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August 25, 2020

Artistic take on community ownership

Despite the welcome Government financial support for the arts and cultural sector, inevitably the future remains deeply uncertain for many artists and makers of all forms. Good news then to see an emerging collaboration between Scotland’s community land movement and a range of artists from across Scotland. The series of commissions aims to explore the different stories of community land ownership, how land was acquired, and how the process of taking ownership has affected each community and their relationship to the land. 

Community Land Scotland

Artists and Landowners – telling the story of Scotland’s land in the hands of local people

Community Land Scotland, working in partnership with The Stove Network in Dumfries, has announced the results of a competitive bid to appoint three new commissions for artists to work with community land owners across Scotland to tell their story.

Artists and Community Landowners aims to raise awareness of community landownership both to communities and to Scotland by taking new approaches to telling the stories of post purchase community landowners, and the wider story of community ownership across Scotland.  This project will explore what happens when a community takes ownership of an estate, woodland or urban farm and how that affects the community itself and its relationship the land.

“We are bringing artists and community landowners together to work collaboratively over a period of four months finding creative and active ways to hear, learn and share their stories.”

“The relationship between people and the land inspired Scottish artists and musicians for hundreds of years, but the story of modern community landownership is yet to be fully explored. We wanted to work with artists to tell this important part of Scotland’s modern history“ says Linsay Chalmers, development manager at Community Land Scotland.

“We have had a terrific response from a wide variety of artists across Scotland working in very different mediums, and it has been a privilege to read their proposals and very hard to select the final successful three.  We hope the project will ultimately culminate in an exhibition of their works for everyone to see.”

Environmental artist and creative educator Richard Bracken from Drumnadrochit, has been appointed to work directly with the community landowners and tell the story of Abriachan Forest Trust by Loch Ness.  Like the Forest Trust, Richard Bracken has worked with young and marginalised people and so he will be able to draw out both the environmental and social benefits that come with community landownership. “ I’m delighted to have this opportunity to work closely with Abriachan Forest Trust and contribute to a wider conversation around community landownership. For me, creativity and the ability of people to access land are strongly connected, so I’m thrilled to be involved in a project that brings these things together and shines light on the potential being realised by more and more communities in Scotland,” said Richard.

This was the first project ever funded by the Scottish Land Fund in 1998. The community purchased 540 hectares of forest and open hill ground from Forest Enterprise. Since then the Trust has managed this land to create local employment, improve the environment, and encourage its enjoyment by the public through a network of spectacular paths, family suited mountain bike trails, innovative outdoor learning as well as health and well-being opportunities. Abriachan is a scattered rural community of about 130 people set high above the shores of Loch Ness.

Sculptor and printmaker Virginia Hutchison from Lewis will work with Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (Galson Estate Trust) on the Isle of Lewis. Virginia will create an installation in the form of waymarkers representing personal and collective conversations about the community ownership of the estate.  She said: “”Countering a fractious history of private landownership in Scotland, community landowners like Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn have embarked on a strategic programme of development that involves the whole community in the processes of decision making. I’m delighted to be collaborating with the Urras to find creative methods of recounting the collective experiences of the buyout and the events that led up to it. How this narrative is developed alongside the Stove Network and Community Land Scotland, will be invaluable to the development of the Urras and to other communities who are about to embark on the process.”

The Galson Estate is community owned – some 56,000 acres of coast, agricultural land and moor in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It comprises 22 villages with a population of nearly 2,000 people. The estate passed into community ownership in 2007 to be managed on their behalf by the Trust.


The third commission is to award winning artist partnership Dr Saskia Coulson and Colin Tennant, who develop projects through the lens of a camera, both film and still photography.  They will work with Community Land Scotland through a “Stories of Radical Landownership” commission that will focus on the journeys of another four communities. These are the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, North Harris Trust, South West Mull and Iona Development and Bridgend Farmhouse in Edinburgh.

