The inspirational women improving their communities and the natural world - Aimee Hesp

Community land ownership is without doubt on the rise in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders with many projects being led by inspirational women who are working to improve not just the communities they call home, but the natural world around them.

Angela Williams, Development Manager at Tarras Valley Nature Reserve and Margaret Pool,  chair of Langholm Initiative, are among several inspirational women at the helm of community land ownership projects in the south of Scotland. PIC: Contributed.
Angela Williams, Development Manager at Tarras Valley Nature Reserve and Margaret Pool, chair of Langholm Initiative, are among several inspirational women at the helm of community land ownership projects in the south of Scotland. PIC: Contributed.

I, in turn, have been inspired by their dedication and commitment to improving their local area for their local community, regardless of the challenges thrown up by Covid, severe weather conditions and Brexit.

Almost £3m of funding has been provided by the Scottish Land Fund in these areas during the last financial year and the the money has allowed groups to buy land and assets for their local communities, empowering them to manage their own futures.

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One high-profile community buyout has been the acquisition of 5,200 acres of moorland by the Langholm Initiative. This land, being developed as the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, will restore the natural habitat after years of degradation. Biodiversity is being improved to encourage native species to return, with less sensitive land used for renewables and education.

The hope is that this important natural site, famous for spotting the rare Hen Harrier, will attract bird watchers and nature lovers to Langholm, creating a busy and vibrant market town once more.

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Angela Williams, Development Manager at Tarras Valley Nature Reserve has a strong background in community ownership projects having previously worked for several initiatives in the Highlands and Islands. Meanwhile, Margaret Pool, who has lived in the town for over 56 years, is the chair of Langholm Initiative and has played a pivotal role in the buy-out and many other local projects.

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In the nearby town of Lockerbie, mother and daughter team Jackie and Gillian Moffat are on the committee of Lockerbie Old School, taking on the impressive redevelopment project of the 140-year-old former school. Jackie, the treasurer, told me that, initially, it took some hard work to be taken seriously given they were sometimes – and frustratingly - described as a 'group of housewives’.

Now, the plan is to restore the old school building as a community hub offering business rental spaces, a soft play centre, beauty training room and community hall and kitchen.

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Meta Maltman, board member of the entirely volunteer led Glentrool and Bargrennan Community Trust, decided that community ownership was the most obvious course of action when their only community resource, the local primary school, was due to close.

The likely alternative of being left with a big, shabby, empty building right in the centre of the village drove a team of fellow Board members to carry out a consultation with the community to produce a business plan which will see the building restored into a multi-purpose community centre and art gallery.

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As we come to the end of a busy year, I want to applaud these women – and many others involved – for their many hours of hard work, commitment and dedication given voluntarily to make a real impact to the betterment of their local communities.

Aimee Hesp is the South of Scotland development officer at Community Land Scotland

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