I am a young, graduate working within the field of sustainable community development and was recently appointed as Research Officer for Together for Change.
I studied Law at undergraduate level before completing a master’s in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development (graduating 2019). During which I specialised in sustainable communities and Welsh housing policy, and specifically the One Planet Development policy.
After returning to the United Kingdom in March 2020 (during the Covid-19 pandemic), the housing challenges I had originally researched and were related to my work in Bristol, became a reality for me personally. I had to move eight times in the following two years. I lived in second homes; holiday lets; and caravans before finally finding a long-term rental in the village I had grown up in.
Living in housing insecurity provided me with first-hand knowledge of the impact of the challenges faced by so many throughout rural Wales. I became aware of the amount of people living in unsafe, unstable, and unaffordable housing for example, yurts and tipis (even through the winter months). Furthermore, I spoke to numerous individuals, couples and families who were made homeless or were unable to remain in the area due to such issues.
The housing crisis in rural Wales is a complex and multifaceted challenge which must be addressed. The natural beauty of such areas has resulted in them becoming desirable tourist destinations. This has caused an increase in house prices as many choose to either purchase properties as second homes or as holiday rentals. Whilst this does support the local economy, it also means that many cannot sustain life here. Young people are unable to purchase homes as they cannot compete with the elevated prices. The increased number of holiday rentals and Air B&Bs has resulted in a reduced number of properties and rooms available for long term rent. This has meant that many, such as those working within the hospitality sector (promoted by tourism) are unable to find accommodation. There have now been multiple examples of businesses converting part of their own premises into staff accommodation to try and alleviate this challenge.
Moreover, the crisis has a far greater impact upon community wellbeing. There is a synergy between a lack of affordable and available housing; the loss of culture and language; a sense of isolation in older residents; fewer long-term, well paid employment opportunities; reduced services such as public transport; and the closure of community assets such as schools. It is vital that communities retain a portion of their younger residents along with economic diversity to support long term wellbeing and sustainability.
In 2020, I became involved in Solva Community Land Trust on the board of directors. The project intends to build 18 carbon neutral social rent homes for local people by 2025. This will be funded by the Enhancing Pembrokeshire Fund in partnership with ATEB Housing Association. Community Land Trusts offer an opportunity to put the community at the heart of housing solutions, empowering residents to become engaged and participate in the process. Community Land Trusts enable local communities to play a greater role in the decision-making process for example relating to design and also ensuring the housing stock is allocated via a local letting policy. The fundamental aim is to create housing for local people, with local people, that the community are truly proud of.
Whilst this process has been complex and the housing far from complete, the Project could offer a blueprint and sense of hope for other communities experiencing similar challenges. Since the establishment of Solva Community Land Trust, there has been great interest in the project and other communities intend to complete similar initiatives.
My work with Solva Community Land Trust and personal experience of housing insecurity led to me speaking in a range of formats about the housing crisis plaguing rural Wales, campaigning for change. I have spoken nationally to media sources including Sky News and the BBC, participated in documentaries, panel discussions such as the Festival of Ideas, and consulted on The Second Homes in Wales Report (2022). During this period, I was also working within the housing sector for local authorities.
Whilst part of my work has been based upon housing and campaigning for change, my passion is much broader than this. I am particularly interested in community engagement, sustainable development and policy that supports grass roots, community action specifically within lower income communities.
Being appointed as one of the four Community Action Researcher for the 4Wards project in March 2022 provided me with an opportunity to conduct further research in this field. I, along with my colleagues, gathered insights about life within the participating Wards. The purpose of the research was to understand what wellbeing really means to residents and whether there is an appetite for cross-Ward collaboration to further improve wellbeing and prosperity. The findings from this Project can be found here. The Project has established an evidence base of assets and community views which have been utilised to apply for further funding to conduct phase two (4Wards2) which will build upon the success of phase one and bring about tangible change based upon the findings.
As Research Officer for Together for Change, I intend to support the implementation of community centred research which I am hopeful will further support community development and promote positive change at a policy and strategic level.