WHAT do you do after four long years chasing the funds and ideal site for a community wind turbine when things suddenly change and the community’s hopes are dashed overnight? Happily, one thing Huntly and District Development Trust (HDDT) didn’t do was panic – even though a last-minute change of heart by a local landowner and withdrawal of its main funding partner almost bankrupted the fledgling community trust.

HDDT was “probably a few weeks away from closing the doors in 2013”, says Donald Boyd, the trust’s development manager. “But luck, serendipity and staying alert to new opportunities meant we managed to keep the doors open and the lights on.”

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In truth, Huntly had extraordinary luck – the kind that often comes to people who are used to making their own.

Huntly and District Development Trust was formed in 2009 by a group of local enthusiasts spearheaded by founding directors David Sheriffs who ran the town’s Gordon Arms Hotel, Jane Lockyer, a doctor by training but an ecologist by inclination and David Nicholls an international management consultant. Four years earlier Donald Boyd, development manager born and brought up in Huntly, had returned from nine years working in the Netherlands as a sustainable development consultant to co-ordinate the trust’s immediate predecessor, the Aberdeenshire Towns Partnership in Huntly.

It might not have seemed obvious at the time but Donald had come back to just the right place.

Huntly sits on the border of Moray and Aberdeenshire – well beyond the “oil belt” settlements like Ellon, Inverurie and Stonehaven that ring Aberdeen. As a result Huntly has had no population growth since the 1880s and largely missed out on 40 years of oil-related house-building, employment opportunities and new families arriving.

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According to Donald: “We’re a small town on the periphery of Aberdeenshire so we have to be realistic – the council, which is very supportive of the trust, has budget cuts to make and education and social work are priority spends. So if we want to see something happen, there’s no use looking at other parts of Aberdeenshire with envy. You know, ‘Inverurie gets everything’.

The National:

“Living on the edge must heighten our sense of self-reliance and creative entrepreneurship. With the decline of the oil industry in the north-east we know we’ve got to make changes ourselves, and the trust is up for that.”

But the near bankruptcy of 2013 wasn’t the town’s first experience of the high risks that can come with volunteer-led efforts. In 2000, a previous community trust called Huntly Ltd organised an event to celebrate the millennium and the town’s history as the home of the Gordon Clan. It attracted Gordons from America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia for a three-day reunion. Many clansfolk succeeded in rediscovering family roots but financially it was a disaster for Huntly Ltd, leaving some locals nervous about ploughing time and energy into community organisations again.

So the big let-down for HDDT in 2013, must have felt like the tin lid.

Richard Hammock, chair of the trust at the time recalls: “We’d focussed on one site with the best connection to an existing wind farm. When the landowner withdrew without explanation, we also lost our main grant funder and the most promising site after pouring in quite a bit of work and money. It was really depressing.”

But the trust stumbled on. Desperate for funds, it won a piece of consultancy work from Aberdeenshire Council to study local cycle initiatives, which brought in £5000, and kept the lights on just long enough for a far bigger bit of luck to come their way.

Richard continues: “The same week our original wind turbine site fell through, the neighbouring farm was put on the market and days later, the Scottish Land Fund re-opened with the aim of having a million acres of Scotland’s land in community ownership by 2020.”

Suddenly, the plan was stacking up all over again. Since detailed plans and a business case were already written, the trust got in at the head of the queue, was awarded around £320,000 within months and managed to buy Greenmyres Farm before any other bid could be presented.

The National:

HDDT had turned the situation around, bought a farm, got a turbine erected in 2016 with the help of loans from the Scottish Government, Clydesdale Bank and Social Investment Scotland and are now generating income to fund new community projects.

Of course, Greenmyres Farm is much more than just a wind turbine site. The trust now has a farmhouse and out-

buildings plus 63 acres of land and hillside too. The plan is to use Greenmyres as a rural community hub, connecting it by footpaths to the nearby village of Insch, the vast Gartly Moor forest, surrounding hills and of course Huntly itself. They also aim to convert the farmhouse into a community venue with kitchen, toilets,

showers, electric bike charging stations and a base for cross country skiing, cycling, horse riding and exploring the forest.

But there’s no getting away from the massive boost of the wind turbine, which started turning just before its feed-in tariff accreditation expired. It gives HDDT around £120,000 per year after debt repayments and operational costs, a sum that’s likely to rise over time as the debt is paid off.

Donald says: “We’ve moved from being a largely grant-dependent organisation to having our own “no strings attached” income from the turbine. That unrestricted cash means we can suggest joint ventures with grant funders, using our own turbine cash to match funding. It’s not 100% of our money, or 100% of theirs so it’s a genuine collaboration, in which we are not the smaller, weaker party anymore.”

There’s a green thread running through the projects funded by the wind cash so far. Two modern, fuel-efficient hybrid cars can be hired by members of the Co-wheels Huntly car club, netting £4-5,000 a year for the trust. There’s also an electric bike hire scheme and a new project examining the feasibility of producing hydrogen from local wind energy to decarbonise the local transport fleet.

What next? The five staff, eight volunteer board members, 30 volunteers and some of the 480 members of Huntly and District Development Trust will help launch the town team’s 2030 strategy next weekend (Saturday, December 1) in the town’s recently closed RBS branch. The trust has negotiated a short-term lease with RBS with the aim of buying the building and turning it into a business hub. It’s part of a move to make sure all Huntly’s eggs are never placed in one basket again.

According to Donald: “We know the wind turbine finance model will change in the next 15-20 years so we’ll need something to replace the several hundreds of thousands of pounds we get from the turbines a year once our debt is paid off. Whether that’s becoming a social landlord, a community or commercial housing company, or providing housing on a completely different model, or something completely different, we need to start thinking now because time passes so quickly.”

Like many other powerful community organisations, Huntly folk remained resilient in the face of setbacks until the success of their wind turbine and land acquisition. Now they are on a (cautious) roll.

Fortune may favour the bold – but it’s also pretty fond of the determined.