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…