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August 26, 2009

Community assets = community frustration

The government has been much criticised for not backing its policy on community ownership asset with some hard cash. The one pot of funding that has been available – Big Lottery’s Growing Community Assets -has also not been without its critics.  On too many occasions communities have invested huge amounts of voluntary effort in the application process only to be told at the 11th hour that they don’t ‘fit the critieria’.  One group tells of its frustration at the way it was treated

Third Sector

Kilfinan Community Forest Company – a tale of frustration


The Kilfinan project began in 2005 following extensive community consultations, which revealed that a lack of affordable housing, jobs, and economically active residents were key issues threatening the future of the community.  It was also identified that if the community were able to acquire an area of forest adjoining the village that this could be a solution to these issues.  

In 2007, a group of residents representing most corners of the parish were voted in by the Kilfinan community to establish the Kilfinan Community Forest Company (KCFC) as a registered Scottish Charity. In 2008 a feasibility study looked at what benefits and opportunities the forest could actually bring to the community and the results were encouraging  Two local people were employed to raise awareness of this dynamic project and the plans to revitalise the Kilfinan Parish community.  There are now over 150 members of the company

The group (KCFC)  has continued to be very active over the last 4 years and successfully applied to National Forest land Scheme to buy the area of forest that had been identified  behind our village.  The biggest problem they faced has been the lack of central or public support/funding for community based asset acquisitions and management.  The closure of the Scottish Land Fund has meant that the only route for the community was to apply to the BIG Lottery’s Growing Community Assets fund.    

For nearly 6 months the community worked up its application with their case officer from the Lottery.  The Lottery were somewhat wary about community-managed housing initiatives such as woodland crofts or any leaseholds being established but they were supportive and encouraging.  The Lottery also wanted them to demonstrate that they had sought a reduction in the market value of the forest – which they did.    It was not enough.  After months of hard work and being encouraged to believe that their application was going to be successful, the Lottery rejected their application on the grounds it didn’t ‘fit’ their criteria and desired outcomes and that the project was not good value of public money.     They have since tried other public funders with similar results and with the NFLS application window closing in January 2010 the community have had to find another way forward. 

They are now pursuing a phased acquisition where they purchase a smaller area (125ha) with private funding raised by the community themselves by January 2010.  They then have 5 years to find the rest of the funding or a solution for the remaining area.   They have actively lobbied their national and local politicians on these issues and feel that either appropriate funding support should be made available or that the areas of the National Forest Estate should be transferred or gifted to properly constituted community groups to manage for themselves and the wider community benefit.
This forest, under community management, will unlock the potential to deliver:
• Local firewood delivery and woodchip supplies
• Sawn timber supplies
• Timber products such as kennels, garden furniture
• Waymarked footpaths with picnic areas and stunning viewpoints
• Mountain bike trails and an adventure playground
• Access to beautiful mid-Atlantic oakwoods, lochans and open hill home to red squirrel, golden eagle, black grouse and red deer
• Ecoburials in a sacred grove
• Pet ecoburials
• Skills development, training and employment opportunities
• Local produce from allotments and crofts
• Forest education and forest school
• Forest crofts and small business enterprises
• Rejuvenate the native oakwood, creating habitats for wildlife and people

In the community’s view and in the view of everyone they have spoken to, this project is a win – win for all parties and they cannot understand why they are being thwarted at every turn in their pursuit of funding.