Isle of Kerrera

Aideen Shields, island resident, Kerrera Tea Garden owner and Isle of Kerrera Development Trust Project Manager

The Isle of Kerrera is a rugged wee gem, situated at the mouth of Oban Bay. The island is around 7 km long and around 2 km wide. There are stunning views, ample nature and wildlife to be spotted and great walks, helping the island to attract upwards of 15,000 visitors annually. Amenities are limited- at the north end of the island is Oban Marina, with the Waypoint restaurant. At the south end, close to the ruins of Gylen Castle is the Kerrera Tea Garden and Bunkhouse.

In 2011, the national census had the Kerrera population at 34. By 2015, the population increased to 44 (34 adults, 10 children), then in 2017 another increase to 55 (42 adults, 13 children) . Another jump to today, June 2019 and the island has a full time resident population of 68 – 49 adults and 19 children. When you add the part time population (two second homes, returning grown up children and care home staff and teenage residents) the figure goes up to 84, and then when seasonal staff and overnight guests are included- a full head count on Kerrera could go up to 115 people. This figure harks back to times past, when in the 1700’s, Kerrera had a population of almost 200.

This shift in our demographics is a positive challenge for the island. The population has grown by 100% (100%!!!) in the last seven years and we have experienced a mini baby boom with 25% of the population now under 16, along with an increase in the number of multi generational families living on island. We are also an unusual island in having a very low percentage of second or holiday homes . These factors taken together create an atypical small island demographic which is currently driving a feeling of vitality.

There are exciting developments regarding the community purchase of the old primary school building in the centre of the island and the plan is to turn this into a multi purpose community centre. The Isle of Kerrera Development Trust secured funding from the Land Fund for the purchase and now have a Project Manager in place to secure the funding and oversee the renovations.

Islanders outside the old primary school building, due to become the new Kerrera community centre

However, currently- there are no facilities on the island; to access shops, fuel, banking, post office, health services, school and education, the islanders go to the mainland.  The marina run a private boat service during the summer season, but the last public Calmac ferry is at 6pm. There is no connecting road between the north and south of the island. Some of these issues are viewed by the community as challenges and some of these are simply differences to the mainland, which are valued by residents. The island population may be small, but the community is energetic and passionate and residents are keen to protect the island’s unique character.

Follow-the-Leader with Pairc Playgroup

Fiona Stokes, The Pairc Trust

It’s very easy to get people’s attention with cute pictures of children, but Pairc Playgroup on the East Coast of the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, are getting attention for lots of other reasons too.

An independent social enterprise, working as a partner provider to the local authority, they have been operating for 22 years. They are an organisation dedicated to the promotion and development of outdoor physical play while using the rural environment to their advantage, also promoting Gaelic language throughout each season. 

What this means for the residents of the community owned Pairc Estate, is access to quality childcare facilities for a range of ages, round the clock for working parents who often face a long commute into work and peace of mind that the kids are having awesome experiences.  It is provision like that offered at Pairc Playgroup which is making Pairc a choice for young families to settle and remain here.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise along with the local Muaitheabhal Community Wind Farm Trust have been funding a pilot project for 3 years ending in December this year. During this time the main aim was for affordable and flexible childcare. By keeping costs low families could take on work or additional hours and be able to afford childcare – the affordability was an important component to the local economy, to continue to grow the community. By offering flexible and affordable childcare sessions with a ‘pay as you go’ service parents can make the decision to access the playgroup when they need it. 

By enabling families to return to work either part or full time, some households have been raised out of poverty. People in a remote rural community can experience a higher volume of social isolation, so enabling this service not only increases socialisation in children, it empowers rural woman and men. Our families are able to work and provide basic food provision in a remote and vulnerable district. 

Pairc Playgroup is in the Resource Centre, Kershader, on the East Coast of Lewis

The Playgroup has provided employment for 5 people locally, making it one of the largest employers in the community. All are local women, who would not otherwise have had access to employment locally. The Playgroup has supported staff through professional development and funded them on SVQs to secure their registration with the Scottish Social Services Council.

Maree Todd MSP (Minister for Childcare and Early Years) and Alasdair Allan MSP visited in 2018 to admire the positive changes being made. The Care Inspectorate also recognised the hard work and dedication by awarding Excellent for their care and support which was a huge achievement within the first year of the pilot operation.

Maree Todd MSP (Minister for Childcare and Early Years) and Alasdair Allan MSP join in the fun

The life changing successes of Pairc Playgroup are not going unrecognised and their ethos is shared by many – in order for children to grow a love for their environment and community they have to be involved and consulted from early level in every aspect.

