Land Scotland: Campervan tour takes to the road to record the stories behind community buyouts across Scotland
Over the next few weeks the campervan and crew will visit more than 20 locations, from the Highlands and Islands to the Scottish Borders, recording experiences of the community buyout process and its outcomes. The information gathered will form a historical archive that can be used to help more places take charge of land in their area.
The tour, part of the 100 Years of Community Ownership project, is the brainchild of Community Land Scotland (CLS), a charity and membership organisation dedicated to supporting current and aspiring community landowners.
Linsay Chalmers, development manager for CLS, said: “This is all about communities, and all these communities have an important and entertaining story to tell. Community ownership has been one of the biggest social movements in the past 100 years and it’s important that we record that as part of Scotland’s history.
“Community ownership has proved overwhelmingly successful, and that’s thanks to the efforts of ordinary people across the country. It’s their stories that we want to hear – what have they found uplifting and what has been more tricky?”
Oral history expert Carol Stobie will be aboard the yellow van, asking residents of each place to get involved and tell their stories of how a community buyout has affected their homelands.
She anticipates everything from spoken accounts and photographs to audio and film footage to be presented, creating a unique historical treasury.
“There are over 500 community-owned projects across Scotland and they all have stories to tell,” Ms Stobie said.
“What is the history of the people in these places? What made them opt to take control of local resources? What were the positives and negatives?
“There is a great tradition of oral history in Scotland and a huge amount of knowledge, and I will be encouraging them to capture that, so we have an archive that reflects the great range of different experiences, as well as the common factors.
“We also want it to be up-to-date, so that we have a solid record of how people in these communities feel today, what their hopes and aspirations are for the future.”
Only around three per cent of Scotland is under community ownership, despite long-standing reforms aimed at increasing this. And this looks unlikely to change any time soon, as a massive surge in demand for land continues to push up prices, putting community buyouts out of reach in many cases.
CLS hopes its story-gathering project can help raise awareness of the benefits of community ownership.
After the opening session on Lewis, the tour will move to Harris. The team then travels to Argyll, stopping at Inverary, Kames and Tayinloan, where representatives of the historic Isle of Gigha buyout will join the session.
Gigha was bought by its community in 2002, and since then – despite some “rocky patches” – the island has been rejuvenated and the population has almost doubled, rising from 92 to around 170 today.
The people of Eigg, owned by its residents since 1997 and now seen as a model for the community land ownership movement, will also tell their own dramatic story, which includes battles with absentee landowners.
Since then the population has grown from 64 to more than 110 residents, visitor numbers have doubled, new houses have been built and the island became the first place in the world to provide constant electricity from renewable wind, sun and hydro power.
Maggie Fyffe, of Eigg Community Trust, said she believes the few residents who were still living there would have left if the community buyout had not happened.
“The landlord had a lot of control over housing and employment and that often worked against the people,” she said. “My own family were not sure if we would stay on Eigg, but we were lucky to get a derelict croft.
“That itself gave us some security of tenure and also meant we could speak openly and critically about the landowner because we had the security. Many people simply wouldn’t speak out because they knew the landowner could make life difficult.”
The tour continues to Islay, Mull and Skye, then back on the mainland to Kyle and Kinlochleven before a short break at the end of February.
It is back on the road in early March, stopping at Ullapool – not far from the area bought over by the people of Coigach, who are using the land to address a lack of affordable housing – followed by Helmsdale, Evanton and Inverness.
Julia Campbell, development officer for Coigach Community Development Company, stressed the importance of gathering the history of local places and the experiences of others.
“We know we have a lot to learn and we need that resilience,” she said. “Getting the stories from different communities is a chance for us all to learn from each other and to learn from our own history and then to plan for the future.”
The tour finishes in the Borders, with stop-offs at Galashiels, Langholm – where the biggest ever community land buyout in southern Scotland was completed in 2022 – and Sanquhar. The final session is in Newton Stewart on March 14.
Meanwhile, community ownership representatives from across the country will meet at a parliamentary reception at Holyrood this Tuesday evening to mark the success of buyouts in many of Scotland’s towns and cities. While buyouts have traditionally been concentrated in rural areas, there has been a major surge in interest from urban areas in recent years.
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