THE people of Eigg celebrate twenty years of community control in 2017 and as the ferries winter timetable begins and the tourist torrent abates for another year, thoughts on the tiny Hebridean island are turning to that historic victory for people power – a feat many onlookers considered impossible.

The centre-piece will be a unique photographic exhibition by Danny North who’s photographed the Kaiser Chiefs and many of the world’s biggest rock bands. He’s decided to make a photographic portrait of the 100 Eiggachs – young and old –and the project has meant several visits. Why does a man in demand across the world choose to invest time and energy in Eigg?

“Och it seems he was on holiday on Skye and kept hearing about us, so he came over, had some good craic with folk in the tearoom and decided the portrait project was the best way to help our 20th anniversary celebrations.”

This modest explanation by the Secretary of the Heritage Trust Maggie Fyffe reveals the key to Eigg’s success – a powerful blend of shrewd decision-making and ready, relaxed companionship which converts most visitors into instant friends and doughty supporters. It happened to me in 1991 when I first visited and soon became a Trustee of the long buyout campaign.

As human ecologist and Eigg Trust founder Alastair McIntosh recalls in his book Soil and Soul: “It was not unknown for a family to be evicted for not running out to open the gate for the Laird’s Range Rover, or a crofter having to pay for seaweed to fertilise a potato patch. Even requests for a community rubbish dump got nowhere. Most residents therefore had heaps of rat-infested garbage at the bottom of their gardens.”

Rats are still a minor problem – but the days of cap-doffing, uncertainty and chronic hesitation are long past. Nowadays, chat in the tearoom focuses on new projects, old friends and struggles with sheep, drains and mainland authorities.

Personal connections are still the only real currency on Eigg – and good-natured banter lasts for hours before and after each ferry arrival. But thanks to the buyout in 1997, that soft, talkative Hebridean welcome is now sustained by a structural backbone that works to support islanders – not absentee landowners.

One of the islanders’ biggest achievements is Eigg Electric. Completely off-grid, the island now runs its own, community-owned renewable energy project with a blend of energy from solar panels, hydro-dams, and wind turbines which keep the lights on 90 per cent of the time. Each house is allocated 5KW of energy – if the household exceeds that cap they trigger a trip switch and the house is disconnected. Eiggachs have a good sense of energy use and switch one appliance off as they switch another on.

The end of dependence on dirty, polluting, expensive diesel generators transformed island life. But perhaps the biggest change has been the plethora of new projects pioneered by twenty and thirty something children of the buyout pioneers, incomers, partners and friends.

Karl Harding who originally lived on neighbouring Rum, has already self-built one house using the islanders’ shared equity model. Now he’s building another for a friend. The shared equity model means quarter acre plots of land are free for individual house builders but they must pay the market value of the land to the Trust if the house is ever sold. There’s also a loose cap of two new homes every year to ensure maximum involvement by locals in building projects (most Eigg men acquired construction skills when they became members of the Eigg Building Cooperative after the buyout to bring homes up to a habitable standard). This canny attitude towards development also ensures the Eiggtricity system isn’t overloaded. All these rules of island life have successfully stopped land speculation, avoided inundation by second homes and encouraged a sustainable mindset.

Karl’s new home will have panoramic views of the spectacular, mountainous coastline from Ardnamurchan Point to Skye but no heating save wood-burning stoves and solar panels. The main living space has thick beams of local sycamore, larch and pine – dispelling decades of uncertainty about the suitability of native species in several elegant strokes. Karl’s stunning new home will cost around £40k all up. That wouldn’t even buy a plot of land on the mainland.

Karl’s neighbour, musician Damien Helliwell completed his “straw bale” home five years ago using the same shared-equity scheme. Five years of Mediterranean summers and stormy winters later, Damien’s house is still warm, universally admired and above all – intact.

Small businesses are scattered around Eigg. Catherine Davies is a basket maker whose creations have been used in the Amazon blockbusting series Outlander, Johnny Lynch is the musician behind the Pictish Trail, Jenny Robertson makes sought after lace-ware, Libby Galli does felting, Greg Carr and Kenneth Kean are part-time photographers – and all reach a wider mainland audience thanks to the Eigg Box scheme devised by former Channel4 producer turned island resident Lucy Conway. The Eigg Box is an online showcase of craft-makers, which has helped create a distinctive Eigg brand, boosted by the community-owned company Hebnet which uses radio wireless to get islanders online. Like many remote communities Eiggachs hope BT will soon be forced to identify communities it will never connect, thus releasing them to obtain better, subsidised, superfast services themselves.

A bike and canoe rental service, Eigg Adventures, was set up by Owain Wyn Jones and his wife Laraine – the story of their arrival has the now familiar combination of coincidence, luck and personal connection.

Owain was part of the support crew for Sean Conway who swam the length of Britain in 2013 to raise money for the Warchild charity. “We stopped on Eigg for supplies because we’d heard the shop was good. There was Maggie Fyffe standing at the pier holding an envelope with £70 raised by islanders for our charity. Immediately I fell under the islanders’ spell.”

A year later he and his wife took the decision to move permanently from their home in Shropshire. “The infrastructure upgrade (piers, internet, housing) has been crucial to our decision.”

Eigg also has its own micro-brewery – the Laig Brewery – set up in 2014 by friends Stuart McCarthy and Gabe McVarish. The wooden building was erected in three days flat thanks to Toby Robinson from neighbouring Knoydart who masterminded the design and organised the dozens of local people who pitched up as volunteer labour. The eco-conscious Eigg brewers limit their marketing to the West Lochaber area – “beer is cheap and heavy so it shouldn’t really be shipped long distances” – but they have already outgrown their new premises.

Indeed every business in the cluster by the pier now needs more room to expand and the Trust is currently trying to find grant cash to subsidise development.

The island’s social history has been documented by French-born resident Camille Dressler – also chair of the Scottish Islands Federation and local Comunn Eachdraidh (History Society).

Her latest venture is Croft Number 6, a blackhouse that was home to the hardy resident Morag Campbell and stands almost as it did when she left for an old folk’s home on the mainland in 1993 since the landowner wouldn’t make any land available for sheltered housing.

Beside Morag’s few “fancy” belongings – a sea chest that belonged to her merchant seaman brother, a patchwork quilt of old curtains and other cherished nick-nacks – sit two floors covered with the tools and implements needed to sustain island life.

Actually, modern Eiggachs are reinstating those traditional values of personal and community self-sufficiency. The folk who fit in most easily have skills that benefit the community as well as themselves – and those who excel at storytelling, music making and writing poetry are as highly rated as other experts.

In a funny way, Eigg’s inhabitants have spent thirty long years simply to come home – to be at home – on their own terms. Ten years fundraising for the community buyout and twenty years building the capacity to keep their island open, popular, sustainable and afloat.

In truth though, whatever big names grace the 20th anniversary celebrations on June 12 next year – the effortless buoyancy of Eigg’s population is the biggest cause for celebration.