2020 conference explores a vision for rural Scotland

What happens if we stop managing decline in our rural areas and instead start tacking the structural obstacles that stand in the way of building thriving local communities?  This is the question journalist and campaigner Lesley Riddoch will be asking in the opening session of Rural Housing Scotland’s annual conference in Birnam on 28th February.

Depopulation figures for some areas of rural Scotland make stark reading.  Highland Council projects a 21.1% population decline in Caithness by 2040, with Easter Ross and Sutherland also hitting double figures; whilst the recently released Scottish Islands Plan projects a 14% population decrease in the Western Isles over the same period.

Yet amidst the bleak landscape we see glimmers of hope which conference speakers will explore throughout the day.  The Isle of Ulva is actively reversing population decline with a strategic, grass roots approach which began with a community buy out of the island in 2017.  Arran Development Trust have spent time refining and developing  ambitious plans to provide much needed affordable homes for local workers on the island and were recently offered support from Scottish Government’s Rural & Islands Housing Fund to the tune of £3.6 million in recognition of the importance of the project.

But this kind of grass roots community activity has been quietly making an impact for decades.  The team on Colonsay who, last week, celebrated Scottish Land Fund support for affordable housing included a woman who benefitted from a previous community-led housing initiative supported by Rural Housing Scotland 20 years ago, which allowed her family to remain on the island.

In a pre-conference Community Learning Exchange, funded by the Scottish Community Alliance, delegates will visit Spittalfield in Perthshire which, back in 1993, was the first affordable collective self-build in Scotland. Here they will meet Cllr Grant Laing who, along with 11 other families, built their own homes together using Rural Home Ownership Grants.

The common element in these initiatives is the fact that they have been led by local people.  People who understand the needs of their communities and how best to support them.  Crucial to their success, however, has also been effective external support that has allowed communities to access the funding and expertise they need to realise their ambitions.

In its annual conference, Rural Housing Scotland will endeavor to use the experiences of communities, policy makers, funders and housing professionals to show how local people are already tackling the rural housing crisis, and to provide those who want to follow in their footsteps with a vision to help them realise their goals with sessions on community-led housing, land for housing, repopulation, and the rural economy; and the opportunity to contribute to the Scottish Government’s Housing to 2040 consultation.

In celebrating 20 years of Rural Housing Scotland, this conference will demonstrate the resourcefulness and innovation already evident in our rural areas and call for continued strategic support to build thriving rural communities which will benefit both local people and the nation as a whole.

Islands Revival

Stories of recovery from our island communities

We were more than happy to lend our full backing to the James Hutton Institute and Community Development Lens applying to the SEFARI Responsive Opportunity Fund for their “Islands Revival” project. Through the work of our ‘Our Island Home’ development officer, we have seen first hand the efforts and effects of island communities in addressing the issue of population decline and population imbalance.

The Islands Revival website provides a clear explanation of what the project is about:

“The Islands Revival project is collecting stories of population turnaround in order to raise the profile of demographic recovery in island settings, and to identify ways of ensuring that such developments are supported by island policy. During the spring and summer of 2019, we are inviting groups from across the Scottish islands to contribute examples from their own communities, to be published on the Islands Revival blog. These contributions will inform a workshop at the end of August, which will facilitate discussion between communities, local and Scottish Government, island businesses and international experts, culminating in a Workshop Declaration with recommendations regarding how policy can best support island repopulation.

Our Development Officer was one of the first contributors to this blog. You can read Cameron’s contribution – “Trust Us. We need homes” – here. The short blog highlights community led housing projects in Iona and Ulva Ferry, Isle of Mull. It also briefly touches on ‘lived experience’. The value of lived experience was discussed at the Highlands and Islands Enterprise “Strengthening Communities” conference in Aviemore back in May. It was also discussed at Community Land Scotland’s “Making Community Land Ownership Mainstream” conference in June and the Islands Revival project will help to keep this discussion going.

If you want to contribute to the Islands Revival blog, you still can here.

The Islands Revival project is supported by the Scottish Government-funded SEFARI Responsive Opportunity Initiative and led by the James Hutton Institute and SRUC.

The Community Learning Eigg-change

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Some images courtesy of @juradevelopment

The value of Community Learning Exchanges was clear from the moment the Rural Renewal CLE in Mull was coming to an end. Every attendee asked whether it would be possible to organise further exchanges that would help strengthen the newly formed island connections. We are delighted to be able to facilitate more thanks to the funding made available through Scottish Community Alliance.

