Superwealth sweeps into Scottish island as community watches millionaire's vision take shape

Over the summer, millionaire hedge fund manager Ian Wace opened up his island of Tanera Mòr, served up hog roast and shared his little piece of the Summer Isles with around 300 visitors. It was a big day for a private man seeking to build a retreat from the real world.

Tanera Mòr in the Summer Isles which was bought by millionaire hedge fund manager Ian Wace in 2017 with the island now being developed as a private retreat. PIC Contributed.

Mr Wace’s invitation satisfied some curiosity on the Coigaich peninsula about what the island, which he bought in 2017 for £1.7m and has since developed at rapid pace, is to become. The neighbouring island of Fada has also recently been purchased.

Looking over from Achiltibuie on the Coigaich peninsula, locals are watching Tanera Mòr beat with activity. Up to 150 people can be working there on any given day, with croft houses restored and new ones built, roads laid and paths dug under the management of Summer Isles Enterprises.

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Ian Wace with his wife Saffron Aldridge. Mr Wace's charity for child education had an income of £13.8m last year. PIC: Contributed

Mr Wace’s vision wants to create a “destination like no other”. A new chapel commands a high point on the island and a small ship is moored in the bay, which serves as a cinema and a live entertainment venue. Two cafes, a pub, livestock and a butcher are all there.

“It all looks rather nice,” says one woman who knows Tanera well but has not ventured there since construction began.

"But what we don’t know is who will be allowed to go there,” she adds.

Prince Anne and Harry Windsor are rumoured to be among those who have visited. Mr Wace, a Conservative donor whose company Wace Marshall heavily profited from short selling of shares in leisure companies that crashed during Covid-19, is married to model Saffron Aldridge, with the couple’s royal connections, social circle and high value philanthropy well documented.

The bothy at Badetarbet Pier in Achilibuie which tells the story of the island over the water and its developmentPIC: Contributed.

Meanwhile, workers on the island are spending wages at Achiltibuie Stores, more petrol is being pumped at the garage and boats –- loaded with staff and building materials – cross the water.

Iain Muir, chairman of the Coigaich Community Development Company, which is challenged to build sustainable community in the face of depopulation and lack of housing, said benefits are being felt.

He added: “A lot of the money has gone into local families and local businesses. We appreciate that, but all of us are uncertain to what is going to eventually happen with the island and how it will impact the local community in time.

“We are dealing largely with the ideas of one man, one man for whom money is no object. He can fulfil whatever ideas he has when developing the island. There are risk and opportunities with something like that.

“This would appear to be a model that hasn’t been seen anywhere elsewhere. We can’t say it is going to be like X or like Y as there isn’t anything to compare it with.

He added: "For many people, the jury is out. My jury is out.”

Tanera Mòr, which was homes to 21 families in the mid 18th century, boomed on the post-Culloden herring trade which mercilessly collapsed when the shoals, in a sudden change of nature’s cycles, altered their migration path. It was a devastating shift felt across the north west Highlands and on Tanera Mòr, a slow decay began.

Lairds from Liverpool and then London arrived on the island, ecologist and conservationist Frank Fraser Darling came and the Wilder family of farmers later followed.

Mr Muir said the arrival of Mr Wace, who has transferred Tanera to a charitable trust, had brought tangible positives, with the condemned Badentarbet Pier brought back into use and the Old Dornie harbour improved.

Four properties in Achilitbuie have been bought to house workers. For the community trust, it’s probably a better option than the houses being lost to the holiday market given 50 per cent of properties already serve as seasonal rentals and there are not enough people left to clean them.

Around 80 people are directly employed by the island and roughly half of all workers are from the Achiltibuie and Ullapool area, Summer Isle Enterprises said, with young apprentices being trained in stonemasonry and joinery.

Tanera Mòr was offered to the community but the offer declined following a public meeting, given the level of resource needed to turn it into a sustainable island.

Mr Muir added: “We might have issues about land ownership in Scotland but the ownership of Tanera has not deprived the community of something it wanted.”

Now, around 1000 guests a year will stay at Tanera Mòr at the invite of charities supported by Mr Wace, whose Absolute Return for Kids non-profit had an income of £13.5m last year to support child education.

On the island, there is a “strict no comment rule” about who is staying. Staff are asked not to take photographs and the online presence is minimal given hopes for “privacy and tranquility”. Parts of Tanera will be rented to groups of high-end paying guests to fund its charitable aims.

An island spokesman said: “It’s not for personal gain, it’s about the island becoming self-sustaining. We are training up young people and then when we have finished the project, we can leave them to run this asset for the community.”

Visitors are not encouraged at East Bay as heavy construction continues although day trippers and kayakers are welcomed, but asked to keep to certain paths and respect the privacy of guests.

"There are the right to roam laws we have to consider but it seems to work successfully at the moment,” the spokesman said.

Right to roam campaigners observe that you can acquire more privacy by buying a hotel in central Glasgow than an island, given access laws.

The public, with coffee and cake, can view the island story at the restored bothy in Achiltibuie and will in time be directed to the island’s Herring Station. It will be conserved as a museum to the industry that underpinned island life before the shoals left for new waters through necessity, and this new wave of superwealth washed in.

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