Villagers from Wanlockhead have been on a voyage of hope to the Outer Hebrides, seeking answers from locals in Harris and Lewis on community buyouts and land reform.
The voyagers were members of the Wanlockhead Community Trust, a group exploring community buyout options for land currently owned by the Duke of Buccleuch, Richard Scott, in and around the village.
Anne Arrigoni, a member of Wanlockhead Village Council, said “A fantastic experience was had on the voyage of hope, seeing first hand what people power can do and achieve. We were made very welcome and given lots of advice and encouragement.”
The Wanlockhead group got fresh perspective on how to conduct a successful community buyout. It also learned about what life can look like after a buyout.
During the fact-finding mission, members met representatives of the North Harris Trust, which owns and manages more than 62,000 acres of land bought in 2003 from a local estate.
Since then, the trust has directly created nine jobs and indirectly supported the creation of many others through businesses thriving since the buyout.
It supports the construction of units for local businesses and the funding of local enterprises in the form of grant proposals.
Lincoln Richford, chairman of Wanlockhead Community Trust, was astounded at what he saw.
“What communities in the Outer Hebrides have accomplished when it comes to buying their lands and managing them for the greater good is simply staggering,” said Lincoln. “The can-do attitude of the locals here is incredible. We can learn from this.”
Wanlockhead villagers visited many sites that the North Harris Trust and the Galson Estate Trust in Lewis manage for various uses, learning about renewable energy, conservation, business development, affordable housing and ecotourism, and it became apparent that communities here and in the Outer Hebrides face the same challenges of rural isolation, lack of jobs and a dearth of sustainable business opportunities.
Isobel Gibb, treasurer of the community trust, said: “It’s clear that communities in the north and south of Scotland are facing the same socio-economic challenges.
“However, by moving forward with land buyouts in the Outer Hebrides, and assertively following their hearts and heads, locals have ensured a bright future for themselves.”
Expressing thanks to the two Trusts, Lincoln added: “By looking at these organisations’ collective efforts, we now have a blueprint for success with our own buyout.”
Finance for the trip came from the Scottish Government-funded Community Learning Exchange.
The community trust is organising more outreach events and will soon be registering an interest with the Scottish Government in buying more than 14,500 acres of estate-owned land in and around Wanlockhead.
Negotiations with the duke regarding the proposed community buyout will continue this month.