AT just after midnight this morning, the only family living on the island of Ulva was raising a glass to celebrate a remarkable achievement.

Rebecca Munro, her husband Rhuri and her two young children, were marking the 5000-acre island, off the west coast of the isle of Mull, becoming theirs – or at least, belonging to the community – as it formally came into the possession of the North West Mull Community Woodland Company (NWMCWC).

The purchase came just over a year after the campaign began to secure it for the local people, and after the Scottish Government stepped in with a £4.4 million grant to buy it from landlord Jamie Howard.

The toast last night was not champagne, however: in keeping with the huge task ahead of rebuilding the island’s housing stock, and repopulating it, Rebecca Munro planned to celebrate with a soft drink.

“No alcohol for me, I’m afraid,” she said yesterday. “I’ve got to take the kids to school in the morning, and then it’s a busy day with the celebrations.”

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Rebecca, 31, runs the island’s Boathouse restaurant with her sister-in-law Emma McKie, who was brought up on the island but now lives on Mull. Rebecca lives in a rented home with Rhuri and children Ross, four, and Matilda, seven.

She was an enthusiastic backer of the bid by the NWMCWC to buy the island, and helped lobby for it to succeed.

As the island was put up for sale before they had lodged an official request to buy it under Scotland’s community buy-out laws, NWMCWC had to secure special Scottish Government permission to bid for the island. They then had to raise the cash, and had started to do so earlier this year when the Scottish Government put up most of the total price of £4.65m from the Scottish Land Fund. The rest of the cash has come from a mystery donor – a company whose identity will be revealed later today.

For Rebecca Munro, the buyout was the only way forward.

“We have supported the buyout from the start because we saw it as our only option for getting any kind of control. We were on a rolling month-by-month tenancy for the house and we only had a few months’ lease left on the business. When the catalogue for the sale of the island came out, it explained how easy it was to get rid of us and every indication we had was that we wouldn’t be kept on.

“People said we might get a good landlord but we weren’t willing to take that chance – yes, you might get a good landlord but there’s not that guarantee. The only condition for someone to come and buy our home was that they have the money.

“We have had to prove that what we want to do is to the benefit of the island and the wider community, and the confidence sown in us and by the [Scottish] Land Fund has been hugely importance for us.

“They gave out a huge amount of money into this and they are betting on us to succeed – they don’t just give you £4.4m if they don’t think we will.”

That Ian Hepburn, the chairman of community land champions Community Land Scotland, is a director of NWMCWC, probably helped. Both he and Rebecca Munro admitted a slight feeling of disbelief that the buyout has happened so quickly.

But now, he says, the real work begins. First on the agenda is to renovate the island’s six houses, including the Munros’, and that of the only other inhabitant, Geordie pensioner and former fish-farm worker Barry George.

A third house is in reasonable order and is used as a holiday home. Three more will require more work, but the idea is to attract new permanent tenants who will live and work on the island, possibly on crofts which will be set up.

Tourism is also likely to form a big part of the development strategy for the island, which had 20-odd inhabitants just 15 years ago. The hope is that those kind of numbers can be achieved within five to 10 years, with at least one new family coming in within the next year.

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A decision will have to be made about the Thomas Telford-designed church and manse on the island, but upwards of £600,000 will be needed for home renovation, road restoration and agricultural improvements.

The company will also have to deal with the “big hoose” – the mock-Georgian eight-bedroom 1950s residence vacated by Howard – and bring the 200 acres or so of farm land back into decent condition.

There are plans for new woodlands, and they hope to work with the Woodland Trust and other organisations such as Highland Council to make the island a going concern.

Hepburn said: “We are going to invest in housing – it will probably average around £80,000 a house – but at a mid-market rent we are confident we can borrow commercially if necessary to carry out refurbishment.

“There is also a Scottish Government scheme for Highlands and islands houses which could help finance the refurbishment.”

Hepburn, Munro and the rest of NWMWDC are determined to make the venture a success and prove to doubters that an island whose depopulation began with an infamous episode of the clearances, can come back to life.

“Re-peopling” is high on the agenda of Community Land Scotland and appears to have the backing of the Scottish Government.

“We are a business, end of story, and we have to make it work,” Hepburn adds.

“It’s about funding and working jointly and getting the best deal. Just sitting holding out a begging bowl is not the best way forward – we have to be seen to be helping ourselves.”

And if it does not succeed, there can be no question of resale to a private owner – under the terms of the grant and buyout, they can only pass the land on to another community group or the Scottish Government.