A strange thing happened on my island-hopping holiday – my laptop was stolen. I say strange because it happened in a part of the country where people habitually don’t lock their doors. And when reported to the local police station, their response was one of mild incredulity – to the extent that they even asked me whether I was absolutely sure it was missing. But missing it was, and so we agreed that the thief had probably been an opportunistic visitor to the island. It’s an intriguing feature of our island communities that they have been able to retain such a level of faith in the good intentions of their neighbours – as evidenced by that enduring habit of leaving doors unlocked or the ubiquitous honesty box. And while not entirely absent from more populous mainland community life, it seems increasingly rare. It’s no coincidence that those communities where expressions of trust and mutual dependence run deepest, are often the ones that have made most progress in shaping their futures – taking ownership of land and buildings, harnessing renewable energy or developing essential local services. If trust is such a key ingredient in the alchemy of community success, does its absence explain why some consistently fail?
In the most recent briefing…
Ten years ago, a new swimming facility opened in Montrose leaving the old purpose-built swimming pool building without any obvious use. A local architect posted his thoughts online about how it could be repurposed as a cinema and within a week the Montrose Playhouse Project was formed. With Angus Council transferring the asset for £1 and a mass community event stripping the building back to a shell (saving £250,000 and 6 months), construction work started in 2021. The Montrose Playhouse opened its doors 10 months later and it has just scooped the Scottish Civic Trust My Place Award.
The 25th anniversary of the landmark community buyout of the Isle of Eigg merits special mention this week. It’s worth reminding ourselves that this took place at a time when there was no land reform legislation in place to strengthen the community’s hand. Nor was there a Scottish Land Fund to ease the struggle of raising the purchase price. That was largely raised through more than 10,000 donations from the members of the public (including an anonymous donation of £750,000). Eigg (and Assynt crofters) have blazed a trail for countless others to follow. Enjoy the party.
The housing market on the islands is beyond repair. On Tiree 46% of houses are in darkness throughout winter and with average prices of £500,000, young people on the island have nowhere to live. While not the answer to the housing crisis caused by second homes, an enterprising community project is offering visitors to the islands a community based alternative to that behemoth of holiday home rentals, Airbnb. IsleHoliday.com. is the latest venture to come out of the endlessly creative isle20.com which emerged in response to the the pandemic’s impact on island-based tourism.
The Division of Commonties Act 1695 is an ancient piece of legislation that continues to this day to determine the ‘ownership’ of common land in Scotland. Common land consists of extensive tracts of land which the people were able to use for all sorts of practical purposes. The 1675 Act established a process whereby millions of acres of common land have been hived off and effectively privatised. However, some common land has escaped the provisions of the Act and land reform expert, Andy Wightman has been working to bring a parcel of common land back into community ownership.
Whenever inequality is being debated, and particularly at the moment with the cost of living crisis, there always comes a point in the argument that seems to part company with reasoned logic. We are a wealthy country and there is no economic justification for why so many have to be living on or below the breadline. Even when it is widely understood that for society to tolerate inequality is to everyone’s disadvantage, it seems that some perverse (possibly unconscious) beliefs held by the more advantaged groups continue to bake inequality into the system. Kate Pickett explains this paradox.
Scotland’s industrial heritage undoubtedly generated great wealth for the country but also left a legacy of vast tracts of vacant and derelict urban land – almost 11,000 hectares (approx 16,000 football pitches) – with one in three of the population living within 500 metres of a derelict site. In 2020, the Scottish Land Commission published a series of recommendations to transform our whole approach to the problem of vacant and derelict land. Part of which was a very handy step by step guide for communities who have identified some problematic land or buildings and want to do something about it.
In 2000 a group of local people came together to address the need for affordable housing in the Creetown area. This led to the setting up in 2004 of the Creetown Initiative to address local needs and the delivery of a range of regeneration projects to support the local economy including: environmental, renewables, sport and healthy living, community facilities, art and education. The Creetown Initiative Consultancy arm was created in 2006 when community groups elsewhere saw what was happening in Creetown and wanted assistance to carry out similar projects in their own area. The consultancy has now worked with other…Find out more