scheme in Leeds was adopted in Hull following the workshop projects, and asset transfers as in Liverpool, and Leading to Empty Homes Demonstration Projects to influence local authorities by demonstrating impact of self-help housing projects through new case studies, autumn 2016.

Social Investors (including Big Society Capital, Big Issue Invest, Charity Bank, Ecology Building Society, Triodos Bank, Unity Bank, Unlimited) - through a presentation to funders at Big Society Capital in December 2015, leading to a working group of funders, discussion at impact events in Leeds and Teeside on lender documentation led to a proposed  follow up project by HACT to develop a toolkit to bring together in one place the documentation required to develop and deliver a community-led housing scheme.  

Charitable foundations (including Association of Charitable Foundations, Land Aid, Nationwide Foundation,  Power to Change, Tudor Trust, Virgin) – through presentations and accompanied visits e.g. with Association of Charitable Foundations and Land Aid to St Basils  Live Work project at Sandwell Hospital in  November 2015.  Since the end of EHCGP there have been several significant funding initiatives by Charitable Foundations including Nationwide and Land Aid that recognise the multiple benefits of self-help housing as evidenced by the research. In Autumn 2016 a new housing community investment programme was announced by Power to Change and research was used by SHHO to try to influence some of this funding towards empty homes projects.

Self-help housing groups themselves - through regular attendance at many of the 27 regional networking events throughout the research, surveys, visits and case studies and communication via Self-Help Housing.  For example at the most recent North East and Yorkshire Networking Event in 2016 we presented results of our 12 month survey and FOI requests and heard about new initiatives local projects had been involved in since the EHCGP. Projects shared ideas in raising finance, influencing local authorities, strengthening area based initiatives and joining forces with projects in the North West for an extended network meeting in the new year.

Community Campus graphicOther grassroots organisations such as Big Local projects who are well placed to get involved – The research has shown the importance of existing community based organisations and social enterprises as potential adopters of self-help housing models. A visit to North Ormesby in March 2016 provided an excellent example of Big Local project and local Development Trust taking forward an empty homes project by acquiring surplus vacant properties from a housing association at a discount and forming an urban Community Land Trust. (Image: Local artist's image of the North Ormesby Project, also known as 'Doggy' Project)

Further examples of involvement by local community enterprises were provided by Hartlepool NDC’s renovation of a landmark empty church building, Redcar and Cleveland Mind’s purchase and repair of property for occupancy by people mental health needs and an ex-offender and East Cleveland Youth’s renovation of a derelict public house to expand its accommodation portfolio.  A key learning point to take forward in the wider of community-led housing is the importance of working with existing community enterprises (as well as start-ups) and the value of existing buildings (as well as new build). Both lessons can lead to speedier and sustainable community development through housing.

What methods did the Project use?

The project drew on a new survey and case study updates to track impact and freedom of information requests to draw out more information on how the programme was administered by the consultants, Tribal, for DCLG.

Survey of participants 12 months after EHCGP ended

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests
A total of three FOI requests were made as a result of the failure of either DCLG or Tribal to place information on the monitoring and impact of the innovative £50 million EHCHP programme into the public domain.  These requests resulted in access to new information including:

  1. The Tribal end of Programme report (PDF)
  2. The Tribal end of Programme survey (PDF)
  3. An answer to specific questions on programme outcomes (PDF)

While it is important that the FOI request has brought new information into the public domain, there is a need for caution in interpreting some of this material. A commentary and assessment by the research team has drawn out the key information on learning from EHCGP and identified implications for future programmes.

What other Outputs are there?

The project has generated two PDF presentations/impact briefing papers on the impact of the programme and our research and how this impact can be sustained into the future through:

These PDFs were presented at workshops in Leeds and Teeside in Summer 2016 and further evidence has been gathered since then  to  provide updated impact briefings.

Case Study reports

Canopy Houses LeedsA selection of the case studies compiled as part of the project is presented here.

As well as case studies of successful self-help housing organisations there are case studies documenting support measures taken by local authority partners to promote self-help and work on empty properties.

These case studies have been used by SHO to promote learning and to spread innovation across the country.

An excellent example of this was the sharing of Leeds City Council’s innovation in recycling Right to Buy receipts into funding for empty property initiatives including self-help housing.  This material was used by officers at Hull City Council, supported by local self-help projects to develop a similar scheme.

Another great example of case study is provided by Liverpool City Council’s asset transfer. We are hopeful that more authorities will adopt Liverpool’s innovative approach and we have assembled supporting guidance on considerations in asset disposals at below market value by housing associations.

How has impact been accelerated?

Through support for promotional and lobbying activity with key stakeholders (as above).

Through submissions to a number of bodies including:

Through participation in 19 dissemination events enabling research findings to be discussed with a range of stakeholder groups.

Through two bespoke dissemination events to promote the impact briefing reports

Teesside Impact Event June 2016
Teeside Impact event June 2016This event majored on asset based development in Teesside and included new research on projects in Hartlepool, North Ormesby, Cultures CIC in Stockton and updates on East Cleveland Youth, Community Campus and Redcar and Cleveland Mind based on a study visit by David Mullins in March 2016 which had linked in research by Richard Lang on Community-led housing in England and Austria and by Adam Warren for his Masters Degree at Amsterdam University.

The event was held in a wonderful St Mary’s Community Centre where Community Campus had been born 29 years ago and attracted a good mix of over 50 people from Teesside and further afield including from national bodies such as Land Aid, HACT, Big Society Capital. Ecology Building Society and National Community Land Trust Network.

