The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Eigg’s secret £1m saviour ...who still hasn’t visited after 20 years
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.’