A house that has lain empty for over 5 years in Achiltibuie has been transformed into two affordable dwellings thanks to an innovative funding package secured by the Coigach Community Development Company and The Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust with support from The Scottish Government, the Nationwide Foundation, The Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
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​Community ownership, through the transfer of assets, of a disused schoolhouse in the remote community of Achiltibuie, Coigach, Wester Ross has now been given a new lease of life. The Coigach Community Development Company is delighted that the renovation of the old schoolhouse is now complete, with the two newly created flats due for occupation in early March.
​An Open Day event to welcome tenants to their new homes was held on Friday 3rd March 2017, attended by those involved in the redevelopment along with people from the village.
Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT) project managed the development and is providing housing management services for the properties, which have been allocated to people in housing need. 
Ronnie MacRae, CEO of HSCHT explained: 
“HSCHT is delighted that the schoolhouse redevelopment is now complete. By working closely with The Scottish Government, the Nationwide Foundation and The Highland Council, this adds to the growing number of community-owned housing projects in the Highlands. The Coigach community will benefit greatly from two new fit-for-purpose affordable homes in Achiltibuie. The project demonstrates the great benefits derived from cooperation with the community and we hope to work with them on future projects to benefit Coigach.”
​Award-winning David Somerville Architects has redesigned the property, improving the standards with increased insulation and a responsive heating system resulting in low running costs: “With so many ex public sector houses no longer in use throughout the Highlands this project shows how affordable and energy-efficient accommodation can be made available to young families in remote communities.” The renovation was carried out by Highland based contractors, Kinellan Building Ltd.
​Included in the conversion was a complete internal and external redecoration,  with completely new kitchens and bathrooms also being installed. Externally the overgrown garden has been landscaped to provide bin stores and a new pathway and steps leading up to the house. Windows and doors were refurbished, while new ones were installed where required.
​Increasing the thermal mass of the property was important to the project. To do this, the conversion incorporated the raising of the floors to lay Kingspan insulation beneath, while also placing of 100mm mineral wool insulation in all walls between bedrooms and living rooms. Roof insulation was also increased, by laying 150mm thick earthwool insulation between ties, and 100mm thick over the rafters.

This, as well as the upgrading of services, wiring and lighting, as well as the introduction of new combined electric boiler and domestic hot water stores in each new flat, has created a more modern, much warmer and more energy efficient home. 
​​The Scottish Government’s new Rural Housing Fund was instrumental in funding this renovation, which is the first project to be completed through this mechanism. The fund has proved popular with communities with aspirations to own their own homes and it complements other recent interventions from the Scottish Government, such as the Scottish Land Fund, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016.
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A new internal wall was erected within the existing kitchen, to provide a downstairs bathroom.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: 
“We recognise the challenges of developing affordable housing in remote rural areas and so I’m delighted that the Scottish Government was able to provide funding to this worthwhile project through the Rural Housing Fund.  The successful conversion of a former schoolhouse into two homes for affordable rent will make a positive impact on this coastal community in northwestern Scotland.”
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Internal walls were removed, to allow for a large open plan kitchen/living area upstairs.

HSCHT received funding of £120,000 from the Nationwide Foundation through its Decent, Affordable Homes strategy to bring long-term empty properties back into use. This funding also contributed towards the completion of another property recently, Druim Garbh, owned by the Acharacle Community Company. 

Sam Stewart, Head of Programmes at the Nationwide Foundation, says: 
“It is unacceptable that there is a shortage of decent, affordable homes in the Scottish Highlands, while at the same time there are properties standing empty. Too often local people have no realistic housing options and are forced to move out of the area they were brought up in. We are delighted that our funding has contributed towards two great homes for the new tenants. The community-led housing model used at the schoolhouse by HSCHT offers rural communities a real way to keep local people living in their communities.”

Julia Campbell, Coigach Community Development Company said: 
“We at CCDC are thrilled to see the lights back on Achiltibuie Schoolhouse and to see it lived in once again. Lack of housing is a big challenge in Coigach and has been cited again and again by the local community as top of their “to do” list in numerous surveys and consultations.
We are very grateful to our funders: Scottish Government’s Rural Housing Fund, The Nationwide Foundation, and The Highland Council (who also transferred the house to the community at nominal cost as well as assisting with the development), and Highlands and Islands Enterprise who funded our legal fees and have provided ongoing support to CCDC as part of their Community Account Management programme. We’d also especially like to thank HSCHT who have supported us throughout the process and made it all possible.
The first tenants will move in soon and are both valuable members of our community with local family connections here and both bring extended economic benefit to the area through their employment. On a personal level, I am particularly happy to see the Schoolhouse back in action as it was my first home, and like many in the community I’m very fond of it. This has been a real community effort too: CCDC’s board is made up of a hardy band of volunteers, and local folk have really pitched in to help and support the development.”
Lindsay Simpson, Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross – Development Manager at Highlands & Islands Enterprise said:
“Coigach Community Development Company is the anchor organisation for HIE’s Community Capacity Building Programme and we have been working intensively with them for a number of years.
CCDC’s Community Development Plan, written in early 2012, identified housing as one of the main priorities for action.  The creation of these two housing units will go a long way in providing valuable affordable accommodation in an area where housing provision is scarce and expensive.  This will encourage young families to remain in the area and could provide key-worker housing.
HIE is proud to support communities across the region not only realise their ownership aspirations but also, use this resource to benefit the local area”.

Cllr. Isabelle Campbell, The Highland Council said:
“I was delighted to attend The Open Day in Achiltibuie today to celebrate the completion of a joint venture of an empty school house transformed into two affordable homes. The funding package secured by The Highlands Small Communities Trust and the Coigach Community Development Company with support from The Scottish Government, The Nationwide Foundation, The Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
The Coigach Community Development Company have illustrated how community ownership through transfer of assets of a disused schoolhouse can produce two affordable homes in a rural community with housing need.
The development has been project managed by The Highlands Small Communities Trust. May I congratulate the Coigach Development Trust on their enterprise and vision for their community”.
​Since the completion of the project, it has received recognition from Shelter Scotland.

Adam Lang, Head of Communications and Policy at Shelter Scotland, said:
 “Through our management of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership we know that far too many private properties are lying empty while people wait years for affordable homes to rent.
The Achiltibuie project is a wonderful example of what can be accomplished when a community is supported to bring an empty property back into use. It offers real hope to the many places across Scotland where people are forced to watch buildings decay when they could be transformed into much needed homes.”

 
Adam Lang added:
“Affordable housing is vital to the sustainability of communities. For places like Achiltibuie, community-driven schemes to bring empty homes back into use could play a vital role in meeting demand.”