A group of islanders who host the World Stone Skimming Championships are embarking on one of the most unusual community buyout bids in Scottish Land Fund history.
Organisers of the competition will ask for grant assistance to buy a small, unused quarry where the event takes place each September on Easdale island, south of Oban.
The annual charity event, which raises funds for local community projects, was almost cancelled in 2012 when island owner Jonathan Feigenbaum charged the organisers a £1,000 fee.
By buying the quarry from Mr Feigenbaum for about £10,000, Eilean Eisdeal would be in charge of the contest, guaranteeing a fee-free future for an event that attracts hundreds of competitors from around the world.
Easdale has a population of about 60 people. Duncan Smallman, chairman of Eilean Eisdeal, said: “We are going to try and buy the quarry because over recent years we have been asked for £1,000 to just do a charity event.
“With a fee of £1,000, you are looking at 12-16 per cent of the overall gross income that we get from the stone skimming event, so it is a significant amount.” He added: “We put in a stage one application to the Scottish Land Fund and that has been accepted, so we are now going through to put in a stage two application. I haven’t heard if our case is unique, but it is a bit of an unusual one.”
Mr Smallman said Mr Feigenbaum had agreed to sell, adding: “He said yes, but said he didn’t have a valuation for it. It was down to us, so we got support from HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise) to do that.
“We went back to Jonathan and said ‘£10,000 is what is has been valued at’. He wanted £14,000, but then agreed to £10,000. It’s for the quarry, plus some of the land around it – which takes in where the spectators sit – is included.” Mr Smallman said Eilean Eisdeal hoped if the buyout plan for the quarry succeeded, they may be able to use their acquisition not just for the annual stone skimming competition, but as a link to Easdale Museum, which tells the history of the local slate industry.
Mr Smallman said: “We could put signage around and there is potential to incorporate the quarry into part of the museum.
“The quarries are scheduled ancient monuments, so you can’t do any development on them. It’s a unique part of the industrial history of Scotland.
“If we can do something to bring just one quarry to life, as part of the story of Easdale and part of Scotland’s industrial heritage, it would be good.”
Argyll MSP Michael Russell said he would be happy to back the application to the land fund. He said: “I am very supportive of communities who want to own the assets which they use and need.
“There has been a problem for some time with the quarry and it makes sense to try and solve that as well as ensure that the community can develop plans for other usage which can benefit them.”
Oban-based solicitor Edward Thornton, who represents Mr Feigenbaum, said: “Any comment would be at a later date.” A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There is no current application, though there has been early discussions about a possible one in the future.”