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September 22, 2020

Here’s to the next 10.

When a whole generation has grown up in the knowledge that the land they live on is owned by their community,  it’s probably fair to conclude that what was once a fanciful idea, scoffed at by many, has now become a firm fixture within Scotland’s (still skewed) pattern of land ownership. Last week, the national body for Scotland’s community landowners celebrated its 10th anniversary. This is a movement that is growing fast and across all parts of the country. A nice little film here to remind us of how it got to this point. Much more to come.

John-Paul Holden, The Herald

STRETCHING across 56,000 acres of coast, agricultural land and moor on the Isle of Lewis, it is among Scotland’s most dynamic community-owned estates.

Yet when news emerged of a deadly and rapidly spreading new virus, the resourceful residents of Galson – many of them elderly – reacted with dread.

The day-to-day challenges facing those who live on the estate, which comprises 22 villages running from Upper Barvas to Port of Ness, some of them over 30 miles from the main town of Stornoway, were daunting even before Covid-19’s arrival and the imposition of a national lockdown.

“I think at the start of the pandemic that there was certainly a degree of fear,” said Lisa Maclean, Chief Executive of Galson Estate Trust.

“One of the main challenges around Covid was that our demographic is mostly towards older people.

“In the early phase of the pandemic, we were in a situation where a large number of our residents were in shielding categories. Another big issue is isolation.”

But if the disruption was unprecedented, so were the scale and speed of the community’s response.

Among the many emergency actions taken was the almost instant creation of a 40-strong team of volunteers, while a prescription deliveries service and WhatsApp groups ensured access to food and medicine.

“We took over the community newspaper when its staff were furloughed, just to ensure communication was still going out to residents because a lot of older people in the area are not online,” added Ms Maclean.

“We’ve been working… over the entire period from 2007 [when the estate passed into community ownership] to plan precisely what [was] needed and wanted. “That allowed us to respond appropriately and… we were able to agree a course of action very promptly as well.”

Galson is just one example of the exceptional resilience demonstrated by community landowners across Scotland during the coronavirus crisis. Now, as part of recovery efforts, the estate is to feature in a National  Lottery-funded study called Owning Our Future which will look at why the model has been so important to its pandemic response.

The success of communities in Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, the Scottish Borders, Wester Ross and Mull will also be examined.

Linsay Chalmers, Development Manager with Community Land Scotland (CLS), which has announced funding for the project, said: “Over the past six months, we’ve seen how effective the community land model is during a crisis.

“Through this project, we will be able to dig a little deeper into the reasons behind that and explore any learning for wider society.”

It comes as CLS celebrates its 10th anniversary with a special online event featuring presentations from Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, as well as Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, Nith Valley Leaf Trust and Viewpark Conservation Group.

Meanwhile, a range of community groups are being given the opportunity to take over local projects with £1.6 million from the Scottish Land Fund.

It is hoped the cash will help communities become more resilient and sustainable. Among the beneficiaries is North Edinburgh Arts Group, which has been given £156,000 to buy its current premises in Muirhouse.

Also celebrating is Kirkcolm Community Trust, whose members have received £53,000 to purchase and reopen the village shop and use it as a community hub. Ms Cunningham said the grants would “go towards projects that will provide locals with better access to green space, encourage wildlife and support community business”.

She added: “With this funding being awarded during Climate Week, I look forward to these projects seizing the opportunity to help our green recovery.”

John Watt, Scottish Land Fund Committee chairman, said: “Groups from all across Scotland are making a real impact to their communities.”