Obituary: Brendan Murphy MBE, social entrepreneur

Journalist and activist who pioneered sustainable development through local tourism
Journalist and activist who pioneered sustainable development through local tourism
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Born: 20 December, 1942, in the Wirral. Died: 27 January, 2015, in Dundee, aged 72.

Brendan Murphy exemplified the art of active citizenship. He had no interest in monetary or any other reward beyond seeing the area he loved grow and prosper. As much as anything his legacy in Highland Perthshire is a generation “willing to effect a better place and a better life for themselves, rather than expecting others to do it for them”.

Born on the Wirral in north-west England, he began his career in journalism in London and Manchester. In 1968, he went to Essex University to study sociology.

On graduation, he became a researcher at Sheffield Polytechnic and then senior lecturer in sociology at Hull College of Further Education.

In 1978 he began to collaborate with Howard Liddell, an architectural lecturer, who was working on the Aberfeldy Project, exploring the potential of the area to be self-reliant in response to the 1973 oil crisis. Brendan and his wife Sandie moved to Aberfeldy to help develop this project.

During the 1980s he became involved with Rural Forum, a group concerned with the needs of rural communities, and went on to serve on the council and to produce its magazine.

He was a founder of the Breadalbane Institute, formed to take forward some of the ideas of the Aberfeldy Project and to promote more self-reliance in the area.

This became Locus Breadalbane, which pioneered sustainable development through local tourism. It secured Scotland’s first Green Tourism award for its achievement with its initiative for low-impact tourism. This led to his working on numerous commissions assisting community regeneration projects throughout the United Kingdom.

In 1981 he founded Comment, a community news magazine that covered Highland Perthshire – a term coined by Murphy for the bumpy parts of the county – which included an on-line edition from 2005.

It was conceived as an open-access platform for the people of Highland Perthshire and he edited and produced it from Aberfeldy, using it to encourage a strong sense of local identity and promote local business.

He also developed his unique brand of investigative journalism. It stemmed from his conviction that the people had the right to know, and he would scrutinise the workings of local politicians and those who came to the area with promises of development and wealth.

For some this could be alarming and unwelcome but Murphy never minded making enemies, particularly if they failed to take up his invitation to respond to any of the matters he raised. It made the monthly issue of Comment essential reading in Highland Perthshire.

His aim was always to set up local institutions or enterprises and tiptoe away once they were safely running in the hands of the community. With Comment, he failed since he was irreplaceable.

In pursuit of the same goal of fostering local identity, he was key in launching Heartland FM, Britain’s first volunteer-run, rural radio service that went on air from Pitlochry in March 1992.

In 1997 he helped found the Upper Tay Development Group, which lobbied for better signage for the area, an improved tourist infrastructure and began the monthly Country Markets in the town.

In 1999 he was awarded an MBE for services to rural enterprise and communications in Scotland.

Latterly he was chair of the Scottish Association of Smallscale Broadcasters, a board member of the Broadcasting Trust, served on the Foundation of the University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute and was a member of the Investment in Lifelong Learning Group engaged with the development of the new community campus in Aberfeldy.

He was highly principled, persistent, funny, very persuasive, without vanity, a loyal and wise friend and outrageously selfless. He is survived by Sandie, who worked with him throughout his career.