“I’ll miss the people, they are absolutely splendid,” those were the words of Lachie MacDonald as he called time on his tenure as Chief Executive of the Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association after close to four decades in the role.
Mr MacDonald officially retired on 1st September having overseen the growth of the organisation from a minute quota of just four houses in Glendale to a portfolio approaching 800 affordable rental properties across the Lochalsh and Skye area.
Speaking to the Free Press this week, Lachie spoke passionately about the development of the association, praised his colleagues and the board for their innovative approach, and expressed his desire to spend a lot more time with his family following his departure from the CEO position.
“I hadn’t given retirement an awful lot of thought before, which might sound daft — in the absence of a state retirement age, I was just working on, ” he told the Free Press.
“You know within yourself when it is time to move on and hand over the reins to fresh blood — because we always need new ideas and experiences from people to move the organisation forward.”
The Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association was established on 21st March 1983. On 1st April 1986, Lachie was appointed as the first member of staff and director and went on to become the chief executive officer.
Detailing the significant impact Lachie has made since joining the LHSA 35 years ago, his now former colleague and the association’s current director of investment Iain McIvor told the Free Press: “At that time, the association had built four houses for affordable rent in Glendale. It now has a housing portfolio of 762 affordable rent and 83 shared equity properties.
“In addition to the affordable housing stock, Lachie has expanded the association’s range of services beyond our tenants to the wider community by taking over the responsibility of the care and repair service from Shelter and establishing the handyperson service — the first in Scotland – to assist our elderly folk in Lochalsh and Skye remain at home for as long as is reasonably possible.
“He also established our innovative energy advice service for the wider community to reduce household fuel costs.”
He added: ”Through Lachie’s leadership, the association has grown from one to 47 members of staff who all have the highest regard and respect for this man.
“I have never heard a bad word said about Lachie, either from the staff, the board or within the community in which he serves.”
While unaware of Mr McIvor’s praise, Lachie was quick to commend his colleagues for their important contributions to those achievements.
“We have a fantastic staff team – we really are blessed. None of this is down to me, it is down to working as a team.
“In that I include the board which over the years has been absolutely fantastic in supporting ideas.
“If the board didn’t think that taking on a handy person project or setting up care and repair, or energy advice service was good, these things wouldn’t have happened — they have been very open about the role that the association could play as a community anchor.”
He added: “Some of the things that we do I think are fantastic and have been copied elsewhere in Scotland – because the notion that we would have handyperson employees installing telecom devices in people’s homes throughout the whole of the Highlands just wouldn’t have been thought of.
“I have been really lucky with the quality and flexibility of the people I have worked with – both the board and the staff members.”
Commenting on his successor, he went on to say: “Neil Clapperton was until recently the chief executive of Grampian Housing Association through in Aberdeen – so it is a relief to be able to hand over to an experienced person rather than someone from another discipline to be trained up by the existing staff and board.
“I think with the senior management now led by Neil and with keeping the same people such as Iain McIvor as director of investment, and our new director of finance services, Graeme Coull, and of course Angus MacLennan as our technical manager — that’s a really powerful team to take the organisation forward.”
I’ll miss the people, they are absolutely splendid.”
HOUSING SYSTEM BETTER
Reflecting on his time, Lachie said: “The housing system in the Highlands and Islands has never been in a better position.
“My ambition was to wipe out homelessness in Skye and Lochalsh before I retired, and while I have not quite achieved that we have made huge strides towards dealing with that difficult issue.
“I am quite optimistic that I am leaving the sector in a good position and ready to meet the challenges that they have ahead.”
Looking ahead to retired life, Lachie said:”My three children and my grandchildren are all resident in and around Glasgow, they are all busy people but I want to spend significantly more time with them, and also my family from Uist – I have sisters and lots of relatives over there so I’ll have a lot more time to visit them.
“And I want to carry on my work as a board member with Am Fasgadh (the Skye and Lochalsh Mental Health Association).
“The only bit of advice I’ve had about retirement that someone said to me was ‘When you retire do nothing, and then do something’. I will take a rest and recharge my batteries but then I will have a look at what the future holds.”
Mr McIvor added: “On a personal note, I am proud to have known Lachie for over 30 years as my director and then chief executive officer.
“He is also a true friend, as are his family, and through his guidance, support and good humour, I am a better person for knowing Lachie MacDonald.
“I have no doubt in my mind that this could be said by anyone who has met this remarkable and modest man.”