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Easdale is the smallest permanently inhabited island in the Inner Hebrides. It has no cars or roads: a walk around it takes less than 30 minutes. There’s only 70 people living there, including 18 children, but the Islanders have been busy with their own plans for the future. Sandra Melville, Chair of Eilean Eisdeal, the Easdale Island Community Development Group, takes up their story.
Our local hall is very important to our community life. It was originally built as a drill hall and is a listed-building. It’s had many uses over the years, including time as a fish processing plant, but was in serious need of repair. We applied to the Community Fund and were awarded £667,000 to buy and refurbish it - the Easdale Island Community Hall opened in 2003.
By keeping the original pyramid-shaped roof and the wooden central column, taken from the mast of a ship wrecked on a nearby island, but incorporating wood and glass in a modern-style conversion, we’ve a hall that is warm, light and fits in with the local surroundings. There’s room for a hundred-plus people and a stage, under-floor heating, a bar and a kitchen. It’s used for social activities and for our successful arts programme for Islanders of all ages and visitors that includes live music, film and theatre.
We soon recognised there was more to be done. The Harbour provides the only safe access to and from the mainland. Its walls are B-listed and date back to the 18th Century, but were in need of restoration. In 2004, we secured funding from the Scottish Land Fund to buy it. A Harbour Users’ Group is managing it while we address the long-term objective of restoring and developing it. In the short term, we’ve carried out temporary measures to prevent deterioration, some dredging work and installed a pontoon.
Then, in 2007, the Island’s Folk Museum was put up for sale. We put other plans on hold to focus our resources on saving it. We applied successfully to the Big Lottery Fund and now run the Museum as a community enterprise. It houses, amongst many things, artefacts from the Island’s renowned slate quarrying past. We are now developing it further to attract more visitors and safeguard our heritage.
By the 1950s there were only a handful of people left here. The island has recovered and now we have a strong, vibrant community who support Eilean Eisdeal’s work towards creating a sustainable island economy. In addition to the Hall, the Harbour and the Museum, we run fundraising events including a regatta in mid-summer and the World Stone Skimming Championships every September. Our next major project is looking at how we can provide quality accommodation for visitors and affordable houses for local families.
The Community Ownership Support Service (COSS) is funded by the Scottish Government to support community based groups in Scotland take a stake in or ownership of previously publicly owned land or buildings.
Community Shares Scotland is a national organisation that exists to raise awareness of the community shares model and support communities who wish to raise money this way.