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May 11, 2010

End in sight for marathon rent strike

Back in the 1920’s a group of cyclists, trying to escape  the grime of industrial Glasgow, came to an agreement with a local landowner that they could pitch their tents on his land at weekends. Over time and with the landowner’ support, the tents were replaced by huts and before long the Carbeth Huts became a well established weekend retreat.   More recently relations between the Hutters and the landowner have turned sour  – resulting in a 13 year long rent strike.  A resolution may be in the offing

Fran Higson, Bella Caledonia

Travelling North West out of Glasgow on the A809, wealthy suburban housing estates give way to rich farm-land and pristine tgolf-courses, the land opens out towards the Campsie Fells and Trossachs. Here you are in prime des-res commuter belt countryside and you could be forgiven for driving past the Carbeth huts without noticing them; but a keen eye will see them dotted about the hillside behind the Carbeth Inn. If you stop and wander up the track behind the Inn, you’ll discover a magical web of tree-lined lanes and pathways along which are scattered approximately 140 small wooden huts in various styles; Some are brand-new with double-glazed windows and state of the art renewable energy systems, others date back to the 1920’s, some are a patchwork of reclaimed and recycled materials and some have been disintegrating through lack of attention. Hardly surprising given that everything at Carbeth has been in limbo for the last 13 years, but finally change is in the air, and after a monumental 13 year rent strike things are starting to shift.

The Hutters of Carbeth have reached agreement with land-owner Allan Barns-Graham to attempt the 1st community land-buy-out in Central Scotland.  Last week signatures were exchanged, hands were shaken and everyone smiled for the cameras as the ink dried on the legal documentation giving the Carbeth Hutters the right to buy the land beneath their huts.  Steering away from past animosity and looking towards a rosy future where “Carbeth becomes a model of economically sustainable, ecologically sound recreational living for the 21st century” (from joint press release) The Hutters now have the mighty challenge of raising £1.75 million to secure the future of hutting at Carbeth.

The Carbeth huts and hutting community were established during the 1920’s when people flocked out of the city to escape the fogs, fumes and hellish living and working conditions of the city. Allan Barns-Graham, grandfather of the current land-owner,  was sympathetic to the plight of working class people from Glasgow and Clydebank as well as being tolerant of the socialist ideals championed by The Clarion movement. He initially allowed his land to be used by Clarion Cyclists as a camp-site, and later allowed huts to be built huts which provided a bolt-hole from the city for working class families and ex-servicemen.  In his will Barns-Graham stated that “My estate of Carbeth shall not be feued or leased in such a manner as to interfere with the tenancies or rights of the original hutters” and furthermore that his heir should “look after the Estate and the hutters without remuneration”.  Unfortunately his will did not extend to the activities of his Grandson, who, soon after acquiring control of the estate pured a policy of rent hikes and attempted evictions.  What he didn’t bargain for was the hutters’ sense of belonging to the land which they had loved, cared for and nurtured over generations, and to his cost he discovered these were socially and politically active working-class people – and they were not going to be pushed around.

Some hutter’s remained loyal to Barns-Graham but the majority began withholding rent and contributing a nominal annual fee to a ‘Common Good Fund’, money which was to be used for legal fees in case of eviction attempts. The Committee which managed the rent strike, held the community together and negotiated for years on end with the estate has now used the Common Good Fund as the down payment on the ‘Option’ to buy the land.  The community has now just 2 years to raise the finance required to secure the land.

There is overwhelming support within the hutting community for the land buy-out – and while change isn’t easy – particularly if it involves finding lots of money in the middle of an economic recession – everyone, including Allan Barns-Graham wants to see hutting at Carbeth continue.  The Hutters are especially keen to make it happen without eroding the ideals of access to countryside for low-waged and working class people. “We have worked long and hard to secure what is a very special opportunity to own and care for 90 acres of beautiful green-belt land here at Carbeth so that hutters can carry on the soul nourishing tradition of hutting for generations to come” says committee member Gerry Loose. “We are acutely aware that if we don’t buy the land, somebody else will – and that somebody could charge whatever rent they want and fail to look after the interests of hutting at Carbeth, we know that it isn’t going to be easy to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds in the current economic climate but if we pull together, unite as we have always been – a community and work together then anything is possible”.

The hutters would like to extend an invitation for people to come along and explore Carbeth.  In the next 2 years the hutters will need lots of support, funding, media attention and solidarity.  There are also opportunities to buy huts and sites and join the hutting movement into the future.

For details of how to find or get involved with the Carbeth Hutting community see their website here.