Community is secret to Western isles’ success
TEN years of progress will be followed by another 10 years of growth, if Hebridean landlords have their way.
Following the opening of the community land fund in 2001, the people of South Uist ‘ bought back’ their land in 2006.
Once owned by chiefs and lairds, the accord marked the largest community buy- out of crofter estate in Scotland – a record which stands to this day.
As the deal was made, Stòras Uibhist was set up and now manages 93,000 acres of land covering almost the whole of Benbecula, Eriskay and South Uist, as well as a number of other small islands.
In April, the community company held a special conference to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
Minister for Transport and the Islands Humza Yousaf MSP, who was among the invited guests, discussed transport links and island issues.
Charlotte Wright from Highlands and Islands Enterprises, Stewart Wilson from Tighnean Innse Gall and Angus MacMilan chairman of Stòras Uibhist delivered presentations covering topics such as development, housing and population as well as plans for the future.
A special video was also curated for the occasion; it showed before and after images of the islands where improvements had been made to drainage and infrastructure.
The message throughout was that over the last 10 years Storas Uibhist has concentrated on growing a stronger future through community, housing, commercial activities, culture and heritage and tourism.
Some of the main projects have included the development of Lochcarnan Community Wind Farm, pictured above.
The farm was connected to the grid in March 2003 and as of December 2016 had generated 85,234 MW hours.
The money from the farm is reinvested locally to the Sealladhna Beinne Moire Community Fund. More than half a million pounds have been allocated to various local projects as a result.
Renovation of Grogarry Lodge has also taken place. The accommodation now attracts guests from around the world and hosts culture, community and corporate events throughout the year. Stora Uibihist purchased the estate for £ 4.6 million pounds and after all the hard work and ingenuity, the balance sheet stands at £ 35 million.
The company plans to build a new distillery with micro brewery and has enterprising ideas to boost sales of island food products.
Lochboisdale is set to be further developed to accommodate a new ferry terminal for the next generation of ‘deep water vessels’.
Faye MacLeod, an accountant based in Portree and Benbecula who has been involved with Storas Uibhist since the buyout, described development in South Uist as a prime example of local people taking responsibility for local issues. She said the trigger for the buyout stemmed from issues such as depopulation, unemployment and ageing population which can have acute impact on island communities, adding: ‘ For a population of now 3,500, the development has been inspiring’.
Ms MacLeod said there had been a domino effect of ‘people power’ in the Hebrides, with one village following the next village after communities have seen that the benefits outweigh the costs.
She said 75 per cent of the Western Isles was now under community ownership, a trend she described as a ‘new phenomenon’.