Makar puts pen to paper on the cause of empty homes

Shaheena Din, SEHP national manager and Scots Makar Jackie Kay
Shaheena Din, SEHP national manager and Scots Makar Jackie Kay

Scots Makar Jackie Kay MBE has written a new poem about Scotland’s empty homes.

Scotland’s poet laureate delivered the piece Round the Empty Houses along with a speech to the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) conference in Glasgow’s Lighthouse yesterday.

The poem highlights the bitter irony of Scotland’s 34,000 long-term empty private properties existing at the same time as the country grapples with high house prices and homelessness.

Jackie Kay said: “I feel passionate about empty homes, which are such a wasted resource when so many people are homeless. Having a home is a fundamental human right.

“A poet’s job is to engage with the world you see and write about things close to your heart. Home is where the heart is and everyone with a heart deserves a home.

“Round the Empty Houses is a song-like poem with an innocent quality. But it also addresses the appalling inequality which exists today. Homelessness is an outage.”

The conference heard that since the creation of the SEHP in 2012 it has worked with a network of empty homes officers in councils across Scotland to bring 2,840 homes back into use at an estimated market value of £425 million.

Delegates also heard from housing minister Kevin Stewart MSP who reaffirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to double the funding for empty homes work. The increased funding is in recognition of the highly successful empty homes work being carried out across Scotland, spearheaded by the SEHP, which is funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by Shelter Scotland. The increased funding will be used to drive even more empty homes work across Scotland. Currently only 19 out of Scotland’s 32 local authorities have staff dedicated to tackling the issue.

Round the Empty Houses by Jackie Kay

And there’s no one sitting at your table,

No one echoes in your hall,

No one chills on a sofa.

Nobody’s there at all.

And no light shines from your window,

Nobody dreams in a bed,

No laughter turns to no sorrow.

The heart of the house is dead.

And no hands open your doors,

No feet thud up your stairs.

No fire lights up a hearth.

Nobody, nobody’s there.

But someone sleeps on a doorstep.

Someone crashes on a mate’s bed.

Someone pays for a hostel bed.

Somebody’s life has turned on its head.

And the winter is surely coming,

And the bitter wind steadily blowing,

And the stars are loose change in the sky.

Round the empty houses the homeless pass by.

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