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Date published: 01 July 2024

A family run construction firm is calling on the next government to help with the delivery of vital new affordable homes in rural areas. 

Sam and Matt Winsley have run Winsley White since 2018 and are speaking out on the important impact high-quality housing can have on communities for Rural Housing Week 2024.

The annual initiative, run by the National Housing Federation (NHF), highlights the many social and economic benefits of more rural housing, with NHF research showing that building just ten affordable homes in a rural area generates £1.4m for the economy and supports an average of 26 jobs.

This year, Winsley White have joined forces with leading social housing provider Stonewater to call for a long-term commitment to rural housing and a planning system that facilitates the delivery of new homes.

Sam Winsley, Director at Winsley White, says he wouldn’t have been able to stay in the village he grew up in if it weren’t for affordable housing.

He said: “The positive effects of affordable rural housing are vast, but most important are the impact on customers’ lives. Living in the village where a customer grew up or works is a real benefit, and having personally grown up in a rural village, it would have been the only way I would have been able to stay there.”

Sam added: “But the delivery of affordable homes has definitely become more challenging. The main barriers to rural house building at the moment would be the planning process, as well as local objection to affordable homes. However, with buy-in from all political parties and a strong commitment from housing providers like Stonewater to build rurally, the hurdles can be overcome.

“At rural exception sites, we typically don’t have the benefit of economies of scale, but SMEs like ourselves have built up the relationships and knowledge to get these homes built through partnerships with ambitious providers like Stonewater.”

Over its 35 years of operating, Winsley White has developed many homes for Stonewater.

It is currently building the second phase of homes in the village of Holt, Wiltshire. The ten new properties will be completed to Passivhaus standard, meaning they will be highly energy efficient and a have a low ecological footprint. 

Solar panels will also be fitted alongside Wondrwall heating and water systems, which use smart technology to monitor and understand customer energy use to help reduce bills. 

These properties will add to the almost 8,000 Stonewater homes in villages and rural areas across England; 20 per cent of its total number of homes.

Among them are 50 affordable rent, shared ownership and ‘Rent to Buy’ houses and flats in the village of Loxwood, Chichester, as well as a scheme in Meare, Somerset.

The development in Meare, built by Winsley White, allowed a recently widowed customer to move into a smaller home, freeing up the family house in the same village for her relatives to move into.

Jonathan Layzell, Stonewater’s Chief Growth and Development Officer, said: “Stories like this keep us motivated to build as many rural homes as we can. We see the benefits and need to ensure we articulate the positive impact that both building and managing homes well in a rural community can have. 

“As Sam has experienced, the homes we build are enormously positive for the people living there, but more widely for the communities, villages and local economies too.

“To maximise opportunities to build homes and ease the housing crisis, we need a long-term commitment to rural housing, along with dedicated funding. We also need to ensure the planning system facilitates the delivery of new homes rather than acting as a blocker.”

Sam added: “There’s often a perception that rural homes won’t be built to a high specification, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Homes are being built to a really high quality, with environmentally focussed features that people want and expect.”

The homes at Loxwood are timber-framed, built using modern methods of construction (MMC) and include several environmentally sustainable features that compliment Stonewater’s Greenoak Centre of Excellence initative, which highlights best practice in environmental issues across the sector.

Each home includes infra-red heating and air source heat pumps, which reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 37 per cent and support the work to meet the government’s 2050 net zero carbon emissions target.