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January 19, 2010

Eigg cracks the NESTA challenge

With a population of only 95, the community on Eigg is fast acquiring a reputation world wide for their efforts to reduce energy consumption and to build local resilience on the island.  To their growing fame they’ve just added a significant fortune, having scooped joint first prize in NESTA’s Big Green Challenge. A delegation has just returned from the awards ceremony in London with a very large cheque

THE energy and imagination of the islanders of Eigg has scooped them top honours in a national challenge to boost local efforts to tackle climate change.

The 95-strong community was awarded £300,000 in the prestigious Big Green Challenge award run by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. (NESTA)

A delegation left the island on Monday to travel south for today’s award ceremony in London and was one of four finalists to win a slice of the £1M prize fund.

The day-to-day challenges of keeping warm, eating well, getting around and building a viable, sustainable future on a small Hebridean island lashed by the Atlantic elements are considerable.

But by coming together to find practical and creative ways to slash energy use and increase local resilience has made Eigg a beacon for communities across the UK and the globe.        

Through creating a network of ‘green islands’ – small communities striving to reduce energy use  – the islanders of Eigg have inspired thousands to follow in their footsteps.

Being the only Scottish finalist selected from 350 was a huge achievement in itself and last year saw an ever strengthening ‘Green Team’ on Eigg hurl themselves wholeheartedly into a whirlwind of activity.

Solar panels were fitted to homes and public buildings and householders’ lives transformed through insulation  projects. More bikes appeared, lift sharing increased massively and other measures taken to cut the amount of fossil fuels shipped onto the island.

And of course having fun – a crucial part of life on the island – is at the heart of the project, with the Giant Green Footsteps Festival drawing hundreds to the island to a cracking ceilidh, music and drama as well as to learn about ways to tread more lightly on the planet.

The forward-looking approach is bringing a huge range of benefits to the island. Eigg is bucking the trend of remote rural communities in having a growing population and increasing numbers of young people returning to the island.  

“The Big Green Challenge has given me and many other younger folk the opportunity to get involved and work within the community on projects over the last year where we haven’t felt confident or lacked in experience to contribute before,” said 31-year-old project manager Tasha Lancaster, who was born and bred on Eigg.

“I feel the Big Green Challenge has brought us all together in a really positive way, making us closer through working together. The outward purpose of this project is tackling climate change but it’s also ensuring we continue to be a strong, vibrant healthy community to live in. These are very exciting times to be living on a wee small isle in the Scottish Hebrides!!”

Lucy Conway, one of the team of volunteers in London to receive the award added: “ It’s wonderful news – and a fantastic recognition of all the amazing hard work that people on Eigg have put in over the last twelve months and of the faith other people worldwide have had in us.

“The prize will really help us fufill our ambitions to go even further in reducing Eigg’s carbon footprint.  We’ve achieved a massive amount, but there’s still lots we’d like to do.  Eigg’s low carbon future has only just started.”

More insulation and solar panels on island homes, a new eco-house for volunteers, additional solar panels to generate electricity for Eigg’s grid, a community electric vehicle and an island wood fuel business are among the next steps planned.

John Hutchison, chair of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, said: “There has been a great deal of hard work over the past two years and everyone deserves great credit. This puts Eigg firmly on the international stage.”