Recent research has suggested there are around 5,200 social enterprises in Scotland with a combined income of more than £3.63bn. Around one-in-five of these are in the Highlands and Islands.
In total, more than 112,400 staff and around 68,000 volunteers keep these outfits going. For them and the communities they serve, its hard to imagine life without them.
Fraser Kelly, Chief Executive, Social Enterprise Scotland, said social enterprises were “increasingly significant” in the Scottish economy with rural communities paricularly coming together is “solidarity” to provide services which might not otherwise exist.
Here we look at five communities who are doing it for themselves.
Applecross Community Filling Station. Wester Ross
Once, if you ran out of petrol in Applecross on the Ross-shire coast, you were in big trouble - and some 17 miles away over the Bealach Na Ba mountain pass from the nearest refuel.
Now a 24-hour petrol station is open for business after a handful of residents formed the Applecross Community Company.
The community raised £16,000 for the initial fuel fund from loans and fundraising, including a sponsored walk from the nearest filling station in Lochcarron.
A new automated system - which did away with the need for the pumps to be manned - arrived in 2010 and was upgraded in 2014 thanks to funding from the lottery and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
The payment system is now powered by community owned broadband network Applenet with hopes that a new village hydro scheme will generate the electricity required for the fuel stop, where petrol is currently 115p a litre.
Judith Fish, owner of Applecross Inn, said: “When you live in a fragile rural community like this, you really have to make your own destiny.”
MacTaggart Leisure Centre, Bowmore, Islay
It is housed in a converted whisky bond at one of Islay’s biggest distilleries and heated by the waste heat of the malt-making process.
The MacTaggart Leisure centre - a 25-metre pool, sauna and gym to the heart of the island - is proud example of how communities can take control and improve the quality of life for its members.
Outdoor swimming lessons were held in Loch Indall, where parents would wait on the shoreline with hot water bottles, but a better - and warmer - solution was required.
Fundraising began the late 1980s to convert the old bond, donated by the Morrison Bowmore Company. The Islay and Jura Community Enterprise was set up with donations poured in, including £50,000 from John MacTaggart, the owner of the island’s Ardmore Estate.
Around 3,000 people now use the pool every year.
Bùth Bharraigh, Barra, Outer Hebrides
Buth Bharraigh is not just a shop but a powerful generator for the local economy which supports food producers and crafts people on Barra.
Demand for local goods was highlighted at an island market with the success of a pop-up Christmas shop crystallising the efforts to create an alternative to the island’s main supermarket.
Sarah MacLean, project leader said; “It was really, really promising and we thought we were on to something here. It was exciting, especially as we were doing something off our own back.”
Mrs MacLean secured some lottery funding and a grant from Highlands and Islands enterprise that funded some equipment.
Last year, the shop had a turnover £88,000, with stock including fresh bread, chutneys, shellfish and jams. Some items are brought in from the mainland, such as wool and wholefoods.
Mrs MacLean said: “The shop keeps the money local and that is really important. I want to bring more fresh vegetables to the shop and encourage more people to produce fresh food. So we hope the shop will also help to increase skills on the island.”
Buchan Dial-A-Community Bus, Maud, Aberdeenshire
Sometimes just one bus a day would pass through the many villages scattered over this far corner of the North East.
Off-duty policemen would take turns of driving pensioners to get their shopping from the key towns of Fraserburgh and Peterhead in an old social services bus.
Rachel Milne, project manager, said: “The social work buses would keep breaking down or the cops would be called to course. The community simply got together and decided to run their own bus.”
The project received £92,000 from the Scottish Government, which allowed them to buy two Volkswagen buses
It now runs 11 buses and a driving school which channels its profits channelled back into community transport.
Stonehaven Land Train, Aberdeenshire
This tourist attraction was set up in August 2014 by a group of residents in this pretty harbour town.
More than £200,000 in funding has been secured from the UK Government’s Coastal Community Fund by Stonehaven Town Partnership, which was set up to promote heritage, culture and regeneration in the town.
A second carriage is due to be added this year given the success of the “Stoney Express” which connects the town with Dunnottar Castle.
David Fleming, acting chairman of STP said: “We accept that public funding is often not available but there are funds from Europe and the Heritage Lottery Fund which are open to organisations like ours. Our whole goal is to get things done that might not otherwise happen.”