“We are delighted to have been selected for the Stories of Radical Landownership commission. This project means a lot to us both with regards to telling the wider story of community landownership in Scotland today and collaborating with individual Community Trusts to highlight their individual journeys.  We are excited to be working on a project of such significance in Scotland and one which we hope can have a real impact in the ongoing developments of community buy out initiatives across the country.” Saskia Coulson & Colin Tennant

The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust is the community organisation which owns the Isle of Eigg and manages the island’s development. In 1997, after years of instability, neglect and lack of secure tenure, the Trust purchased the land largely due to the generosity of around ten thousand members of the general public.

The 25,900 hectares of North Harris make up one of the largest community owned estates in Scotland. The Trust aims to increase employment opportunities, address local housing needs, and protect and enhance North Harris wonderful cultural and natural heritage.

South West Mull and Iona Development (SWMID) is a community led organisation set up to tackle issues of deprivation including access to health services, lack of year round employment and a shortage of affordable housing on the islands of Mull and Iona. Their achievements are wide ranging – from providing space for a community gym, to owning and managing a 789 hectare commercial forest to generate local income.

Bridgend Farmhouse in Edinburgh was bought by the local community and brought back from dereliction to create a community kitchen and café, meeting spaces and workshops which house DIY, bike repair, wood and metal working and arts and crafts. Situated close to an area of multi deprivation it has an important role.

The artists were chosen from a competitive pitch – and their work over the next four months will explore the impact of community land ownership on the community. Their residencies will be interpreted as appropriate during COVID 19 restrictions and elements of it may be “virtual”.

Community Land Scotland is the representative body for Scotland’s aspiring and post-purchase community landowners. It promotes the sustainable development benefits of community landownership and works with communities to support and encourage community ownership of land and buildings throughout Scotland.     Their vision is of more communities reaping the benefits of community landownership and promoting a socially just Scotland through community landownership. Together their members are own some 560,000 acres of land, home to some 25,000 people.

The artists appointed

Coulson and Tennant – CT productions – Dr Saskia Coulson and Colin Tennant are Fine Art Photography graduates from Glasgow School of Art. They are an award-winning artist partnership which develops projects through a lens-based practice, combining genres of documentary and fine art. Their work is underpinned by academic research and through visual storytelling. “We create artistic, documentary and environmental work for a wide range of organisations and for our own projects,” says Dr Saskia Coulson. “To do this we collaborate with very many different communities and individuals and draw inspiration from historical, creative and ecological references.”  The partnership is currently developing a project in Greenland which explores how climate change impacts craft makers and identifies links to the current landscape in Scotland. This project is funded by the British Council and is underpinned by the Scottish Government’s Arctic Connections Policy Framework.

Richard Bracken studied Sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art. He has ten years of experience engaging with communities and collaborating with multi-disciplinary teams in Scotland and abroad. He is influenced by the exploration of the landscape, and designs and contributes to ecological and heritage focussed projects. Most recently as Lead Artist in Room 13 International he has been engaging with young people remotely during C19 crisis to enable continued creative development.

Virginia Hutchison – is a Sculptor and printmaker, graduate from The Royal College of Art London and Gray’s School of Art Aberdeen. Most recently she is completing a micro residency on ‘Life Under Lockdown’ examining the idea of touch within hospital environments, produced in collaboration with Tonic Arts and NHS Lothian in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Community Landowners


The Stove Network is an arts and community organisation based in the centre of Dumfries.  They hope from this project to foster some really meaningful connections between the Trusts and local artists, create some brilliant material that shares theses diverse stories of community land ownership, urban and rural, across Scotland and inspire others to work with creative people in this collaborative and co-developed as a way of having different and possibly more inclusive conversations about our places at every stage of their journey.

As a successful social enterprise, The Stove is the first artist-led Development Trust in Scotland, providing regular employment for 25 people.      A kitchen-table style of practice and developing work is one based on the values of risk-taking, collaboration, emotional openness, empowerment, positive disruptive change, innovation and inclusion. They are committed to finding locally led solutions as part of our place and community.

The practice is one that engages artists and creative people to co-develop work from regular conversational activity into large-scale strategic projects. It is a process-led practice that uses creative activity to facilitate community-led development, projects and decision-making grown from a foundation in community engagement.