Just a few weeks in and I’m struggling to remember what ‘normal’ used to feel like. With so many of the old certainties and cozy assumptions about our lives completely shredded within a matter of days, it begs the question – what happens when this crisis eventually passes? The instinct for an immediate return to ‘business as usual’ will be strong but, in this instance, surely neither realistic nor desirable. So much has already changed and, if the experts are right about how long this surreal state of lockdown will last, much of it could be irreversible. Many of us are fortunate enough to be able to use this time to reflect on all that’s happening – how it’s affecting our lives and our communities, and to imagine how life might be different (perhaps even better) in the post-coronavirus era. But what this crisis has also exposed is that there are so many people in this country who are being denied that opportunity. Without a secure home to live in, perhaps living in fear for their personal safety, and without enough money to feed themselves or keep themselves warm, these are the darkest of days. ‘Normal’ should never feel like that.
In the most recent briefing…
With most shops and small businesses closed down, it seems there are only two options available to most traders. One is to take advantage of whatever help is on offer from the government, batten down the hatches and hope that the virus disappears before cash reserves do. The other is to find alternative ways of trading. As island-based businesses are particularly vulnerable with so many dependent on tourism, an ingenious portal has been launched that allows the casual shopper to island-hop at will and browse away to their heart’s content.
Interesting piece of research highlighted by Alastair McIntosh which explores the relationship between disasters – both natural and man-made – and the extent to which communities are able to organise and develop effective responses. This study looked at the impact of the Spanish Flu pandemic and the self-organised responses from communities. The researchers identified a difference in response when the disaster was perceived to be down to chance or nature as opposed to being directly connected to other members of the community. Somewhat oddly, Spanish Flu was attributed to those individuals who initially became infected.
Although significant resources have been allocated to tackle the rural housing crisis, one of the anomalies of the system is that housing need has to be clearly demonstrated before these affordable housing projects can proceed – and for obvious reasons that can cause problems. If people aren’t prepared to live in tents or caravans as a signal that they want to live in a given place it becomes very difficult to establish a clear picture of local housing need. On the island of Colonsay, the community are working on a creative solution to this conundrum with a half-way housing measure.
Whether it has come about from years of hard slog (which, to bring a renewable energy project to financial close, it invariably is) or simply from living nearby a private windfarm development and being in receipt of annual community benefit payments, the fact nonetheless remains – some communities have been enjoying unprecedented levels of unrestricted income. Recognising it’s a bit of a taboo to talk about wealth, particularly the wealth of others, nonetheless at a time of such stark inequality it seems odd not to raise the issue. The recent actions of Point and Sandwick Trust have to be welcomed.
The slogan zero waste has the advantage of being crystal clear in its ambition but suffers from being so ubiquitous in its use that it risks losing all meaning. Often this laudable aim is pinned to whole countries – for example, Zero Waste Scotland – and therein may lie the problem. Is it a realistic aim for a whole country to achieve? Perhaps the issue is more about scale and if waste was thought of more as a resource, and what’s more, a community resource, then zero waste starts to become more attainable. That’s the lesson to be taken from Kamikatsu in Japan.
Over the course of the past year, what you might call a ‘proof of concept’ has been unfolding in far flung venues – from Voe in Shetland to Dumfries in the south and Leverburgh in the Western Isles and a fair amount in between. The concept relates to what is loosely described as community heritage and whether the hundreds of local heritage groups that exist across Scotland recognise their shared interests and indeed whether they see the value in becoming a little more organised on a national level to promote those interests. It seems they do.
Many Americans believe that their written Declaration of Independence from British rule in 1776 was partly inspired by a letter written in Arbroath Abbey some 450 years earlier. This letter – The Declaration of Arbroath – written 700 years ago this week is regarded by historians as one of the most significant European documents to come out of the Middle Ages. Regardless of leanings on the question of independence, it’s hard not to be struck by the letter’s eloquence or its historic significance. Events to mark this anniversary have had to be cancelled due to coronavirus. This short film tells the story.
Amidst the chaos of the Covid19 crisis, it’s strangely comforting that some areas of work are proceeding (almost) normally. Scottish Land Commission have just published the second in a series of protocols designed to shape how information is shared on the way land is owned and managed. Hard on the heels of the protocol which sets out how landowners should engage with communities on important decisions relating to land, this second protocol sets out how landowners should be more transparent about what they own and how they manage and use it. Land Commissioner, Sally Reynolds blogs on the issue.