Playgroup Manager Kayleigh MacKillop explains:

My goal is that children in our community find that passion for their environment, whether it is aquaculture or farming and grow a life-long interest, so that they decide to remain in their community or at least on the island when they are adults. By leading our children’s learning in this way our model has proved to develop a strong, resilient and supportive community promoting a growing interest in heritage and culture.

Community enterprise and population turnaround in West Harris

Linda Armstrong, West Harris Trust

As the West Harris Trust approaches its tenth anniversary in 2020, a lot can be said for the positive population change created in the area. Since its inception, the sustainable aims of; creating housing and employment opportunities, providing renewable energy and educating the community about the culture, heritage and history of the area have made West Harris a more sustainable place to live. 

Drawing on data from the 2001 census, the Scottish Islands Federation notes that, “the Western Isles as a whole have suffered the worst rates of depopulation over the last decade – losing more than 3,000 people”. However, since 2010 the West Harris Trust has been working hard to reverse this trend, and since purchasing the land in 2010 there has been a 20% increase in population in West Harris.

Prior to the estate purchase, it was identified that 35% of houses in West Harris were either holiday homes or self-catering cottages. The Trust recognised that this housing imbalance had to be addressed.

Soon after the purchase of the estate, several affordable house plots were made available for purchase. These were offered significantly below market value, but with the inclusion of a residency burden meaning that the purchaser and future owners would be required to live permanently in the property. The plots were subject to an application process, with applicants being scored on factors such as whether they had children, experience of living in a rural area and job creation. The plots have had limited success, with four having been developed/allocated. The high cost of building in the area has meant that despite the low cost of the land, few young families have been in a position to develop.

New houses at Pairc Niseaboist. Copyright (c) Hebridean Housing Partnership

Prior to the estate purchase, there were no social properties to rent in the area and few properties for long term private rental, with most preferring to target the lucrative self-catering market. Through partnering with Hebridean Housing Partnership, six affordable homes for rent have been created at Pairc Niseaboist, attracting young families to move to the area. A further four properties are currently being developed, this time to be offered for shared equity.

The Community Enterprise Centre Talla na Mara, located across from the new housing development, provides space for events such as concerts and film screenings, weddings, a restaurant, four open studios and an art gallery. Talla na Mara has benefitted the local community by providing a hub for engaging residents and tourists, business space for local people and a viable income for the Trust.

Talla na Mara, copyright (c) John Maher

The Trust has developed several renewable energy projects, including three wind turbines with a joint capacity of 158kW and 100Kw hydro scheme. A 100Kw wind turbine supplies power to Talla na Mara and the six houses at Pairc Niseaboist, with approximately 55% of energy consumed on site coming from the turbine.

As a result of the above developments, the population of West Harris has increased from 119 in 2012 to 151 in 2019, with the number of preschool aged children increasing from one to seven and the number of under 18s living in the area currently standing at twenty-two.

The Trust has set a target of reaching a population of 170 by 2020, which we hope will be achieved through the completion of the further four homes being built for shared equity.

With positive social and economic change, the Trust is achieving repopulation in the area, despite the steep decline in population in the Western Isles as a whole. Watch this short video to learn more about the work of the West Harris Trust.

Isle of Bute – a community with aspirations

Since 2015 the Isle of Bute has been known for hosting refugee families under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme managed by Argyll and Bute Council. At the end of 2018 there were 21 Syrian refugee families on Bute, including 50 children. What is less well known beyond Bute is the many other actions, or “many flowers’, that the community has been developing since 2011.

Reeni Kennedy-Boyle reports from Bute on how the community has come together to tackle depopulation.

Living and working on Isle of Bute is a privilege that needs no reminding.  Commuting to work along a shoreline cannot be beat.  However the challenge for many islanders is finding employment that provides for sustainable living all year round.  For Bute this was one of the factors that drove 11% population decline between 2001 and 2011, and 23% decline in the school roll.  This was very bad news for what should be the most vibrant island on the Clyde, if not the Western seaboard.

It was this wakeup call that jolted our community into action.  Were the anecdotal problems that people spoke about, the real reasons behind the island economic decline?  More crucially what actions could the community take to address whatever reasons became evident?  The journey started with a town hall style meeting, as every journey has to start somewhere.  It might have been billed as a collective moan but actually it was far more positive.  An honest dialogue began to reframe the issues into positive actions.  Here is the issue, and here is what is needed to change that.  It became very clear that a “many flowers” approach would be needed to turn the island’s fortunes around.

