When we began 2020, full of plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the formation of the West Harris Trust, we could never have imagined the turn the year would take.
Although now a distant memory, we are thankful to have been able to hold a celebratory Burns Supper before the year unravelled, however, other plans have had to be cancelled, with the momentous occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Trust going relatively unnoticed.
We would therefore like to take this opportunity to revisit the achievements of the Trust over the last 10 years and look forward to future opportunities and developments.
At the time of the community buyout in 2010, there was a resident population of only 110 and 1 child of preschool age. There was no business space to lease, no affordable rented housing and no community venue.
Despite these startling facts, the community believed that a long history of declining population and limited opportunities could be turned around by local endeavor and that a bright future was possible.
10 years on, our population stands at 159, representing a 45% increase, with 6 residents of preschool age. There are now 10 business spaces to lease across 3 different sites, 6 homes for affordable rent, 4 for shared equity and a 500 sqm community facility, Talla na Mara. In addition to this, the Trust’s subsidiary company, West Harris Renewables Limited, owns/part owns renewables projects with a combined generation capacity of 258 KW, which in time, will provide an additional income stream to the Trust. The Trust has also catered to the ever increasing motorhome market through the creation of 14 electric hook-ups.
Much focus has been placed on financial sustainability these past 10 years, essential if the core costs of the Trust are to be un-reliant on grant funding.
As we move into our second decade, we are delighted to have underway a 2 year project aimed at reducing social isolation, an issue which has become more prevalent during 2020. Project staff are working to put in place a programme of events and activities both at Talla na Mara and virtually for those who feel more comfortable remaining at home for the time being. Details will be announced shortly.
We are also pleased to have received funding for the first phase of the refurbishment of the former Seilebost School, upgrading the toilet block to provide accessible toilet, shower and laundry facilities. It is hoped work will commence early in 2021, ready for the summer season ahead. Also planned for 2021 is a custom built facilities block to be located at the recently opened Pairc Niseaboist motorhome site.
A key aim of the Trust is to increase the resident population and ambitions remain to develop further housing opportunities, making it possible for young people to remain in, or move to the community. Our situation is not unique, with property prices increasing to such a level where they become unaffordable for young people to get on the property ladder and build costs being unattainable. However, momentum is building across the Highlands and Islands to address this important issue, developments which we will stay abreast of.
The above would not have been possible without support from our funders, advisors, Directors and Staff, both past and present, and you, the community. We thank you for your support over the years, whether volunteering, attending events or contributing to community consultations, and invite you to continue your important role in revitalising and regenerating the community of West Harris.
With thanks to all of our funders, without whom the work which we carry out would not be possible.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, CnES – Community Capital Regeneration Fund, The Scottish Government, Scottish Hydro-Electric Community Trust, Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund, Big Lottery Fund, Crown Estate, Coastal Communities Fund, Robertson Trust, Aspiring Communities Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund, Tesco Groundworks, LEADER Innse Gall, Community Energy Scotland, John Muir Trust, Community Land Scotland, Awards for All, Tighean Innse Gall, Western Isles Development Trust, Cycling Scotland, Woodland Trust and Bord Na Gaidhlig.