HOMES across Inverclyde which have been lying empty for years are being brought back into use thanks to an innovative new project.

Housing association River Clyde Homes (RCH), the council and The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership have teamed up to fill privately-owned properties which have been vacant for more than six months.

It is estimated that there are 560 homes not being used across the district, many of them for several years.

A new ‘empty homes officer’, Barbara Crichton, has been appointed as part of the initiative, based within the local authority’s safer and inclusive communities department.

Barbara has already achieved success in her new role, with Greenock resident Elspeth Ahlfeld one of the people she has helped.

Poor health forced Mrs Ahlfeld out of her home and, daunted by the prospect of trying to sell it, the property lay empty for nine years until Barbara stepped in and assisted with selling it at auction for more than the home report valuation.

Mrs Ahlfeld said: “The longer it went on the bigger burden it became, but meeting Barbara was the best thing that could have happened.

“The house is now sold and it’s such a relief not to have to pay bills for it anymore.

“It really is a weight off my mind.”

Empty homes are a concern for the authorities because they are costly for owners, impact on surrounding areas if the building and gardens are not maintained and can also attract anti-social behaviour.

RCH board member Jenny Speck said: “The benefits of bringing empty homes to the market place include adding to the housing supply, contributing to area regeneration and creating safer neighbourhoods.”