With homelessness an increasing problem in the UK, and demand for housing outstripping supply, one obvious answer is to look to unused buildings.

A terrace of empty houses in Bradford | Image by Underclass RisingIn 2008, the Empty Homes Agency approached us to create a website where users could report vacant or derelict houses.

The result was ReportEmptyHomes.com, a site which used the core FixMyStreet codebase, showing how this flexible software can be turned to many issue-mapping uses. Just as with FixMyStreet, the user could place a pin on a map, generating a report that the site would then send to the relevant council.

A year later, the site became bilingual, with the help of Shelter Cymru and the addition of a Welsh translation.

Bringing the campaign to a TV audience

Empty Homes spotter appEager to bring their cause to a national audience, in 2011 the Empty Homes Agency collaborated with production agency Tiger Aspect for Channel 4, on a campaign to lobby government and local councils. The Great British Property Scandal pushed for changes that would bring the nation’s empty homes back into habitable use.

The series, fronted by architect George Clarke, was accompanied by a petition, and a call to action: it encouraged viewers to report any empty properties to their councils.

A new application

A purpose-built application allowed viewers to report vacant buildings while they were out and about. It was skinned appropriately in the programme’s distinctive yellow and black branding.

Aware of the big surges in user numbers that TV endorsements can bring, we carefully load-tested the whole process to ensure that nothing would fall down during transmission times.

Results and recognition

Over 7,900 empty homes were reported during the programme’s two series. Gratifyingly, our work was recognised with nominations for both an Emmy and a BAFTA — high accolades indeed for this television tie-in.

 

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Main image: Underclass Rising (CC)