Faced with a significant number of empty homes and a reduction in government funding to tackle them, Stoke-on-Trent City Council devised an innovative solution. The £1 houses scheme has utilised valuable community assets to help implement a broader approach to regeneration encompassing people as well as place.
In a previously little-known neighbourhood near the centre of Stoke-on-Trent, 33 refurbished terrace homes have been offered to new owners for the nominal sum of £1 each. Since June, all 33 houses have been allocated; of which 32 are now occupied by individuals, couples and families who would not otherwise have been able to afford to make that first step onto the property ladder. The resulting transition has been swift and noticeable, and is all the more remarkable given that just six months earlier these warm, comfortable, modern family homes were little more than empty shells earmarked for demolition.
At a time when average UK house prices are soaring, it’s not surprising that the £1 houses project has captured the public imagination. Media from all over the world have flocked to the Cobridge area of Stoke-on-Trent to report on the new residents moving in; a fitting end to an engaging human interest story. Or it would be if that was where our £1 houses story ended. But bringing the houses back into use was just part of a much longer and more challenging process of social renewal and urban regeneration.
The Clusters money opened up potential remedies which would not otherwise have been available. This was particularly true of the Portland Street area of Cobridge – an area that had suffered from chronic underinvestment by private landlords and which would require a truly holistic solution to turn it around. We realised that, with the right strategy and sufficient investment, this area’s empty homes offered a unique opportunity to effect transformational social and urban regeneration.
There is now an active community group in the area, consisting of new and existing residents who are eager to play a part in the area’s renaissance. Returning this cluster of derelict properties to productive use within such a short timescale was crucial to the project’s success and has had an obvious positive impact beyond the four streets involved. The Council believes it has set in motion something which will unlock even greater benefits for the community. This unique approach has already helped to restore community pride, along with the empowerment to make change happen and a new-found sense of community ownership which will really drive lasting improvements.