Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn celebrated 13 years of community ownership in early 2020. The land was officially purchased by the community in 2007, on 12 January.
Lisa Maclean, the manager of Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn said: "Our anniversary was the first milestone in what is set to be a very busy year for us.
“More and more communities across Scotland are taking control of the places where they live through community land ownership, creating benefits not just for existing residents but also for the generations to come.
“Community land ownership has grown significantly, and this is very evident in the Western Isles, with over 70% of people living on community-owned land. Communities living on community-owned land often feel more in control of local decision making and have opportunities to create jobs, the ability to generate income which can be invested back into the community and in many areas, population growth is a reality also.
“Galson Estate is one example of how community ownership can support communities to use local resources in a way that enhances economic opportunities while improving social conditions in a sustainable way.”
Another exciting development is that the Trust is on target to have their offices rebuilt this year. “We are in the process of tendering for the rebuild of the offices we lost in a devastating fire last February,” said Lisa. “We have a design team on board and have been granted planning permission. It’s hoped work can start on the site in April, and we’ll have a new office back on site at the end of the year.”
Plans are also in the workings for a brand new mini-festival, Fèis na Fairge, complementing the community's annual autumn heritage festival.
Lisa said: “We support the community to run the week-long award-winning Dùthchas heritage festival for the past couple of years, celebrating the Gaelic language, music, traditional skills and all aspects of our culture.
“Dùthchas has been really successful, engaging the community and visitors in over 30 events across the estate. We thought we could introduce a shorter festival at the beginning of the tourist season to encourage visitors to engage with the local community.”
Fèis na Fairge will align with Scottish Government's themed Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 and will showcase the many coastal assets of the estate and enable the community to further consider how to sustainably manage and conserve the marine environment. Lisa continued: “A programme of events is being planned and we hope to showcase coastal wildlife as well as celebrating the many skills, talents and the heritage from our marine and coastal environment.”
The programme of events is currently being finalised, but Lisa encourages anyone who is interested to keep an eye on the Galson Estate Trust website: https://www.galsontrust.com
The focus on coasts and waters builds upon some of the ground-breaking work the Trust has undertaken to return control of the foreshore and seabed to the local community. In mid-2019 Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn entered in a joint bid to Crown Estate Scotland along with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, to seek to devolve the management powers to a local level. The joint bid was accepted on a pilot basis.
Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn also have a Community Strategic Plan with a 20-year focus. The three priorities for the work being taken forward on the estate are identified as contributing to Care and Wellbeing, Tourism;,and Crofting and Land Use. Lisa explained: “We have an ongoing programme called Sunnd, which seeks to build capacity within the community, helping community-centred approaches to be adopted in relation to health and wellbeing.”
The Trust works closely with other organisations to deliver the Sunnd programme and it is working with the Health and Social Care partnership to explore Community Led Support.
Lisa said: “It isn't about removing services, it's about finding the right solutions for people and working with the professionals to ensure we move toward genuine community-led support and challenge the accepted delivery of services, including statutory services.”
In addition to these community events and the many development projects being taken forward the Trust stays true to its most traditional role.
“We are here to manage the community-owned crofting estate,” said Lisa. “A large part of our core activity is to undertake the administration of the estate and a small sub-group from our volunteer board of trustees supports the factoring of the estate.
"Community-owned estates rely heavily on volunteers to support the work they take forward. Our board of trustees are members of the local community and give us many hours to support not only the core activities, but also the projects and development work that is undertaken.
“Community ownership comes with great responsibility, but great opportunity, and that is evident from the many great things happening on community-owned land across the Western Isles.”