It started with a few pontoons. The yachties came and filled them. More pontoons were added and more yachties came. The derelict hotel near to the harbour was bought by a local businessman who invested with other locals, using local trades, creating 30 jobs. A path was built from the village where the ferry came in to three local distilleries so foot and cyclists could visit more safely and visitor numbers soared. The bank closed down and the community bought the building to house the harbour master and the community development officer. A chef put a new restaurant in an old café now open all year as there were more locals too. The petrol station was bought out by the community to save on a 20-mile round trip and provided four more jobs. The ground next to the petrol station was turned into camper-van facilities. Both now provide the community with trading income for their community needs.
This is South Islay Development, one of nearly 300 active organisations which are members of Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS), all of which have, with small, local actions, made huge impacts in and on their areas.
The increasing ownership of public buildings and land, much of which has not been used for decades, has created opportunities for real innovation by communities taking over unloved buildings and waste ground and turning them into businesses or setting up projects that have multi-layered benefits to their community. Development trusts all over Scotland from Newcastleton to Unst run projects that encourage healthy eating, provide training for unskilled and marginalised adults in very challenged areas. They create microbusiness-incubator spaces, provide nurseries, run community transport buses, electric car clubs, recycling centres and cafes. They own timber forests, multi-million-pound hydro-schemes, shops and pubs. Community enterprise both urban and rural isn’t a replacement for the private sector but it will often operate where the private sector chooses not to and be the catalyst for new opportunities in the places they are.
All these projects and businesses are overseen by an army of volunteer board members who have to be confident enough in themselves and their community to take on these plans. The DTAS survey of member organisations in 2019 registered 2,348 volunteer board members with a combined turnover of £57.9 million a year. All this is underpinned by more than £165 million of assets and land through which they regenerate their communities. The responsibility on the shoulders of our community board members is heavy and daunting. Having volunteers responsible for steering development trusts is crucial and building their skills and confidence to take over the responsibility for a building or land in their community is the starting point for a community’s pathway to asset ownership.
DTAS delivers two programmes for the Scottish Government to support communities on their journey, two of which are dedicated to helping communities help themselves with buying buildings and land and financing projects. They are Community Ownership Support Service (COSS) and Community Shares Scotland (CSS). We also have a dedicated team of staff to support those who are already members, who have acquired their land and assets, as that is only the starting point for regeneration.
Successful outcomes can also be linked to community organisations that have at least one paid member of staff. These development officers are totally dedicated to their places and the cost of these staff, whether initially from public sources or later from community trading income, allows communities the capacity to not just recognise the ‘what’ needs to be done; but to provide the ‘how’.
Community-powered regeneration is a powerful way of addressing local needs with local solutions. Not all communities will start with pontoons but all communities need confidence and guidance to take over assets and land which no one else wants and transform their places.
Let’s support them.
On the18th of March, the Scottish Government announced an investment of £350 million to support local communities and households in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. £40 million of this support was to be channelled through a new Supporting Communities Fund, introduced specifically to support the rapidly growing and inspiring community efforts at a local level to respond to Coronavirus.
DTAS is a key delivery partner of this fund and over the last three weeks, has processed applications from over 60 members involving grants totalling almost £2.5 million! Across the whole of Scotland 128 DTAS members have been awarded grants totalling £4,216,879 to support community responses to the impact of the Coronavirus.
Projects supported cover a wide range of activity delivered by community anchor organisations1, ranging from the supply of essentials like food and prescriptions, to wellbeing check-ins and benefits advice – for the most part, co-ordinated and delivered by volunteers.
Whilst it is not surprising that DTAS members are at the heart of this activity, it is heartening to see just how many are stepping up to help support their communities, particularly when you consider the financial challenges that the pandemic and resulting lockdown has created for development trusts.
The circumstances surrounding all of this activity are far from ideal, but the response from organisations like development trusts and other community anchor organisations, hammers home the fact that it is the people in communities who are the biggest assets and therefore the best placed to respond to and meet local need.
DTAS is under no illusion that there are hard times ahead when it comes to adapting to the ‘new normal’ once the current restrictions ease and the full financial implications of Coronavirus are understood. We want to reassure members that we are all in this together and we will do all that we can to continue to support you to navigate your way through these uncertain times.
Commenting on the support received by Cranhill Development Trust, Chief Executive Marie Ward said:
“Because of our presence in Cranhill, we were aware very early on that there would be lots of people in our local community that would really struggle to make ends meet as a result Coronavirus and the lockdown restrictions imposed.
“Almost immediately we were supporting over 160 households locally with food and basic supplies every week. This has since risen to over 200 households and we simply could not have done this without the support from the Scottish Government’s Supporting Communities Fund.
Thanks to this support we have been able to ensure that families are able to provide children with a hot and nutritious meal every day, as well as supporting those that find themselves unemployed and in a long queue to access Universal Credit with advice, signposting and emergency gas and electricity top ups.”
1 A community anchor organisation will be a community body who is able to, and has the capacity to, act as a local contact in their community. They will be well established in the community with a good understanding of their community the challenges arising from the current Covid-19 emergency, or the ability to readily gather this information and able to connect and co-ordinate activity in their area with other local groups and with public sector responses.
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.