The West Harris Trust is a community land owning charity responsible for managing 7,225 hectares on the Isle of Harris. West Harris is a special place, renowned for its beaches and wildlife. However the area was facing steep population decline with limited housing and employment opportunities. Drawing on data from the 2001 census, the Scottish Islands Federation notes that, “the Western Isles as a whole have suffered the worst rates of depopulation over the last decade – losing more than 3,000 people”. However, since 2010 the West Harris Trust has been working hard to reverse this trend, and since purchasing the land in 2010 there has been a 20% increase in population in West Harris.
Prior to the estate purchase, it was identified that 35% of houses in West Harris were either holiday homes or self-catering cottages. The Trust recognised that this housing imbalance had to be addressed.
In 2007, local representatives approached the Scottish Government to ask about using legislation to buy their land. This led to the creation of The West Harris Trust in 2010, and the Trust now manages the land to build a sustainable future.
In partnership with Hebridean Housing Partnership, six affordable homes have been created attracting young families to move to the area. The Trust are focused on reversing depopulation in the area, and four more houses are being developed with HHP to increase the population to 170 by 2020.
The Trust created Talla na Mara- a multi-functional community enterprise centre. Located across from the new housing development, Talla na Mara provides space for events such as concerts and film screenings, weddings, a restaurant, three open studios and an art gallery. Talla na Mara has benefitted the local community by providing a hub for engaging residents and tourists, business space for local people and a viable income for the Trust.
The Trust provides rental space for businesses at Talla na Mara, the old Seilebost School and the Cliff as well as electric hook up at two sites for campervans.
The Trust has developed several renewable energy projects, including three wind turbines with a joint capacity of 158kW and 100Kw hydro scheme. A 100Kw wind turbine supplies power to Talla na Mara and the six houses at Pairc Niseaboist, with approximately 55% of energy consumed on site coming from the turbine.
As a result of this progress, the population of West Harris has increased from 119 in 2010 to 151 in 2019. There are now 22 children, including seven pre-schoolers.
To support our sustainable aims of creating a vibrant and thriving community, you can become a Friend of West Harris Trust.
Your donation will go towards a community development fund, allowing the area to be a sustainable place to live for the community and future generations.
As well as supporting a sustainable future, you will receive regular newsletters and invitations to special community events.
If you would like to join please fill out the form on https://www.westharristrust.org/friends-of-west-harris and follow the pay pal link. Alternatively you can send a cheque made out to the West Harris Trust, to Talla na Mara, Pairc Niseabost, Isle of Harris HS3 3AE.
For more information on the work of the Trust, you can follow us on Facebook.