On Saturday 9th July 2016, nine Wanlockhead residents travelled to community-owned Mull of Galloway to see first-hand how the buyout had changed the area since the community took over the land in 2013.
The visit was made possible thanks to the financial and logistical support of the Community Learning Exchange programme of Community Land Scotland, the premier organisation working with community landowners today. We are very grateful to the Wanlockhead villagers who accompanied us as well as the directors and staff of the Mull of Galloway Trust who gave us a warm welcome and their time during their busy Smugglers Weekend event.
The Mull of Galloway was one of the first community land buyouts organised in southern Scotland. Like Wanlockhead, it is a remote area where the locals have historically had to get things done in the village by themselves and this has helped form a strong, cohesive community spirit. Also like Wanlockhead, the local area suffered from a lack of local opportunities and many youngsters had to travel or leave the area to find jobs.
It first started as an idea
The Wanlockhead group met with representatives of the Mull of Galloway Trust, who kindly spoke to us about the before and the after of their community buyout.
The idea of the land buyout first appeared in the small Mull of Galloway village of Drummore in 2011 as it emerged that the Northern Lighthouse Board was planning to put land and buildings around the lighthouse on the market. Local residents thought it would be good to own what they felt as their land, and they were also keen to manage the area for the benefit of the community.
When the idea was first proposed to the community, the steering group received over 10% backing by the local community, ten percent being the threshold required by Land Reform legislation to further explore the idea. By the time the group elaborated a buyout proposal and put it to a ballot in the village in 2012, it was supported by 98.6% of votes in favour of the community land buyout.
"How much is that going to cost me?"
The representatives of the Mull of Galloway Trust recounted how the vast majority of the village had been extremely supportive of the buyout project, albeit, as in every community, there were a few differing voices who claimed the buyout would never work.
Following the vote of the community for the land buyout, the Scottish Land Fund stepped in to provide 95% of the funding, with the remaining 5% being obtained from other funding sources. In total, the land buyout was worth around £338,500 which included the purchase of 30 acres of land in the Mull of Galloway, 3 cottages, and a funded post for a Development and Marketing officer for three years.
A local vision for the area
The Mull of Galloway Trust is a charity governed by local volunteer trustees. The buyout setup includes a trading company, the South Rhins Community Development Trust, which runs the Lighthouse Exhibition and tours up the Lighthouse Tower and has 5 part time seasonal staff.
The vision of the Trust is to promote the iconic natural asset that is the Mull of Galloway, attracting investment and jobs to the community, while preserving the beauty of the landscape and ensuring controlled development within the area.
The Mull of Galloway is now home to a well-balanced tourism economy which is respectful to the local environment. The lighthouse cottages see a constant stream of bookings and employ one caretaker and three cleaners, and the modern and environmentally friendly tearoom on site -built by a local family- has proven to be consistently popular with visitors. The Trust organises all sorts of events throughout the year, from birdwatching to vintage car rallies and weddings.
Partnership with the RSPB
As the local landowner, the Mull of Galloway Trust maintains relations with a wide range of stakeholders both at local, regional, and national level. One of those stakeholders is the RSPB, which leases a cottage near the lighthouse as a Wildlife Interpretation Centre. Thanks to the partnership with the RSPB, 2 full time members of the staff are employed during the tourism season between spring and autumn. A number of RSPB volunteers also visit regularly the area, staying in the village and spending money in local businesses. Moreover, the RSPB looks after their leased cottage, pays rent to the community, provide a tourist interpretation centre, and bring every year 40,000 visitors interested in wildlife in the area.
So, three years after a community buyout, how has life in the Mull of Galloway changed?
A lot has happened in the local area since the buyout took place, we were told. But all those went down to just two points, according to the Mull of Galloway representatives:
First, in only three years the buyout has already brought a tangible development to the area: jobs. The direct and indirect jobs created by the activities of the Trust account for at least 20 jobs in the area. Previously existing businesses in Drummore such as the pub, shop, B&Bs and local tradesmen also benefit from the increase in economic activity generated by the buyout.
Second, there is an air of confidence and good feeling in the local community. Residents experience renewed local pride and a feeling that the area’s future lies in their hands. In short, they have been empowered by their land buyout efforts. When we asked our Mull of Galloway hosts if all those years of non-remunerated and hard work at the Trust had been worth it, we received a quick and firm nod: "Definitely".
Next visit: North Harris Trust