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August 1, 2012

Local people key to prosperity

In a country as small as Scotland, it’s utterly mystifying that we should have two publicly funded economic development agencies holding such polarised views on the contribution of communities to local economic prosperity. Highlands and Islands Enterprise has long understood that the economic and social development of an area is inextricably linked, while Scottish Enterprise has consistently refuted any such notion.  If SE executives were to visit places like Glenelg and Arnisdale, it might just shift some of their thinking.


For residents in Glenelg and Arnisdale, the recent campaign to retain medical provision was the latest success for a community which only eight years ago was tagged as “fragile” by the then Scottish Executive.

In 2004 the area was included in the Initiative at the Edge programme which was established in 1998 to help the most remote and fragile communities in the country become more organised and better able to engage with key public services, as well as providing a framework for communities to bring together their own plans for long-term regeneration.

This, Glenelg and Arnisdale development officer Emma MacLean says, has been progressed: “We have gone from Initiative at the Edge to growth at the edge.”

Growth has been achieved both by the Glenelg and Arnisdale Development Trust and by individuals and groups coming together to develop existing resources. This in turn has been fully supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, with Glenelg and Arnisdale being one of around 50 communities with which the agency are working in its community account management scheme to develop and support sustainable growth.

Perhaps the most obvious example of using an existing community asset was the purchase of the Glenelg ferry in 2006 by the Isle of Skye Ferry Community Interest Group. To further protect and maintain this asset, a group headed by local woman Jennifer Francis has created a charity, the Glenachulish Preservation Trust, to raise funds to maintain the vessel — the last operating turntable ferry in Scotland — and it has recently been awarded £10,000 by the Robertson Trust. The ferry, which employs several local crew members, handles around 10,000 vehicles and 30,000 passengers annually and was also called into service in Loch Carron when the bypass was closed earlier this year — once again putting the ferry into “Stromeferry”. 

The Kyleakin Narrows are now set to house Scotland’s first tidal energy farm. By 2014 Marine Current Turbines expect to have established four SeaGen wave power generator devices in a £40 million project. It is hoped the community will take a stake in the project and opportunities to invest are currently being researched.

Still looking seawards, residents are keen to further develop  the assets they have and have identified the prospect of marine development in a 2011 Highlands and Islands Enterprise survey. In response to this the Glenelg and Arnisdale Marine Group has been formed and a funding application made, which, if successful, will see a feasibility study of the shoreline of Glenelg Bay carried out with a view to future projects including the creation of pontoons, a slipway, breakwater and mooring, all of which could create extra employment and revenue.  

As with many communities in the Highlands and Islands, employment, housing and how to support an ageing population while retaining and attracting young people are all problems in Glenelg and Arnisdale.  The population stands at just under 300 and currently 29 per cent of residents are over 65 while the primary school roll has dropped from 42 in 2006 to 32 in 2011-12.

This meant that when NHS Highland announced in 2011 they were to undertake a review of medical provision in Glenelg and Arnisdale residents launched a campaign to retain the current level of cover, believing that a cut would be damaging to the future prospects of the community. Their hard work paid off and  in May the health board announced that the current level of cover would continue. Now the community are looking to the future and are having a “positive conversation” with NHS Highland about ambitious plans to create a dedicated community care company.

Emma explained that the company would encompass all aspects of care from nursing, palliative and respite care to care at home, and could see the creation of around 20 much-needed jobs in the area while solving a “very real, inevitable and upsetting problem which our community faces”.

The need for such a facility was voiced by many respondents to the 2011 HIE survey and the trust directors leading the project are hoping to identify land on which a facility could be created. In conjunction with this it is hoped to aquire land for much-needed affordable housing and a development plan is currently being prepared by Andrew Harris and Ruth Macaskill, two of the directors of the Glenelg and Arnisdale Development Trust.

Emma said: “The community care company has grown out of a need to look after older people in the community. When people are unable to look after themselves at home and cannot be cared for locally, by family, friends or through limited access to home carers, they inevitably end up in care homes – sometimes on the east coast. This change can be deeply upsetting not only for the person involved but also for the family and friends they leave behind who cannot easily pop across to visit them. We are looking at providing care for the elderly locally along with housing and are looking at acquiring land to provide this. We will work with other agencies to deliver this much-required development.”

The Trust’s latest project is a website,, which launches this week and will act as a “community portal”. The site will host information for locals and visitors alike about the area, its people and environment, and will offer local businesses and groups the chance to advertise their services. Funding of £2,000 to establish the website was secured from Marine Current Turbines and Highland Council provided matching funding.

Emma explained: “It was considered important for our community and Kylerhea to have a forum from which we could communicate news and information regarding the ongoing potential development of the Kylerhea Narrows.

“The main impetus for the portal has been that it can act as a powerful forum on which our community can share information — locally and to a wider audience, recognising that our area touches instantly and rarely leaves the hearts of those who have visited it. We have much to be proud of in our area and we want the website to reflect that!”

In addition, the Glenelg and Arnisdale Trust, in partnership with Rachel Dubois from Gillywood Designs, have recently won a tender from Highlands and Islands Enterprise to provide content for their new Communities Online site.  Emma said: “The site will share information and news about how the most fragile communities in the Highlands and Islands are growing and developing their community-owned assets, or even just understanding how to acquire and manage them. There is a significant amount of activity happening in communities who face similar issues to Glenelg and Arnisdale and this is all being driven by community-led organisations and groups. This activity needs to be shouted about and shared — we hope to be able to play a role in pulling together information about all of the agencies that exist to help make this happen, and share the stories of where these community-led ventures are taking place and how they are progressing.”

Ian Philp, development manager at HIE, said: “HIE is very pleased to be working with GADT on this project. The new website will provide online resource and network for our community clients, in particular those groups that own or aspire to own land and other assets, and support them to capitalise on these by generating sustainable income streams. This new approach will encourage communities in remote areas to come together and share experience and knowledge through engaging in a range of digital media and technologies.”

Other projects which are being pursued in the community development plan for Glenelg and Arnisdale are a bunkhouse for Arnisdale and Corran, promoting the area as a tourist destination and hydro and wind schemes — around £30,000 has already been invested in the Ardintoul wind scheme, thanks to local businessmen Neil Hammond and Richard Tarves. On a smaller scale locals have come together to breathe new life into the community with events such as the Glenelg Gala, which last month was held for the first time in 25 years and involved people of all ages from across the area coming together. In turn the gala itself will help fund local causes.

On top of this, business ventures such as the Ceilidh House in Corran have proved highly successful, providing a venue for events and another source of income.

“As a venue, people rave about the Ceilidh House and that is due to the location of this place,” Emma said. “It really is stunning and the facility is brilliant.

“We’re getting more regular bookings than we have done before and finding our ‘niche’. We’ve been recognised by the Rambers Association as a good spot for a bunk and other recognised groups of divers, walkers, musicians and the like keep coming back.  We’ve published a version of the content of our heritage display and sales have been really encouraging.

“All in all, there is a heck of a lot going on in Glenelg and Arnisdale.”