The decision was made to organise a CLE to Eigg. Many of the communities felt that visiting the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust would cater for everyone’s interests from affordable housing and renewable energy to ‘cottage industry’ and everything in-between.

Attending the Eigg CLE were representatives from Jura, Islay, Arran and Mull. There was a packed agenda spread over two days including: a tour of the island and a presentation on the buyout of the island by some of those directly involved; discussions on how the Trust enabled home ownership post-buyout through providing plots and their future affordable housing plans; a ‘walk and talk’ presentation by Eigg Electric; and a visit to some of the home based arts & crafts businesses.

Although there is a huge benefit to visiting projects and hearing first-hand how the community developed and delivered their project, the feedback from the Mull CLE was that it was equally worthwhile just having the time and opportunity to sit down and chat with other individuals involved in community development. We ensured there was plenty of time for informal chat and debate as we had booked the whole group into the Glebe Barn hostel which meant there was ample opportunity for lively discussions over lunch and dinner!

We feel that it is hugely beneficial for individuals involved in community development to be able to share with each other their successes AND their worries and frustrations without having to answer the question “So what is it you actually do?”. Don’t just take our word for it, however…

“At the first event in Mull we were genuinely astonished at the near identical issues encountered on all the islands represented. Many of us found we were working in different ways and expending a great deal of time and effort to achieve solutions which may already have been found elsewhere. The knowledge gained at these events has been invaluable on Arran and many of our advances could not have been made without these gatherings – or at the very least would have taken much longer.” –Barry Mochan, Chairman of Arran Development Trust

From a personal point of view, I found these exchanges to be of particular importance to myself as a lone worker with regards to energising and inspiring ideas, collecting essential contacts for future projects and building my own confidence in the role – a detail not to be undervalued in community
development work. Motivation aside, it is reassuring to know that ‘we are not alone’ in the challenges we face as Island Communities, and can comfortably work together where we can.” –
Amy Dunnachie, Local Development Officer, Jura Development Trust

Rural Renewal Community Learning Exchange

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Our Island Home were delighted to be able to bring together organisations and individuals from the islands of Arran, Eigg, Jura, Luing, Lismore and Mull on the 16th and 17th October 2018.

Thanks to Scottish Community Alliance’s Community Learning Exchange programme, we were able to provide site visits to three community led organisations on the Isle of Mull to hear about their projects; the successes,   the challenges and their approaches to delivery and management.

Day one began in Craignure where the group were picked up in the Ulva Ferry Community Transport’s wheelchair accessible, diesel-electric hybrid minibus and their Nissan Leaf Electric Vehicle before making the journey to Ulva Ferry.

The first site visit was to the pontoons at Ulva Ferry. Moray Finch, Mull and Iona Community Trust General Manager, explained in great detail how the pontoons operate, how they sustain three jobs, provide fuel to local working vessels and visiting yachts and the challenges they had to overcome in delivering the project. The pontoons, critically, aren’t just a project in themselves but are very much part of the community led plan for developing the area of Ulva Ferry. We are very excited to see stage 2 of their project develop.

After Moray’s talk, we joined John Addy of North West Mull Community Woodland Company to hear about their community buyout of Ulva and their future plans. Despite the weather having been fairly poor all day, we were treated to a rain free couple of hours which allowed us to have a ‘walk and talk’ presentation from John. NWMCWC’s initial priority is to refurbish the current housing stock to be able to provide secure, suitable and comfortable accommodation for those that wish to live and work on the island as part of its repopulation plan. We visited the island’s Telford Church and discussed the rather exciting possibility of a celebratory ceilidh being held there in the not too distant future! John also took us to visit the ‘Big House’; the island’s estate house. Although built in the 1950s, it is anything but modern in style. You definitely feel as if you are transported back in time to a stately home from pre-20th Century. NWMCWC hope to explore the potential in this wonderful building’s character for a business to develop a hotel or ‘restaurant and rooms’ that would deliver accommodation and jobs on the island.

Before heading back to Craignure, we passed by the two houses MICT delivered at Ulva Ferry. Built using Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), these two units provide large amounts of open living space and incredibly low heating bills; around £300 per year! MICT worked with Ulva School Community Association to deliver these two houses with the intention of securing the future of the local primary school. In order to do this, a Local Lettings Policy was created that would score points per child, per year in the primary. This resulted in the two houses being allocated to two families with six children between them attending the primary school over a number of years. We were provided with the excellent news that MICT have now secured land to deliver more affordable housing in the Ulva Ferry area.