So a recognition that the community were too reliant on big decision being made elsewhere with little involvement from or with the island became an action for people and organisations to become more collaborative, to make decisions about the things that impact on daily lives and to push to ensure public sector decisions were informed with input from the island.

Recognition of dereliction, gap sites and rundown feeling in the conservation zone needed investment. Working with Argyll & Bute Council to develop Townscape Heritage project would not only activate maintaining buildings but would also begin to give people ownership to take on smaller issues in innovative ways.  A gap site becomes a space where people could sit awhile and smile within the main shopping street. 

A derelict site which once held an impressive church transformed into an accessible, edible garden where food is freely available for all to share.  Big actions and small that add together to make Rothesay a more attractive and lively town centre.

Big actions and small that add together to make Rothesay a more attractive and lively town centre.

Acknowledging that the “doon the water” seaside resort days are long gone and considering what new experiences could attract people as well as fostering opportunities for skills sharing, more jobs, entrepreneurialism and business growth.  Artists working together to create the Isle of Bute Art Trail – a weekend that showcases the range of creative talent and an opportunity for start-up makers to dip their toes in commercial reality.  Setting up a food forum where primary producers, small manufacturers, retailers and hospitality providers could come together to take a holistic and strategic vision and objectives “to create the Isle of Bute Sustainable Food Island, creating a sustainable food and drink economy where all take an interest in, and can access, affordable healthy food”.

Thinking about the Victorian townscape and appreciating it is not always simple to navigate for all people – leading to an ambition to make Rothesay accessible and easy to get around.  Ensuring people with understanding take part in steering groups with public sector to inform town planning scoping work. Focus groups set up that led to implementation of wayfinding projects that encourage increased walking and cycling.  An active travel forum of people from community organisations and public sector was set up to agree a vision and objectives for Isle of Bute to become Scotland’s foremost bike-friendly island.

Each interaction and action working towards an over-arching vision that Rothesay and Bute will add to the beauty of its environment by offering abundant opportunities for local people to flourish and attract more people to live, work and visit.  The journey has begun and already the positive work that is going on is seeing green shoots of progress.  Schools rolls up, new businesses opening, manufacturers expanding and a community wide determination to make the most of the opportunities that will come from capital investment in The Pavilion and Townscape Heritage projects. 

As small as a mustard seed

Lisa Maclean, Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn, Isle of Lewis

It is so important to create the conditions for growth, if that is what you seek. Something can start ever so small and seemingly insignificant but can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

I’ve worked for Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (UOG) for almost nine years. I manage the community owned estate which covers most of the North West of the Isle of Lewis. The estate was in private ownership until 2007, when the community bought it and established a charitable trust to undertake the management of the estate. UOG has a board made up from the membership and many of those serving on the board have remained committed from the outset providing a sense of stability and a wealthy pool of experience.

UOG is evolving and it is everyone’s responsibility to evolve with it. I have often pondered what it is that makes us grow or even wish to grow and the answer in my view is a mix of opportunity and clarity of vision; a vision that has come from the community.

Shortly after the buy out the core business of the estate was considered; ensuring all areas of estate management were operating as efficiently as possible and a large part of that was ensuring there were income streams to sustain longer term plans and become self-sufficient. A 2.7MW wind energy development owned by the community and managed by UOG goes a long way to ensure this is the case.

UOG set out with an asset stripped estate with no staff and today, just twelve years later we have increased the asset base by building infrastructure, but we’ve also created fourteen jobs. That’s fourteen people employed directly by the trust. We have distributed almost £250,000 to over seventy projects in the area and we have undertaken huge steps to develop policies and initiatives to support the wider community, whether this be around land, health, tourism etc.

The “jobs” factor is no small or insignificant thing. We have a variety of staff working on various contracts, but these are roles we need to have filled and our flexible approach allows us to employ skilled people, many of whom don’t wish to work full time.  We employ a large number of women and our flexible working allows women to work within their community, not travelling to Stornoway. It allows them to place their children in the local school and means they don’t have to take decisions about putting work/family life first. The balance is achievable, but only with good processes, strong communication and empowering staff which in turn builds a trusted workforce.

A trusted and empowered workforce who buy into the strategic vision of the community reaps huge rewards. UOG encourage staff to look at new ways of working, work across teams, collaborate with others, be creative and measure activities to ensure they contribute to the strategic objectives of the community.

