Over the last few years, the Our Island Home project officer has been supporting Colonsay Community Development Company (CCDC) in their mission to secure more affordable housing on Colonsay, visiting the island in January 2014 when we joined CCDC for discussions on potentially purchasing land for housing and other community projects and held a housing needs surgery.

The economy on Colonsay has recently been boosted by a Marine Harvest fish farm development, which is recruiting several new staff members. The creation of new jobs is vital to the survival of small islands like Colonsay and housing is integral to this.

In 2020 the Scottish Land Fund awarded CCDC £395,000 towards the cost of land purchase for community housing. The team celebrating this award included a woman who, as a child, had been able to stay on the island with her family following the development of more social housing via the Colonsay Housing Initiative, supported by Rural Housing Scotland.

Colonsay Housing Initiative

In 1999 the Colonsay community took the initiative to improve housing opportunities on the island for local people and to provide housing for new families to the island. In common with many islands, the population of Colonsay had been in decline for a number of years and there was an aging demographic

A Colonsay Housing Strategy was developed by the Rural Housing Scotlandin partnership with the community, Colonsay Estate, Scottish Homes, Argyll & the Isles Enterprise and  Argyll & Bute Council. The plan included the building of new housing association houses, the renovation of estate properties, support for self-builders and the development of accommodation for incoming families.

The project brought many positive changes to the island, including new housing association properties for social rent. The community continues to develop housing on the island to meet the needs of the community for now and the future.

Background to the Housing Initiative

In May 1999, Rural Housing Scotland was asked to help help to highlight the housing problems on Colonsay after a local oyster farmer highlighted the lack of housing as an issue to recruiting new staff to grow and sustain his business. He also highlighted how poor housing and limited housing choice was causing local families to leave the island and contributing to its depopulation.

Derek Logie from the Rural Housing Scotland visited the island to meet with local people and discuss what they saw as the main housing related problems on the island. The main problems identified by the community were:

  • limited housing choice – 38% of the islands households lived in Colonsay Estate houses;
  • limited social rented housing on the island;
  • external pressures on the owner occupation market from holiday homes;
  • limited access to land to build new housing and high cost of building;
  • poor condition of Colonsay Estate houses;
  • short and insecure tenancy agreements from Colonsay Estate;
  • lack of housing available for incoming families.

The community identified an increase in the housing options and choice available to islanders as essential to meeting housing needs, reducing dependency on Colonsay Estate and creating housing opportunities for people to come to the island. The increase in the housing options and security of the population would they hoped help to stabilise the population and lead to further sustainable development of Colonsay.

There was a substantial amount of house construction being undertaken on Colonsay at the time. However construction costs were high because most tradesman and all materials have to be imported on the ferry. Land for sites was difficult to obtain and when available sites tend to be expensive.

Despite the many housing problems facing the island there were no plans to develop further social housing there. The local housing association, West Highland HA had only two people on its waiting list for the 4 houses it had developed five years earlier at the cost of £400,000.

However with support from Scottish Homes and Argyll & the Islands Enterprise it was decided that the Rural Housing Service should develop a housing strategy for the island, to investigate housing conditions and needs and to suggest ways in which the different housing issues could be addressed.


An analysis of housing on the island showed there were a total of 89 houses on the island of Colonsay. These are split between the settlements of Kilchattan (27), Scalasaig (24), Kiloran (15), Glassard (8), Uragaig (4), Machrins (3) and the small settlements at the south of the Island (8).

There were 50 houses that fully occupied on the island – 55% of the total stock. Holiday homes made up 38% of housing on Colonsay (34) properties, with properties rented out by Colonsay Estate accounting for for 25% (22) of the stock and owner occupied housing representing 22% (20) of the stock. Public sector housing on the island accounts for just 9% (8) of the total stock. The last council house let was in 1987.

Colonsay Estate dominated the housing market on Colonsay. The Estate owned 44 properties on Colonsay- 49% of all housing on the island. At that point in time, 22 of their properties were let to island households; 19 were let as holiday houses; 2 were empty; and 1 (Colonsay House) was occupied by the estate owner. The Estate owned all the houses in the settlements of Kiloran and Machrins and substantial amounts of property in Kilchattan and Scalasaig.

Colonsay had over 5 times the level of holiday homes in Argyll & Bute generally, where 7% of housing are second and holiday homes. Pressure from holiday home buyers was contributing to house price increases.

Whilst a substantial amount of house construction being undertaken on Colonsay. However construction costs are high £75,000 – £100,000 because most tradesman and all materials have to be imported on the ferry. Land for sites is difficult to get and when available sites tend to be expensive £15-20,000 per house plot.

 House Conditions

The main problems with house conditions are concentrated houses in the private rented sector.  Six tenants described their homes as being in either a poor or very poor condition. The remaining eight stated that they were in reasonable condition. Nevertheless these tenants also highlighted a range of problems with their homes ranging from dampness to poor heating and bad insulation

Common problems highlighted by tenants were Dampness (8), Poor Heating (7), Poor Insulation (7), Poor Drainage (4), and Condensation (3).  Six tenants over 60, mostly single women, are living in houses that are damp, are poorly heated and badly insulated.

Housing Needs

There were a total of 18 households on Colonsay who have a housing need. Fourteen private tenants responded to the survey and all showed a measurable housing need. Specifically:

  • 7 households were living in Below Tolerable Standard housing  as a result of rising and penetrating damp;
  • 1 house was  Below Tolerable Standard due to damp and the location of the WC;
  • 4 households had insecure tenancies;
  • 1 household was overcrowded;
  • 2 households needed adaptations to their homes.


To resolve the variety of housing needs on the island, research showed that a number of different solutions were required:

  • housing conditions in Estate Properties needed to be improved;
  • the security of tenure of island households also needed to be addressed to provide households with strong footholds on the island;
  • greater housing choice was needed to break down dependence on the Estate;
  • more social housing for rent would extend the stock available and increase housing choices;
  • more housing suitable for elderly and disabled people was required;
  • a more flexible assessment of Rural Home Ownership Grant guidance was required to help households to purchase their current homes, houses for sale and to help facilitate greater benefits from self-building;
  • shared ownership or the coming flexi-tenure may help make owner occupation available to those on limited or insecure incomes;
  • a form of temporary housing was required to help incoming households to come to live on the island without the commitment to buying/building a house.

The research recognised that there was no one solution to the housing problems of Colonsay rather there several, interlinked, approaches were needed, requiring financial and time commitments from various of the partners.

 Recommendations for Action

It was recommended that:

  • 4 new houses were build at Scalasaig by a housing association with grant funding from Scottish Homes on land bought by Argyll & the Islands Enterprise. (Scottish Homes, Argyll & the Islands Enterprise, Lorn & the Isles Housing Association)
  • Up to 7 tenanted houses leased from Colonsay Estate by Argyll & Bute Council or purchased by Colonsay Community Development Company with tenant approval and improved with grant from Argyll & Bute Council.
  • 4 Rural Home Ownership Grants provided to enable islanders to buy their current homes from Colonsay Estate and build new houses.
  • 1 house bought by Colonsay Community Development Company to be let to incoming workers.

Project partners