Life in other community buyouts: Isle of Harris

Between September 14-18, nine villagers residents travelled to the community-owned North Harris and Galson estates to see first-hand how the buyout had improved the area since the community took over the land.

Wanlockhead Community Trust: Voyage of Hope

By Lincoln Richford.

Nine villagers made the journey to the Isle of Harris to meet Alistair Macleod – Manager of North Harris Trust. We received a very warm welcome in the Trust’s impressive offices in a purpose built building in Tarbert.

Alistair gave us an overview of the Trust and outlined a possible itinerary for us to follow during our stay on the Island. We were then introduced to their Land Manager – Gordon Cumming who grew up and went to school in Leadhills; small world! The Trust consists of 62,000 acres making it one of the largest Community owned trusts in Scotland, it includes a Deer herd and an Eagle Observatory, this is Golden Eagle country. The hide is an idea we could use in Wanlockhead and one that didn’t come up in our village consultations. The trust have created 9 direct jobs, that is equivalent to around 100 in somewhere like Dumfries. They have also enabled private companies from soap manufacture to the largest, a brand new state of the art Distillery employing 26 locals. Harris Gin has already made a name for itself, It’s made from seaweed, and their Single Malt will be ready soon.

After checking in to The Scaladale Centre, our home for the next 3 days, we returned to Tarbert and North Harris Trust to meet 4 of their Directors. Calum Mackay – Chairman, Steve McCombe, Kenneth Mackay and Kenneth Macleod. They told us of their considerable achievements during the 12 years the Trust has existed. From affordable housing projects which they are expanding in co-operation with the local authority, they have 3 flats above their offices for example. They have their own wind turbines run in co-operation with a local energy company. However all the directors were keen to point out the importance of the small projects from planting trees and removing invasive alien species to camping facilities.

The next day (Friday) saw us appear on the 7pm BBC Alba news where the visit of the Wanlockhead group was featured, following which we travelled across the island to Lewis to meet Lisa Maclean – Commercial Development Manager of the Galson Estate Trust.

The 56,000 estate, originally owned by 3 families, shared many of the problems that we have in Wanlockhead, lack of jobs, no facilities for tourists, areas of unused land and so on. Lisa’s presentation was truly inspirational. Since their buyout in 2004 from a Business Centre to renewables, including 3 of their own turbines which will eventually earn them almost £2 million a year, to a Sporting Club through to what has become an international giftware company. They plan campsites for the increasing numbers of camper vans who are arriving to offer facilities for the tourists and also to protect their breathtaking coastline. There was much to learn from them and much to be excited about.

Back to Tarbert for a question/answer session with Alistair Macleod.

Saturday included a visit to a community owned store in Bhaltos, Uig, Lewis and a community owned campsite on Reef Beach, Uig.

We could not visit Lewis without seeing the Callanish Stones and the nearby Gearrannan Blackhouse Village.

Sunday was an early start to catch the ferry to Skye and journey home, but we had one more visit to make. In Nevis Range Ski Centre, Fort William, we met John Hutchinson who has been involved in the environment and land reform movements for some 20 years including Eigg and Knoydart his achievements are too numerous to mention here check this website out.

A true pioneer and father of community buyouts. A fitting way to end what had been an amazing journey and one that did indeed fill us with inspiration and hope.

Lincoln Richford, September 2016.

What others have said about the field trip to Harris: