Almshouses are often the only form of truly affordable housing in rural areas – why are more not being built?

In some rural areas, almshouses have been the only form of affordable housing for centuries. Recognised by Historic England for their valuable heritage and unique architectural character, almshouses are the oldest form of community-led housing, yet they are proven to be an effective model of community housing that is still so relevant today. There are some 30,000 almshouses across the UK, providing life-changing homes within warm, safe communities – especially in rural areas where property prices are out of reach for many on low incomes.

The Poland Trust in Brockham, Surrey, illustrates the success of integrating almshouses into small rural communities to support those most in need in the locality – in this case, young people and families. With research from BAYES Business School suggesting that living in an almshouse community can contribute to a longer life due to the community spirit and companionship fostered by their design, why aren’t more almshouses being built?

Almshouses have remained a cornerstone of affordable rural housing and, as they are exempt from the Right to Buy, they can remain as a legacy and part of the community – for the community – for centuries. 

A 2021 report, commissioned by The Almshouse Association and undertaken by Housing LIN, revealed that almshouses generate ÂŁ43.2m in annual societal benefits, encompassing the contributions of volunteer trustees, reduced loneliness, fewer residential care admissions, and decreased GP and A&E visits. With such compelling advantages, what’s not to appreciate about almshouses?

  • Shouldn’t we build more almshouses for agricultural workers, retired tenant farmers, young families, and the rural homeless?
  • Shouldn’t the next generation of philanthropists support new almshouses in rural communities across Britain?
  • Will this new Government amend the National Planning Framework to allow almshouses access to Rural Exception Sites and see more proper affordable community housing in rural England?

We urge the new Government to recognise almshouses as a form of affordable housing in the National Planning Policy Framework. This recognition would help all almshouse charities across the UK to access Homes England funding to redevelop and build new almshouses for those in need.

As the new Government considers changes, let’s ensure that supporting the development of almshouses is a priority. The time has come to recognise almshouses  as a credible and effective form of affordable housing with many added societal benefits and start building more.

Nick Phillips, CEO of The Almshouse Association