The event gave the impetus for even stronger networking of self-help projects in the Tees Valley, commenting on the Heseltine plan for the area in the wake of steel plant closures and taking forward engagement with the combined authorities to keep empty homes work on the map in Teeside.

Follow up event on 25 October 2016
A wide range of stakeholders attended a follow up event and agreed: A willingness to establish a Teesside-wide self-help housing coalition was expressed throughout the meeting and the interest of the Combined Authority was noted. It was felt that the benefits could be numerous, as collaboration will serve as an impetus to maintain momentum from the EHCGP; enable the sharing of local intelligence; provide clout when engaging with the local and combined authorities and also hopefully attract additional funding. On the basis of the mandate provided by the meeting to explore the proposal further it was agreed that Carl Ditchburn should continue to move things forward and report back at a subsequent meeting to be held in January 2017.

Leeds Impact Event
Leeds Impact eventLeeds Town Hall provided the magnificent setting for this impact event on the support local authorities can provide to self-help housing groups and the beneficial outcomes for local authorities of this activity.

Research evidence on the benefits of the strategic approach adopted by some local authorities was presented and specific examples of asset transfers, right to buy and new homes bonus funding were discussed. The impact event attracted participants from the local area alongside those from other regions and national bodies, highlighting the benefits of the decision to hold these events outside London.

Through liaison with and support for these follow on projects:

  • Empty Homes – Autumn 2016-19  - Empty Homes Demonstration Projects on ‘Community-led responses to empty homes’ funded by Esmee Fairburn to influence local authorities by demonstrating impact of self-help housing projects through case studies and demonstration of social impact in 6 localities  with clusters of empty homes (including four building on case studies from this project).
  • HACT – proposed project 2017 to develop a toolkit would bring together in one place the documentation required to develop and deliver a community-led housing scheme.  The overall purpose would be to give more confidence to professionals and agencies to engage with CLH projects through the practical ways and means to do so.  This came out of discussion initiated by Ecology Building Society and involving Land Aid at our impact events in Teeside and Leeds in June, 2016.
  • BSHF - by linking with Building and Social Housing Foundation's on-going promotion of self help housing, including their recent feature on self-help solutions to youth homelessness feature on young people and CLH 

International significance

The English self-help housing sector has been recognised as internationally significance through a World Habitat Award to Canopy Housing in Leeds and Giroscope in Hull. 

  • To celebrate the award two videos were commissioned by Building and Social Housing Foundation showing the work of Canopy and Giroscope alongside a similar video on the international winner – the Cano Martin Pena Community Land Trust in Puerto Rico. The videos were subtitled in Spanish or English to enhance the sharing of practice between the two winning projects. 
  • Before the award ceremony in Quito, BSHF invited an international group of visitors to Leeds and Hull in September 2016 for a study visit to the two winning projects. After the visit Rob Weiner, Executive Director of California Coalition for Rural Housing shared his impressions of the study visit with David Mullins. 

The research has also made international impact links including with:

  • Community based empty homes groups in Japan through links with the University of Fukui and the Japanese Architectural Association. Research evidence on  impact of EHCGP in England was presented in summer 2014 at events in Tokyo, Fukui, Kyoto, Onimichi and Osaka. Architect from Osaka visited self-help housing projects in Hull summer 2015. Visits from Ass. Prof. Kikuchi in 2014, 2015 and 2016 have strengthened learning transfer.
  • Masters students in Urban Planning at the University of Amsterdam through a Master Studio on the Equitable and Social City in January 2016, which included a morning workshop with Masters students in Planning and an evening seminar with civil society organisations, municipal representatives and academics in Amsterdam. One of the student participants went on to do dissertation research on empty homes groups in Tees Valley (see below).

Impacts on academia: teaching and doctoral/post-doctoral training

The project has fed into undergraduate and postgraduate teaching by:

  • Presenting the research as a lecture and case study in a Year 2 BA Social Policy module on Housing and Communities (PDF)  with policy analysis and implementation examples
  • Guest lecture for Postgraduate Planning students at the University of Amsterdam at a Master Studio on the Equitable and Social City in January 2016, which included a morning workshop with Masters students and an evening seminar with civil society organisations, municipal representatives and academics in Amsterdam.

It has contributed to the research training environment by:

Examples of impacts on the research agenda - Think Tank citations

2015 Centre for Social Justice – “Home Improvements” by Mark Winterburn
Cites evidence submitted to CSJ by the Housing and Communities Research Group (HCRG) and finds the results of EHCGP to be ‘impressive’ supporting an argument that ‘it would be useful to extend the Affordable Housing programme to allow charities and social enterprises to bring more empty properties back into use’ (p.77)  and a recommendation that ‘the Government extends the Affordable Housing Programme for non-registered community-led organisations who wish to bring empty properties into use’ (p.78).

2016 Smith Institute –  “Local housing, Community living: Prospects for scaling up and scaling out community-led housing” by Andrew Heywood
This work draws mainly on HCRG research to inform a more general review of community-led housing in England including 20 separate references to HCRG research, mainly on self-help housing.

Makes a number of references to HCRG research to support recommendation that ‘The Government should reinstate the grant funding used by community-led housing groups to bring empty homes back into use’ (p.50)

For more information on this research project, please contact David Mullins, d.w.mullins@bham.ac.uk or Halima Sacranie, h.sacranie@bham.ac.uk.