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February 13, 2024

100 years of ownership

The Assynt Crofters will always be remembered for transforming the narrative about who can own the land we live on.  It’s 30 years since the Assynt Crofters’ Trust purchased their land from the Vestey family, paving the way for so many others to follow. But the history of community ownership is much older than that. 100 years ago, the Stornoway Trust was formed when the townsfolk accepted the gift of land from industrialist and philanthropist, Lord Leverhulme. This remarkable story will be one of many collected by a recently launched oral history project. Look out for a yellow campervan.



A yellow campervan is taking to the road as part of a mission to gather first-hand stories from communities across Scotland which have successfully taken control of land. 

Community Land Scotland (CLS) is leading the project which forms part of the 100 years of community ownership project.

The tour kicks off today in Stornoway, capital of the Isle of Lewis, which in 1923 became the first place in Scotland to be owned outright by its inhabitants. Over the next few weeks, the campervan and crew will visit more than 20 locations, from the Highlands and Islands to the Scottish Borders, recording experiences of the community buyout process and its outcomes. The information gathered will form a historical archive that can be used to help more places take charge of land in their area.

Linsay Chalmers, development manager for CLS, said: “This is all about communities, and all these communities have an important and entertaining story to tell. Community ownership has been one of the biggest social movements in the past 100 years and it’s important that we record that as part of Scotland’s history.

“Community ownership has proved overwhelmingly successful, and that’s thanks to the efforts of ordinary people across the country. It’s their stories that we want to hear – what have they found uplifting and what has been more tricky?”

Oral history expert Carol Stobie will be aboard the van, asking residents of each place to get involved and tell their stories of how a community buyout has affected their homelands.

She anticipates everything from spoken accounts and photographs to audio and film footage to be presented, creating a unique historical treasury.

“There are over 500 community-owned projects across Scotland and they all have stories to tell,” Ms Stobie said.

“What is the history of the people in these places? What made them opt to take control of local resources? What were the positives and negatives?

“There is a great tradition of oral history in Scotland and a huge amount of knowledge, and I will be encouraging them to capture that, so we have an archive that reflects the great range of different experiences, as well as the common factors.

“We also want it to be up-to-date, so that we have a solid record of how people in these communities feel today, what their hopes and aspirations are for the future.”

CLS hopes its story-gathering project can help raise awareness of the benefits of community ownership.