The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Eigg’s se­cret £1m saviour ...who still hasn’t vis­ited af­ter 20 years

- By Sally Rose Tonga · England · Iceland · Austria

TWO decades ago, her won­der­ful gen­eros­ity helped the is­lan­ders of Eigg take con­trol of their des­tiny.

A mys­tery donor gave nearly £1 mil­lion to the res­i­dents to help them buy their tiny is­land.

Yet as Eigg pre­pares to cel­e­brate the 20th an­niver­sary of the his­toric com­mu­nity buy­out, the wealthy bene­fac­tor who bankrolled the pur­chase has never even vis­ited the He­bridean is­land.

The mil­lion­aire busi­ness­woman from the north of Eng­land do­nated £900,000 in 1997 when is­lan­ders were strug­gling to raise funds.

Al­though she has kept in close con­tact with the com­mu­nity group which man­ages Eigg, the se­cret donor has not yet set foot on the is­land she helped to buy.

To­mor­row marks 20 years since the buy­out. Over those two decades Eigg’s pop­u­la­tion has risen to more than 100 for the first time in gen­er­a­tions and the is­land has started to gen­er­ate all its own elec­tric­ity.

New busi­nesses have been set up, in­clud­ing one that is sure to prove handy for the an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions – a real ale brew­ery. Mag­gie Fyffe, sec­re­tary of the Isle of Eigg Her­itage Trust, which or­ches­trated the buy­out and runs the is­land, yes­ter­day said the hush­hush backer closely fol­lows is­lan­ders’ progress.

Al­though Mrs Fyffe knows the name of the donor, she is sworn to se­crecy. She said: ‘I was speak­ing to her re­cently and keep her up to date with what is hap­pen­ing.

‘But she has never been here – even be­fore the buy­out. I don’t know what she looks like. I’ve only spo­ken to her on the phone or writ­ten to her and send her the news­let­ters. Ob­vi­ously we are ex­tremely grate­ful for what she has made pos­si­ble. We had a con­ver­sa­tion in the run-up to the 20th an­niver­sary and she wished us well.’

Eigg was the first Scot­tish isle to stage a com­mu­nity buy­out. The trust paid £1.5 mil­lion – only £17,000 of which was pub­lic money – for the is­land, which had been in pri­vate own­er­ship for cen­turies. Since 1997 Eigg has re­ceived mil­lions of pounds from Govern­ment agen­cies for start-up projects and in­fra­struc­ture schemes.

The trust has built a tea­room and a forestry busi­ness, up­graded ferry links and con­structed a new pier. It has also launched a re­new­able en­ergy com­pany ex­ploit­ing so­lar, hy­dro and wind power.

The pop­u­la­tion passed 100 when a baby boy was born in Jan­uary and now stands at 105. Five chil­dren at­tend the pri­mary school and are among the is­land’s 19 young­sters – the older ones at­tend Mal­laig High School on the main­land.

How­ever, Eigg’s most re­cent an­nual ac­counts show it still relies on the sup­port of pub­lic fund­ing agen­cies. In 2015-16, the trust lost £105,000, its sixth con­sec­u­tive year in the red. But Mrs Fyffe said: ‘We have a high level of en­trepreneur­ship here and a lot of young peo­ple have come back or stayed.

‘The is­land has a high pro­por­tion of peo­ple un­der 40 and all kinds of busi­nesses have started up from a graphic de­signer to even the Laig Bay Brew­ery, which is send­ing some of its beers now to the main­land and plans to ex­pand more.’

Mrs Fyffe said the ef­forts of the last 20 years had trans­formed the is­land. ‘Eigg is very much a dif­fer­ent place now. We’ve achieved a lot and we hope to achieve even more in the years to come.’

 ??  ?? IS­LAND IDYLL: The mys­tery donor keeps close tabs on Eigg’s progress HIS­TORIC: Is­lan­ders march last Thurs­day to cel­e­brate the 1997 buy­out
IS­LAND IDYLL: The mys­tery donor keeps close tabs on Eigg’s progress HIS­TORIC: Is­lan­ders march last Thurs­day to cel­e­brate the 1997 buy­out

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