October 12, 2021
Buy-outs continue apace
When the country went into lockdown there was a strange sense of systems shutting down and normal business being suspended as simultaneously an astonishing array of local responses to Covid kicked in. One process that didn’t shut down, in part because it played such a key role in the Covid response, was the small number of community land buy-outs that had been nearing completion when lockdown happened. These and the other more recent buy-outs that had completed but didn’t have time to organise a celebration, are all being exclusively featured in this year’s Community Land Week.
THEY became a lifeline during the pandemic with stay at home advice and travel restrictions in force, the community shop enjoyed a renaissance as people either rediscovered them and realised the important role they had to play.
Not just a place to buy supplies, our community stores were among the few places people could interact with many shopkeepers checking up on their more vulnerable customers.
And for Carbost community shop on the Minginish peninsula on the Isle of Skye it became even more of an essential service during lockdown.
Securing its long term future is one of the reasons why the community got involved in a buy out three years, which despite a covid delay, was finally completed earlier this year.
This month Carbost Community Shop will be celebrating its community buy out success as part of Community Land Week which runs from October 9 to 17.
Community Land Week is a chance to highlight several projects which were acquired during the pandemic, against all odds and is organised by Community Land Scotland in partnership with Scottish Government. The Carbost project is among 10 which were completed following lockdown with the Scottish Land Fund contributing more than £3m to help the buy outs.
In Carbost, the shop never closed during the buy out process and villagers got behind it at the height of lockdown last year.
Cathy Simon, one of the directors of the shop, said: “Apart from the challenges of working our way through buying property during lockdown, covid showed us how important it was to have a community shop that would support our local village with essential supplies and help deliver to those vulnerable people shielding.”
“Of course covid delayed the process required to go through buying a property but we are so pleased we did it, and we have made significant progress since buy out this January with some essential repairs. We are so proud that we never shut the shop for one day with the transfer of private ownership to community ownership.”
The shop, housed in a 100 year old corrugated iron building, was bought by the community with a grant from the Scottish Land Fund of £145,000. The SLF also supported the preliminary work required for the purchase, with community engagement, business planning and 6 month’s salary of a shop manager.
The property had been on the open market for several years as the previous owner sought to retire from the business. Following a public meeting in 2018, volunteers Cathy Simon and Janette Sutherland formed a steering group with colleagues to work on the community buy out. The completion date for the sale of the property was initially set at April 2020, right at the beginning of the first lockdown, but it was delayed until the successful acquisition in January 2021.
“We struggled during lockdowns, as everyone did, to get tradesmen available to help with essential repairs, but we have now improved the toilet facilities thanks to some fantastic local volunteers,” added Mrs Simon.
“The shop serves a community of 400 year round, and business increases significantly with the huge numbers of tourists in the summer season. We stock good product range catering for local demands – just recently we have added a vegan range. We have always aimed to run a fully staffed business model to provide local employment and currently we employ two part time supervisors and three other part time staff.”
“Being 18 miles from nearest supermarket – it would have been very hard in winter weather if we had lost our local facility.”
Linsay Chalmers, development manager at Community Land Scotland, believes that when communities purchase the land on which their people live and work, they have the tools to reinvigorate their areas and improve the prospects of future generations.
Ms Chalmers said: “With all the challenges thrown up by the pandemic we decided to celebrate this year’s Community Land Week with projects which took ownership during covid. These projects were not able to celebrate their successes during lockdowns.”
Cara Gillespie, chairman of the SLF, said: “We have long been a supporter of Community Land Week- a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all things community ownership. This year ten resilient projects, all of which have received Scottish Land Fund backing, will open their doors to the public. This is a chance to hear first-hand about the challenges and opportunities ownership brings but even more so a chance to celebrate the power of collective community action.”
Community Land Scotland was set up in 2010 to influence policy to make it easier for communities to buy land. Since 2012 the Scottish Government funded SLF has given a total of 585 awards worth a total of £53.5m. There were 612 assets in community ownership as at December 2020. This is an increase of 15 (3%) from 597 in 2019. The Highland and Argyll and Bute local authorities together contain 234 assets, 38% of all assets in community ownership.
Annan Harbour Action Group will be taking to the water to celebrate their land buy out which was completed in March 2021 with the help of a Scottish Land Fund grant of more than £95,000.
In Dumfries & Galloway, harbour volunteers are organising a visit by boat and pontoon to the newly acquired Minister’s Merse.
Alan Thomson, harbour development officer, said: “We are planning a visit to our newly acquired land which must be effected by boat and pontoon transfer as there is currently no land access. This will be an expedition of exploration for our trustees and members who have never set foot on this piece of land.”
The action group purchased a redundant warehouse on the quayside at Annan Harbour and a spit of abandoned land adjacent to the harbour and aim to develop Annan Harbour and the surrounding area as a community asset, through the promotion of water based and shore-based activities linked to the maritime environment.
Mr Thomson added: “We will be working with the community to promote the harbour and quayside, as a hub for performances, events and festivals linked to tour themes which revolve around maritime history heritage and the natural environment. We are working to improve the infrastructure and facilities of the harbour to increase public participation in water based activities such as boating, rowing, sailing, and nature tourism and walking. We are also developing training in traditional skills such as building coastal rowing boats to ensure the heritage of these crafts is maintained and passed down to future generations.”