Investment in Skye’s infrastructure is a key issue identified by SkyeConnect in a recent survey of island residents.
While many people are content to lobby politicians or just wait for the Government to loosen its purse strings, there are communities throughout Skye and Lochalsh who are just getting on with things and achieving remarkable results with very little acknowledgement outside of their local area.
These heroic and unsung organisations are the community trusts which galvanise local ideas, ambition and volunteer spirit to take big capital projects from concept through planning and fund-raising to construction and realisation of local dreams. The results are projects which genuinely improve the lives of today’s residents – as well as visitors – and leave a legacy for future generations.
What is even more remarkable is the fact these projects are achieved with very little access to loans. The good work of the community trusts is achieved through dogged determination to raise funds within the community combined with seriously clever navigation of the minefield of grant applications. By steadily securing the funds from a myriad public pots and local activities the trusts ensure each project is not only affordable now, but sustainable for generations to come.
In Staffin – home to the iconic Old Man of Storr – the local community trust has raised over £660,000 to upgrade existing footpaths and create new ones. There will be new parking, “welcome” structures and interpretation boards at all sites. The whole project will result in what the trust is calling “Skye Ecomuseum” which will encourage visitors to spend more time and therefore more money in Staffin.
In the north west of Skye, the Glendale Trust covers a huge area that attracts 600,000 visitors a year – many travelling the long and winding single track road to the top five hotspot of Neist Point.
The trust, under the leadership of Tim Hunter-Davies and three new directors, is working hard to develop sustainable facilities for the community and tourists. They have taken ownership of Meanish Pier and the foreshore, creating opportunities for local residents and regional businesses alike. It will be run commercially and provide income to enable the Trust to invest in further sustainable community projects.
Glendale – which was the subject of Scotland’s first community buyout back in 1908 – is rich in history and the trust is also looking to develop projects that preserve and share the story of the area, as Tim Hunter-Davies explains: “As well as being instrumental in land reform in the last century, Glendale has a rich heritage stretching back through the centuries. A steamer used to sail daily from Loch Dunvegan and was used as a point to transport many people away from Scotland during the Highland clearances. We want to preserve and share our history with the community and visitors.”
In south Skye is the Sleat Community Trust. It has been working hard to provide and improve lifeline services for the community that also benefit visitors arriving and leaving Skye on the Armadale/Mallaig ferry.
The SCT currently provides shop, post office and fuel services in two buildings no longer fit for purpose. Over £730,000 has been raised from public and private sources to build a new shop with a community “social” space and offices for the employees of the Trust. They hope to open the new shop in early summer 2020.
In addition, the purchase by the Trust of the 440-hectare Tormore Forest in 2010 continues to create additional sources of income, including selling housing plots as well as an attraction for the community and visitors alike. As trust business development manager Mike Shucksmith explains, the success is based on a combination of commercial and voluntary activity.
He said: “To maintain the forest, we have to generate income so we sell split logs to the community, create woodchip for biomass boilers and are developing a micro-hydro scheme. At the same time, we have a vibrant volunteer culture in Sleat who have created a network of paths, social areas and a polytunnel where local school children can help grow saplings to regenerate the forest. The trust also operates ‘Skyenet – a community broadband network – a community transport scheme, Tormore Explore Forest School and the Visit Sleat tourism group, which promotes the area as a destination of choice for visitors.”
From the Sleat Peninsula to the gateway to Skye in the south where a new access route to the island is being created by the members of the Broadford and Strath Community Company. They are developing a cycle path all the way from Kyle of Lochalsh to Broadford. One of the project pioneers is keen local cyclist, Andy Neison.
“I used to commute from Teangue on Sleat to Kyle by bike,” he said. “I was really unnerved by the road from Breakish to Kyle with a high volume of fast-moving traffic. When friends told me about the old road from Broadford to Kyle I started exploring sections of it. It’s a good starting point and will become a pioneer project for the highlands.”
After receiving a grant of £54,000 from Sustrans, a sustainable transport charity, to fund engineering and traffic surveys, the Trust is now working to secure funding for a project officer to take the Skye Cycleway to the next phase.
The community is heavily invested in the project with volunteers coming out in all weathers to clear sections of the old road, but this is a long-term project with hundreds of thousands of pounds ultimately needed to complete the full route from Kyle to Broadford.
Over the Skye bridge, the Kyle and Lochalsh Community Trust is creating a vast community and visitor experience on a piece of land known as the Plock.
Securing funding from the Scottish Land Fund enabled the Trust to take ownership of the Plock and the old Skye Bridge toll office and develop a masterplan for these two community assets. On the Plock itself, there will be a hub building with cafe, carpark and toilets, a network of accessible paths, a “pitch and putt” course, a Viking living village, accommodation pods, a watersports centre, wildlife hide and a for thrill-seekers a huge zipline across the bay.
Jo Wawrzyczek of the trust expects the Plock to attract 86,000 visitors a year.
“This is an ambitious project that will cost almost £7million,” she said. “However, it is very important for local people and businesses as it will help to create a great community space as well as keep visitors in our community for longer.”
The trust also owns and manages the public toilets and pontoons in Kyle which will be a source of income for the project. With the aim of making the project self-sustaining, the Trust plans to lease the café and watersports centre on the Plock as well as generating income through the accommodation pods.
An equally ambitious project is being planned for Skye’s capital, Portree. At the moment the harbour area has just one pontoon and is heavily congested with lorries and buses mingling with pedestrians in a small space.
Inspired by the success of other community-driven harbour developments such as Tobermory on Mull, Portree and Braes Community Trust want to maximise opportunities for local people and visitors through taking ownership of the harbour and improving facilities.
The trust is currently in talks about relocating the oil tanks at the pier head which would be a breakthrough for the project and open up commercial opportunities. They are also considering a new road from the south to improve access and divert traffic away from the town centre. But according to development officer Fiona Thompson a new breakwater and pontoons will be the real game-changer for Portree.
She said: “There have been aspirations for improvements to facilities at the harbour for over 30 years with little major investment. The harbour group are now closer than ever to realizing the community’s vision for a new, vibrant, welcoming port. A breakwater will allow us to provide overnight berths and efficient, comfortable transfer for cruise ship passengers, while a visitor centre will provide a warm highland welcome to visitors from across the globe. This project will be transformational for Portree and surrounding areas.”
The community trusts of Skye and Lochalsh all have several features in common. They have vision, ambition, energy and drive and they are full of volunteers who are committed to bringing long-term projects to fruition for the benefit of their community – and their visitors – for decades to come.
This article was written by Skye Connect’s communications director Simon Cousins.