In 1954, Dounreay in Caithness, was chosen as the site for a nuclear reactor. The area had relied on farming and fishing for its employment and jobs had become scarce so this was a huge boon for the region.
The building of ‘atomic’ housing was vital to the success of Dounreay. Without modern houses at affordable rents, attracting skilled workers to the far north would have been incredibly challenging, given the perception of the area as bleak and remote.
Houses were allocated according to staff grade, with the best quality houses going to management. But streets contained a mix of the different types of houses to avoid groups of particular grades being stuck together. It was hoped this would encourage communities to evolve naturally.
Street names were a nod towards Caithness’ Norse heritage. For example, Thorfinn Terrace, Sigurd Road and Sweyn Road.
Within eight years, Thurso had trebled in size and the population had risen from 3,249 to over 9,000. The expanded population not only needed houses, but the infrastructure to support a community. New schools were built to accommodate the large number of children who came north.
The Dounreay Householders Handbook was issued to everyone who was allocated an ‘atomic house’. It was a mine of practical information – from how often the chimney must be swept to how often the bins were emptied. It also gave detailed advice on growing a garden and recommended hedges as effective shelter against Caithness winds. There was also a list of plants that could be grown, especially handy for newcomers who were used to a more temperate climate!
In 1992 the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority decided to sell 350 houses and flats which they owned on the Pennyland and Mount Vernon estates in Thurso. Tenants and residents of the estates formed a group to investigate whether the purchase was viable. In January 1994 the purchase was completed, and Pentland Housing Association was born.
In 2006 Pentland formed Pentland Community Enterprises, a commercial subsidiary, to manage the 474 garages in their portfolio.
Given its broad mission that includes sustaining communities in Caithness, Pentland were always keen to promote the government’s Wider Role agenda. They partnered with a number of other organisations in fulfilment of these responsibilities, including Homeaid, Ormlie Community Association and Pultneytown People’s Project. It supported Caithness Sports Facilities in its drive to provide facilities for water sports in Thurso Harbour, using its fundraising skills to raise over £70,000 to improve the harbour slipway.
Since the transfer from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Pentland built 120 homes for social rent in Thurso and Wick.
In 2022, Pentland tenants transferred to Cairn Housing Association. The transfer comes after a detailed review by Pentland’s Board found that to meet their goals for investment, affordability and quality services, the best choice was to seek to partner with another housing association. Cairn was identified as the preferred partner in 2019.
Tenants voted overwhelmingly in favour of transferring to Cairn last autumn, with 92% voting yes on an exceptionally high turnout of 73%.
Cairn Living transferred all of their garages to Pentland Community Enterprises, which is now the commercial subsidiary of the Cairn Housing Group.
Credit to highlifehighland.com for use of photographs and information.