A saving grace of this locked down existence is that the virtual world is now your oyster – everything and everyone has moved online. My most recent virtual venture was to Paisley’s Book Festival for a conversation with three Scottish writers about Scottish masculinity. One of those writers, Douglas Stuart, has just hit the big time with Shuggie Bain, a grim tale of poverty and addiction in Glasgow in the 1980’s – an era when whole communities were laid to waste by mass unemployment and despair. Margaret Thatcher was in her pomp and, it’s fair to say, reviled by many including myself. By odd coincidence, alongside Shuggie Bain, I’ve been slowly ploughing through the first volume of her authorised biography. I want to better understand Thatcher the person and why she acted as she did. I’m particularly interested in the Poll Tax episode (Vol 3) – a policy that led to a small group of community activists from Pollock initiating what became the UK’s largest ever campaign of civil disobedience. A campaign which effectively ended her career. To paraphrase the well worn Mead quote, ‘it is only small groups of concerned citizens that ever really change anything’. Always worth reminding ourselves of that.
In the most recent briefing…
The evidence paradox (see here—>>>) seems a perfect fit for Scotland’s community growing movement. A new report by Social Farms and Gardens reflects on the past year and (modestly) demonstrates the breadth of policy boxes being ticked. It’s because of that breadth no one in Scottish Government feels obliged to take full responsibility for it. It could be any one of health, food, climate, social justice or community empowerment but it should be all of them. Instead, because of that evidence paradox, its embedded value across the range of those policy silos isn’t acknowledged and funding remains perennially precarious.
When the Christie Commission on the future delivery of public services published its report a decade ago, it was universally welcomed. That so little progress has been made in implementing its proposals remains something of a mystery. In the field of healthcare for instance, Christie required budget holders to be able to recognise the intrinsic value to health offered by community based service providers that have no interest in being badged as part of the NHS. A no brainer in this respect should be the Men’s Sheds movement. Someone should explain why, 10 years after Christie, this hasn’t happened.
With offshore wind, everything scales up – the size of turbines, the number of turbines, the technical complexity of building out at sea and, inevitably, the cost. But offshore is also very profitable as indicated by the prices paid when sites were auctioned off the coast of England. While community benefit payments are the norm for any onshore wind farm developer, Crown Estate Scotland, who hold the lease for the seabed have been strangely ‘quiet’ on the subject of community benefit from offshore developments. Community Energy Scotland are on the case.
Colonsay is a beautiful island with an unusually large number of holiday homes (40% of the island’s housing stock). These are homes that had previously been rented locally but over time the island’s owner, Lord Strathcona, gradually transferred their use into more profitable holiday lets. The relationship between community and laird has never been easy, with community aspirations to develop their own housing and other enterprises rarely receiving better than a lukewarm response. Finally, a parcel of land has been purchased from the estate for new housing. Perhaps some light at the end of a very long tunnel.
There’s something called the ‘evidence paradox’ that anyone who has worked in the community sector for any length of time will have bumped up against if not necessarily recognised as such. It arises at that point where you conclude that all you need to do is ‘tell your story’ more compellingly to convince the doubters of the merits of your work. Do that and the walls of resistance will surely crumble. But they don’t. That system which has proved so resistant to your charms, is looking in the wrong place for the evidence. Interesting new report from New Local.
The danger in constantly referencing a ‘mental health crisis’ (which predates the pandemic but has certainly been massively accentuated by it) is that we assume a comprehensive response is being formulated. In recent editions of this briefing, the role of community based mental health services has been highlighted but the extent of need being met is only the tip of the iceberg. Research from Support in Mind Scotland indicates 93% of people in marginalised rural communities recognise Covid as having impacted on their mental health. Interestingly, the most useful support is reported as coming from hyper-local connections.
As the merest glimmer of an end to Covid comes into view, an anthology of essays, short stories and poems, is published which seeks to explore the opportunities for a better post-Covid future. Oliver ‘Dr Democracy’ Escobar, has contributed his own thoughts in a short piece which could be summarised by this apparent paradox – we all love the idea of democracy but despair at the way it is being practised. The answer, he argues, is to expand our democratic lives. Read the piece or hear him speak at next week’s Rural Parliament.
The National Grid connects with our islands via subsea cables which in the case of Harris and Lewis, runs between Skye and Harris. Until that is, an unexplained deep sea incident last October caused the cable to come apart and leave the islands reliant on an expensive (£1m per month) and heavily polluting (70,000 litres per day) diesel power station. The financial implications for community owned wind farms (and commercial operators) have been nothing short of catastrophic. Community Energy Scotland has been supporting both community and commercial generators to make their case to Scottish Government.
Community Links is an independent Lanarkshire-based Community Anchor organisation. Established in 2002, Community Links has a proven track record and passion for working with, encouraging and supporting communities to co-produce sustainable and meaningful involvement, participation and community-owned change. We are a value-based organisation, and this is reflected in how we deliver our services and interact with the communities we serve.Find out more