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November 5, 2014

Land alchemy

When land passes into community ownership something akin to alchemy seems to occur. Latent energy is released, ideas start to spark and things happen that otherwise would not. While that may not be a very scientific assessment of what is essentially just a transaction, over the next few weeks Community Land Scotland are going to be out and about trying to explain it to any communities that are thinking about becoming community landowners themselves. The recent turnaround achieved on Rum might be a case in point.


David Ross, Highland Correspondent, The Herald, 28 October 2014

 It was known as the Forbidden Island, where people lived only to manage and study nature, but residents of Rum are putting down roots symbolised by the completion of near £1 million bunkhouse. The initiative also confirms they have turned the corner in their relations with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which owns the island, and will help achieve their aim of doubl-ing the population of 40.

The key has been the Scottish Government decision that SNH should transfer ownership of 270 acres of land in and around the village of Kinloch to the Isle of Rum Community Trust (IRCT). This began in 2009 and was completed the year after. It meant the community hall, village shop and tearoom, campsite, boat-house, designated croft land and other land came under community control.

Rum had been owned by government agencies as a nature reserve for the previous 50 years which had effectively prevented people from building a life for them and their families on the island, although it had always provided them with salaried jobs. It consequently won a notoriety as the place where scientists met visitors on the pier and demanded to know why they had come, hence The Forbidden Island.

But community trust director Nic Goddard said the community had now developed “a strong and positive relationship” with SNH. She said the agency still owned most of the island and was a significant employer, providing four community members with full-time employment, “and also several zero-hour contracts for work in the SNH hostel, castle, energy supply and for maintenance and reserve works”.

However she said since the transfer possibilities had opened up for community controlled jobs and businesses which now more than matched SNH.

She said the trust and its trading arm, Rum Enterprise, now provided 3.5 full-time jobs, as well as maintenance contracts linked to housing, water supply and roads which are also now owned and managed by the community

Self-employed islanders included a shopkeeper, piermaster, crofters, craft and firewood workers, B&B’s and an IT consultant. New businesses include Rum Venison which employs four people part-time in venison processing and sales. How­ever she said the community’s crowning achievement had the raising of funds to build the state-of-the-art Rum Bunkhouse, which can sleep 20 people. It was made possible by funding from the Big Lottery Fund of £679,776 from Growing Community Assets fund and by £219,436 from Highlands & Islands Enterprise.

At present 10,000 people visit every year, but only 3,000 stay one night or more. Lochaber councillor Alan Henderson who chairs IRCT is confident further progress will be made with the bunkhouse operating. He said: “Income from this community business will contribute to our principal goal of effecting a substantial increase in housing provision on the island. We want to double the island’s population of around 40 resident adults and children.”

He said a range of possible housing sites have been agreed in what is a heavily designated landscape around the A-listed Kinloch Castle and within a National Nature Reserve.