West Harris Trust
Facts & Figures
The West Harris Trust is a community charity that was established to create and improve the housing and employment opportunities, and promote renewable energy and sustainable development in the west of the island. The trust has proven that a long history of declining population and limited opportunities can be turned around by local people being able to determine the priorities of their communities.
The West Harris Trust acquired three crofting estates comprising of 16,700 acres from the Scottish Government in January 2010. The Trust aimed to increase the population by 30% over a 10-year period through the creation of 10 new affordable homes and creating and re-establishing 6 further croft tenancies.
Registered Charity in Scotland
Three crofting estates, three wind turbines (part-owned), 100kw hydro station (part-owned), Seilebost School building, Talla na Mara Community Enterprise Centre.
Roots & Links
Between 1951 and 2001, the population in Harris dropped by 50% – a stark reminder that the community badly needed investment.
At the time of the trust being formed from the initial steering group in 2007, it was identified that the population in West Harris was unsustainable. 35% of the 123 residents were over 65, and there were far too few people in the economically important age group of 16-44.
The steering group also identified that 35% of houses in West Harris were either holiday homes or self-catering cottages. The trust agreed that for there to be a sustainable community for the future, this housing imbalance must be addressed.
The trust then set out to increase the availability of affordable housing, greater economic opportunities and wider social provision in order to attract young families into the area.
In 2010, when the community purchased the land from the Scottish Government, the annual guaranteed income from the estate was minimal, and mainly from croft rent. In the eight years following the purchase, the trust has worked hard to develop a sustainable income and provide a platform for community development and investment.
Before the community purchased the crofting estate, there was limited space for small businesses. The trust has since been able to create opportunities for local businesses to flourish – a key focus.
The trust is now a major property owner in West Harris, following the purchase of Seilebost School, the creation of The Marine Shorebase ‘The Cliff’, and the Community Enterprise Centre, ‘Talla na Mara’.
West Harris Trust has a Board consisting of 12 Directors.
Hebridean Housing Partnership
Talla na Mara, Pairc Niseaboist
Builds Local Capacity
Increases the supply of affordable housing and boosts employment opportunities, renewable energy and sustainable development in the west of the island. Has successfully attracted many young families into the area.
Marine access project with seasonal pontoon, camping spots, campervan hook-ups with waste disposal facilities, Community Enterprise Centre with community space and studios, gallery and restaurant suitable for weddings and conferences, created six affordable housing units with Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP).
Talla na Mara Community Enterprise Centre – supports up to 20 jobs through its business units, offices and restaurant, and provides more opportunities for employment in the area.
Along with the many economic and social benefits that Talla na Mara has brought with it, the development has enabled six houses to be built in partnership with HHP, who own the houses while the Trust provides electricity.
Seilebost School – purchased by the Trust and initially used as office space before relocating to Talla na Mara, the school is currently let out to local businesses and operates as a small motorhome park with four electric hookups.
Marine Shorebase – The Cliff, WHT’s first build, was completed in 2014 and is currently leased by a local businessman.
The trust also manages:
- Sites for part-owned community wind turbines and a hydro turbine
- Former primary school building
- Community Enterprise Centre with community space & studios
- Gallery and restaurant suitable for weddings and conferences
Six affordable housing units with Hebridean Housing
By September 2017, the permanent population had increased by 20% and its population of pre-school children by 700%.
The West Harris Trust is also showing how many small ventures can combine to help ensure better resilience and viability, rather than relying on just one or two main income sources. It is perhaps the only community to use the Transfer of Crofting Estates (Scotland) Act 1997 to help realise this ambition. The trust manages the use of a crofting estate, rather than simply acting as a landlord.
One of the trust’s primary aims is to attract young families into the area in order to strengthen and revitalise the community. It has therefore made available various plots of land for permanent residents priced significantly below market value.
The trust also cares about preserving its natural environment and works hard to create sustainable energy for the community.
Via its wholly-owned subsidiary, the trust installed three part-owned wind turbines, one of which is predicted to generate a gross annual revenue of around £45k. Similarly, its part-owned 100kw hydro station is expected to generate a gross income of around £120k annually.
Ensuring sustainability without reliance on grant funding
There is potential for a further HHP development at Talla na Mara, which would help to further boost the population and increase the availability of affordable housing.
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