Covid has only accelerated this trend. It has forced us all to realise the importance of having easy access to local shops and local services. It has made us appreciate good and willing neighbours and we now recognise the value of nice parks and public gardens to walk and exercise in.
Linlithgow is not unique. Communities all across Scotland are striving to make their neighbourhoods and towns more attractive, more resilient and more vibrant places to live and work. Often in our communities there is market failure, which significantly diminishes the quality of life. Neighbourhoods are trying to address this by running festivals, operating theatres, and cinemas: reversing high street decline: taking ownership of local pubs and shops: running community halls in addition to providing health and social care services. However, their aspirations and ambitions are often limited by their inability to access the appropriate finance to do more.
Linlithgow, a small town in West Lothian, is addressing this financial barrier in an innovative manner. When the Linlithgow Development Trust needed the finance to install solar panels on the local sports clubs they turned to local people. They asked them to invest in the solar panel schemes. They asked them to become ‘Citizen Investors’ and buy community bonds, confident in the knowledge that the panels would produce a social and financial return.
In return investors were offered a rate of return that was better than what people were getting from banks and ISAs and they also got to assist local sports clubs become carbon neutral and save money. All the finance needed was raised locally and solar panels were installed across 5 sites just before Covid started.
As a result of this investment three local clubs saved £900 on their grid electricity costs despite reduced club inactivity due to the pandemic. Carbon emissions equivalent to driving a car almost 4 times around the Earth were offset. Small grants were given to local voluntary organisations such as Burgh Beautiful volunteers, who used it to maintain the local public flower displays in the centre of the town.
As Fiona Hislop said in her speech “This is scalable”. Scottish Communities Finance Ltd wants to see Scotland become a nation of ‘Citizen Investors’, supporting their neighbourhoods to have similar success to Linlithgow. People all across Scotland can become ‘citizen investors’, which would see them get a good rate of return on their investment, whilst also ensuring the continuing vibrancy and development of their local places.
Pauline Hinchion is Director of Scottish Communities Finance Ltd