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December 3, 2019

The Lido lives on

Once upon a time, the communities that sit at the foot of the Cowal Peninsula were popular with Glaswegians escaping  ‘doon the watter’ to enjoy the fresh air of the Firth of Clyde. The paddle steamers have long since stopped visiting and life has become much quieter.   And partly because of this, the locals have lived with the threat of losing the community’s only shop and Post Office – an event which many feared could spell the end of community life. Two years of hard slog and one successful community shares offer later, they took the keys earlier this week.

South Cowal Community Enterprises

Village shop reopens under community ownership

Residents of South Cowal in Argyll have come together to save their village shop and Post Office The Lido from potential closure. Following a busy two years of planning and fundraising, the shop reopens under community ownership on the 3rd December. 

The keys were handed over on the 2nd December and volunteers turned out to give the shop a mini makeover before it reopens.

South Cowal comprises the two villages of Innellan and Toward and a number of smaller settlements, one of which would be 17 miles from the nearest shop if The Lido closed.

Lorna Ahlquist, Chair of South Cowal Community Enterprises (SCCE), which is leading the buyout, said “we were first approached by worried villagers two years ago. People were very concerned that The Lido was going to close, as it had been on the market for four years at that time. The shop is a real hub for the community and people felt that the community spirit in the villages would die without the shop and Post Office. Our research showed us that almost two thirds of the community felt that the closure of the shop would be a disaster and 30% thought it would be a problem”.

The community of South Cowal faced the task of raising over £325,000 to buy the shop, stock and working capital. In spring 2019, the campaign received a boost when SCCE was awarded £256,680 from the Scottish Land Fund. The community then went on to raise over £68,000 from a Community Share offer, which allowed people and businesses to invest in the business.

Linsay Chalmers, Vice-Chair of SCCE, who helped to coordinate the Community Share Offer said “it was incredibly heartening to see not only those who live here pull together to save the shop, but also people who had been here on holiday and who had happy memories of The Lido. We were overwhelmed by the response and sometimes, when I came home from work, I could barely get my front door open for the pile of letters pledging to buy Shares.”

The Lido will continue to provide a Post Office service and essential groceries. Over the next few months, SCCE will be expanding the range of local produce and fresh fruit and vegetables. The shop is one of the biggest employers in the area with a planned staff team of up to six. One of SCCE’s longer term aims is to turn an empty flat above the flat into a bunkhouse aimed at the growing number of mountain bikers, walkers and kayakers coming to the area.

Many of the volunteers who helped with the mini-makeover were from local volunteering group, Inspiring Innellan, which took top place in the Community Involvement Category at this year’s Beautiful Scotland awards.