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The Coastguard Flats, Looe. Photo courtesy of Three Seas.
The Coastguard Flats, Looe. Photo courtesy of Three Seas.

AHF Grants Support for Community-owned Housing in Historic Buildings

19 October 2023

A row of historic cottages overlooks the estuary at Looe on the south coast of Cornwall. Prominently positioned, with houses flanking a central observation room, the row was built in 1893 to serve as a coastguard station for this port town. Cornwall Council converted the row into social housing flats during the twentieth century, but the building has deteriorated and most of the flats are now empty. Looe currently suffers a critical shortage of affordable housing stock – the town of only 5,000 permanent residents swells to 20,000 during peak tourist season – and the Coastguard Flats are not only a local landmark, but also offer a much-needed asset in an area where locals are often priced out of their own communities.


Image: The view from the Coastguard Flats, Looe. Photo courtesy of Three Seas.

To help address the challenges facing Looe and towns and villages like it, the charity Three Seas is partnering with Cornwall Council to explore taking ownership of the Coastguard Flats, conserving them and bringing the cottages up to modern standards. Three Seas is a Community Land Trust, a type of organisation that seeks to secure land and assets in community ownership in perpetuity and gives ordinary people the means to steward these resources for local wellbeing. The work to revive the Coastguard Flats also forms part of Cornwall Council’s wider strategy to create more affordable homes in the county.

At its September Grants Panel meeting, the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) awarded Three Seas a Project Viability Grant to undertake a detailed condition survey of the structure. This work will underpin a viability assessment being funded by Cornwall Council. The grant, which was made possible through funding from Historic England and The Pilgrim Trust, was one of twelve awarded to projects across the UK, totalling £162,280. 

Matthew Mckeague, Chief Executive Officer of the AHF, said:

‘Since 1976, the AHF has supported the creation of hundreds of housing units inside formerly derelict historic buildings. We know from this experience that vacant historic buildings can be sensitively adapted to help solve the UK’s huge shortage of affordable homes – as well as securing important local heritage assets. We are pleased to join the partnership between Cornwall Council and Three Seas to restore the Looe Coastguard Flats and believe this project could provide a model for similar out of use and derelict buildings across the country.’

Councillor Olly Monk, Cornwall Council cabinet member for planning and housing, said:

‘Tackling the housing crisis in Cornwall is one of our key priorities, and while building new homes is of course central to that strategy, we also need to think creatively. Identifying disused historical buildings like the Coastguard Flats, and then bringing them up to modern standards, could provide a welcome addition to our housing stock. That’s why we’re delighted to be working with the AHF and Three Seas towards making projects like this a reality, particularly in an area of Cornwall where new homes for local people are so desperately needed.’

The AHF operates a rolling application system, with an online portal where you can submit an Expression of Interest at any time. If you believe your project could benefit from our support, please visit our website to learn more.


Notes to Editors

  1. The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) is a registered charity, working since 1976 to promote the conservation and sustainable re-use of historic buildings for the benefit of communities across the UK, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas. It provides advice, grants and loans, and is the only specialist heritage social investor in the UK.
  2. The Historic Assets into Community Ownership grants programme in England is supported by Historic England and the Pilgrim Trust.
  3. For press enquiries, please contact Tia Jackson at

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