The rest of Day one was spent hearing from the visiting groups. Learning of the projects they have delivered and are developing and also the challenges that their communities face. Despite the varying locations, geographical and population sizes and demographics, there were some very common challenges being presented. Key for us, housing was an issue and a priority for every island.

Whilst we were lucky to avoid the rain on the first day, that was certainly not an issue the next. With the sun well and truly shining, the group traveled to Tiroran Community Forest. Tiroran is a 760 hectare forest in the ownership of the community through the local development trust – South West Mull and Iona Development (SWMID)- and it was here we met with SWMID’s Finance Manager and Project Officer, Celia Compton.

It was the Tiroran Project that led to SWMID becoming incorporated and has played a huge part in increasing the number of SWMID staff. Intended to be a means to an end and not an end in itself, the forest will be host to a number of projects over the years identified through their community consultation and community action plan. One project that will help tackle local affordable housing issues along with delivering biodiversity in the forest and business opportunities is SWMID’s Woodland Croft Project. Celia explained that the proposed project is to deliver 6 woodland crofts with as few barriers to working and living on them as sensibly possible. The idea is to be able to allocate 2-3 hectare crofts with planning agreed to allow for a croft house. Whilst this inevitably increases the length of time before SWMID can look to allocate the crofts, it reduces the some of the time and challenges for the crofter.

This was the first CLE we had organised. It has been massively encouraging to see that the energy and enthusiasm to learn about each island’s work and the discussions that developed have continued after everyone has gone home.

It now appears that far from being a one-off, this is going to be the start of more visits to connect our island communities and their experiences…

Sunshine in Stirling

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Community Land Scotland maintaining its reputation as the sunniest conference!

Friday 18th May saw 100+ individuals, passionate about Community Land Ownership travel from all over the country to Stirling for the annual Community Land Scotland Conference. The theme of this year’s conference was “What can we learn from Community Land Owners?”. The answer predicted in Ian Hepburn’s welcome was “quite a lot”. A prediction that would turn out to be quite accurate!

The keynote speech was delivered by Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. The message was that the continuing growth of Community Land Ownership should be celebrated and supported and that community land isn’t just for the Highlands and Islands but all areas of Scotland. Furthermore, Land Reform needs to be understood as being part of a bigger picture; strengthening Scotland’s communities. This involves cross-sector and cross-policy collaboration involving Land Reform, Planning, Housing, the Islands Bill and many more.

Following the keynote speech were presentations from Anne Fraser, Garbh Allt Community Initiative, and Professor Jim Hunter and Dr Calum MacLeod from Community Land Scotland. The first afternoon concluded with workshops on: reaching one million acres in community land ownership; Crown Estate Scotland’s assets and opportunities; CRtB Abandoned and; Neglected Land and celebrating our community land culture.

Day two of the conference was no less interesting or inspiring. Following the welcome back from Angela Williams, the delegates heard from Rebecca Munro; a resident’s perspective of the CRtB of the Island of Ulva. Rebecca stressed that it is hard work, it can be intrusive on your day to day life but that communities involved in the process need to carry on. At the end, you can find yourself in their position; the community owning their home.

The morning session ended with a panel discussion on Land and Culture chaired by Agnes Rennie (Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn) with: Mairi McFadyen (Abriachan Forest Trust); Polly MacInness (Sleat Community Trust); Dr Issie MacPhail (UHI) and; Lucy Conway (Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust).

The afternoon workshops gave the opportunity for delegates to take part in a theme from the previous day or join in a few new conversations: Resettlement and repopulation in rural Scotland; Engaging young adults in community land management; How community landowners can share knowledge and; Urban community land opportunities and challenges.

As always, a fantastic event that stimulates many ideas, discussions and questions. Our interest, of course, is how community land ownership can help facilitate the delivery of genuinely affordable, suitable and desirable homes in rural Scotland. From the many conversations we had over the two days, it is clear that those who are passionate about their communities owning their land are equally as passionate about their communities having the housing they need.

Amazingly, thanks to Alasdair Satchel from North West Community Woodlands Company, audio recordings of the presentations are available. A fantastic opportunity if you couldn’t make the conference or you want to hear the stars of the show again!

On The Road Again…

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been busy getting out and having conversations with new contacts and having new conversations with old contacts.

As you will be aware, Rural Housing Scotland recently announced that we will have a dedicated set of feet on the ground to cover the West Coast from Lochaber to Campbeltown. We are delighted to have received enquiries from all over the new geography!