We offer a 12-month placement each year through HIE’s ScotGrad programme and this has been invaluable for many reasons. It brings in a fresh vibrant graduate to the staff team and we encourage them to explore their own talents and see what they can offer, whilst also encouraging them to have the best experience with us too. We’ve had various success stories, but none more so that Fiona, who in my view had completed the circle.

Lisa Maclean and Fiona Rennie, Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn

Fiona was with us for a 9-month placement, before she went off travelling to New Zealand for a year. Before Fiona left, she believed she was keen tor return as I think island living and working at UOG have fulfilled her more than she had even expected. Fast forward 12 months and she was back and keen to set up her own business, having realised during her placement the many opportunities for a talented bilingual creative with a degree in photography. Fiona’s company was launched, and we continue to contract with her where there is a need. She’s established and I believe UOG played a small part in helping Fiona to see that it is entirely possible to live and work in a satisfying way on the estate. The best part is Fiona has brought her partner back from New Zealand and he now lives on the estate too. Fiona isn’t a one off though, many of her friends have opted to step out of city life, believing there is much to be gained from living in a community, whereby real community connections still exist.

We run various activities on the estate, bushcraft, health walks, evening talks, buggy walks, fishing tuition, bilingual intergenerational activities and we’re working with others to develop more of a focus on health and wellbeing for all. These are just a few of “soft” things we work on which help us and others to make connections, they weave the threads of community and build capacity. The capacity and connectedness is what in turn I see as being what underpins and makes the “infrastructure” projects work. One example of this is our vision to create a wellbeing hub on the estate and it is imperative we have created the best conditions to be able to proceed with such a transformational project.

We will always continue to look at the very traditional things we all know are required to stem the exodus of young people from the estate i.e. housing, jobs, excellent communications and quality social activities, but aside from that we won’t overlook the importance of creating opportunities for people to connect. Great things are possible when the right conditions are created to allow a community to flourish and have a handle over their own future. Start small and seemingly insignificant…. seek to collaborate, nurture, support, feed and watch things grow.

Ulva Ferry housing project: community-led housing solutions

Helen MacDonald, Mull and Iona Community Trust

The Ulva Ferry housing project was a community-led solution to addressing the long-term population decline of a fragile community on the Isle of Mull.  The local primary school’s threatened closure in 2010 was the catalyst for the community to take drastic action for themselves, as no social housing provider wanted to build in this remote location.

Ulva School Community Association (USCA), set up to fight to keep the school open, had ambitious plans to build two family sized houses which would be in keeping with the beautiful landscape and energy efficient, to combat the extreme fuel poverty prevalent in local housing stock.  Soon realising the enormity of what they had embarked upon, they asked Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT) – a long-established development trust – for support.

Photo credit: Johnny Barrington

Just 7 years later, in June 2017, two family sized houses were completed, and the Ulva Ferry community welcomed two new families.  But as anyone involved in community development projects knows, it is a long and rocky road to achieving your dreams.  Building in remote, and particularly island, locations can add as much as 25% to costs when factoring in ferry transportation and installing private water supplies.  Proving housing need – to access funding – in areas of historic population decline is notoriously difficult, and sustaining community participation in small communities over many years is never easy.

The houses were designed to passive house principles by local firm, Thorne Wyness Architects, using a cross-laminated timber frame, with a mechanical heat recovery system instead of traditional central heating, and large, south facing triple glazed windows.  This non-traditional approach resulted in higher build costs, but the long-term benefits of high-quality design will be felt for years to come, and the benefit to tenants are direct and immediate: with the houses costing just £300 per house per year to heat.

Photo credit: Helen MacDonald

Two houses might not seem like much, but in a small community it has had a huge impact: the school roll has increased by 50%; the increase of working age adults by 10% has helped support fragile local businesses. The confidence and pride felt by the community in seeing their years of hard work coming to fruition is immeasurable.  And for the new tenants, for the first time they have secure lifetime homes, that are both affordable to rent, and to heat, enabling them to put down roots in this welcoming community.

So what next?  The need for more affordable houses remains; MICT have carried out extensive feasibility work, and recently purchased another plot of land via the Scottish Land Fund.  Our plan is to build four further houses for affordable rent, to ensure there are more pupils in the school, more working age adults to boost local employment, and older residents won’t need to move away: making a stronger community overall.

We have launched a fundraising appeal and would be grateful for any donations to support our plans to ensure the future sustainability of the fragile Ulva Ferry community:

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