Over a couple of days we travelled to meet with North Ayrshire Council and Argyll and Bute Council to have a chat about Affordable Housing in Rural Scotland. The meetings were really positive and it is genuinely heartening to see both councils understanding the difficulties in delivering small scale, truly affordable housing in rural Scotland and the Islands but that the delivery of this housing is absolutely vital to the social wellbeing, local economy, sustainability and future of our communities.

We are looking forward to continuing to help facilitate communities, their local authority, RSLs and any and every other interested organisation in working together to help deliver housing where it may be needed but not understood or identified.

Often, access to land can be a barrier and so we are really looking forward to hearing more about Community Landownership in Stirling on the 18th/19th May at the annual Community Land Scotland Conference. If you see us at our stand or wandering around, come have a chat!

‘CAP’ Cakes, Bat Phones and an impromptu gig: Jura Development Trust’s model for engagement

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Rural Housing Scotland visited the Island of Jura on Saturday 28th April to attend the Jura Development Trust’s Community Action Plan (CAP) event.

That it had to be rescheduled due to some rather awful weather in March definitely ended up being a positive. We were treated to some unbelievable weather, the DT were able to develop an even stronger understanding of how the CAP can help map a clearer route towards the community’s “Dream Jura” and it also coincided with the election of a new Jura Community Council.

Following the trip from Tayvallich to Craighouse, we had a round table discussion (and lunch) with the Jura DT, Cllr Anne Horn and the Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS).

The CAP launch event was very well attended – especially considering how good the weather was – with attendees receiving an explanation of the process taken to create the CAP and how it will be used, a talk from Sandy Brunton (DTAS and Mull and Iona Community Trust) about his experiences of community development and a brief explanation from ourselves on how communities can influence the delivery of affordable housing in their area.

Following the presentations, the all important tea, coffee and “CAP Cakes” were brought out which is always an effective method of encouraging discussion! The more informal discussion held will hopefully help spread awareness of the CAP, how the Jura DT hope to progress projects and that there are organisations who’s very purpose is to help communities build the future they want.

The rest of the day was spent taking a stroll along the Corran Sands path, playing a tune on the ‘Bat Phone’ installation and then off to the hotel for dinner. Safe to say that the local malt was sampled which may have resulted in the impromptu music and singing. However, this is often when some of the most intriguing conversations are held; when folk are a bit more ‘relaxed’.

By the time we were getting on the RIB back to Tayvallich, only 24hrs after arrival, it was evidently clear that there is a buzz on Jura about its future. A large part of that future will involve a bit of out-the-box thinking on how the community can deliver the affordable housing that will help it continue to grow.

Keep Up to Date!

We’re keen to make ourselves as accessible as possible so that as many communities, individuals and organisations can approach us with any comments, questions, queries and proposals relating to affordable housing.

However you want to contact us, just click on the relevant link below!

Social Media: RHS Facebook | RHS Twitter | OIH Facebook | OIH Twitter | OIH Instagram | Lochaber, Argyll and Arran Twitter |

If you would like to contact our staff directly:

Derek Logie, Chief Executive

Phone: 01620 248220

Mobile: 07818 114583

Email: derek@ruralhousingscotland.org

Cameron Anson, Development Officer

Mobile: 07933424812

Email: Cameron@ruralhousingscotland.org

What do Lochaber, Argyll and Arran have in Common?

Answer: From the 1st of April 2018 they will all have a Rural Housing Scotland Development Officer they can call on for advice and assistance should they consider investigating affordable housing in their communities.

Through the Our Island Home project, RHS has been working with various island communities in Argyll and Highlands and we are looking forward to extending our coverage into the Argyll mainland and Lochaber as well as welcoming Arran into the islands we cover.

If your community is within our new area, feel free to get in touch to discuss any comments, questions or concerns you may have about affordable housing.

Email contact is cameron@ruralhousingscotland.org

A Wee Bit of Site TLC

Afternoon All,

Whilst I’m not under 3ft of snow like in other areas, it is still pretty darned cold so what better way to warm the cockles than getting stuck into this website administering show!

Having never tried this before, it’s very much a case of learn as you go and so there *might* be a few teething issues. Nothing ventured, nothing gained though.

So far it’s mainly been the RHS website and not the OIH page that’s been in receipt of some TLC. However, most contact details should now be up to date and I’ve also had the pleasure of trawling through various council’s Local Development Plans and Local Housing Strategies to update all of those links in the Policy section. Feel free to explore those delights!