RESIDENTS of Scotland’s highest village have just voted in favour of a community buy-out of 4000 acres of land currently owned by the Buccleuch group.

More than 80% of those at Wanlockhead eligible to vote took part, with just over 55% backing the bid.

Nan Spowart talked to some of them about their hopes for the future.

Alanna Rogerson, a caterer, lives with partner Lennie Mullan and ten-year-old Ruairi. 

The buy-out is an opportunity for us to do things for the community that are going to really help it grow and develop because it is a special place. It is a bit like Brigadoon – you come up over the hill and there is this wee place and on a really cloudy day it is almost as if it disappears!

The area is so unique in its wildlife and typography. It’s not an easy place to live sometimes, especially in the wintertime, but there is a strong sense of community here and this is a good way for us to come together and have a future for the younger generation. 

I think it is great for kids to see all this and be part of the conversations and debates. I hope they will see it come to fruition from the beginning, understand the democratic process and be able to take it forward in the years to come rather than just grow up and move away.

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It is a bit of good news in amongst all the craziness of the pandemic. It is just something really exciting and refreshing and new to work on and move forward. The village has lots of talent, lots of different skills – everything from builders to caterers, childminders, actors and livestock management so the possibilities are endless.

It is all a bit ambiguous at the moment because nothing is going to move forward until it is voted on by the community and we get the money to go ahead with it.

Some people are concerned because there is not a clear path to go down and, as much as it has been discussed, you can’t make concrete plans without consulting the community and having votes and funding in place. 

I can understand why some might be a bit anxious about that, especially after what has gone on with the pandemic, but I think once things become clearer and people are involved more in decision making that will help.

The committee has been good and has answered any questions I have had truthfully and openly but because of the lockdown there has not been the coming together there would normally be. 

I get why some people are anxious but I feel a bit bad for the committee because they have worked so hard over so many years. However, I can’t see many downsides to the buy-out, although there will probably be some drawbacks. I am not going to agree with everything that is decided but that is just part of democracy isn’t it? What I want may not be what everybody else wants.

Skye Marriner, 17, one of the youngest in the community to vote for the buy-out. She lives in Wanlockhead with her mother, Becky, and three year old brother Oshan.

Everyone I know that’s over the age of 16 voted yes. It comes down to creating a future for the younger generation. Even though I am only 17 it is about leaving a legacy. I think the villagers should own the land and have a say and everything that happens in the village is through a majority vote.

Hopefully, I can get involved in that and I can represent the youth because getting younger generations to come to the village and stay in the village is the most important thing. My whole family is from Shetland, which is beautiful, but the problem is they have not done anything to keep the youth there so my mum’s generation has moved away. That has taken a huge part of the population and the younger people who could have stayed on the island.

I don’t want to see that happen here. We need to have something here to encourage more teenagers to stay because it is truly the most stunning place.

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If the buy-out goes ahead we will have a community council where every single decision will be voted on. People will have their voices heard and that is a wonderful thing, especially in these smaller communities where people who own the land, or councils, kind of forget about them. It is out of sight, out of mind and it is the people in those villages who suffer. With this, those voices and concerns will be heard and dealt with.
Here, there is a fantastic group of people and they love this village so much.

I have so many plans. I love Wanlockhead but I can also say that being a teenager it can be very boring. I do archery and there is a woman in the village who is trained in teaching it, so it would be wonderful to have a little area that could have some targets and we could create a job for her so she could teach some archery.

It would be nice to see an updated park for younger kids and some more tree planting to solve some contamination issues from the old mines. It would be great to have a zip line and rope swings and just make it a really family-friendly village.

Emma Connolly, a childminder, lives with her partner, Ryan Dorward, and children Lachlan 9, Fraser 7, Nyla 5 and Ruana 3.

The potential buy-out is really exciting and it’s brilliant that the majority of the village is on board and can see the potential. It's really good news.

We would be more in control of what happens in the village and the ideas that people have are really lovely. Most people want to keep it how it is but make small improvements and grow small employment opportunities.

We have a lot of families and it would be great if they could work closer to home as a lot of people travel at least an hour to work. It’s difficult as there is not a lot of employment here.

People have ideas of how they would like to grow businesses and make use of a small piece of land. It would be good if they felt they had the support and resources to open their own businesses, be self-employed and be here for their children.

For us and for many other families one of the big things we would like to see is affordable housing to allow a diversity of the population. We rent and we are probably going to be renting for a long time. There are a number of holiday homes, and that is understandable because it is beautiful, but if there was affordable housing here it might attract families to move in. 

The other aspect is that most of the properties here use oil for their central heating system and they all have real fires so we have to use fossil fuel. 

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Some of the things we want are small but really important. We hope the buy-out can protect this area and put in some basic facilities because it is getting badly damaged.

Mac Blewer is secretary of Wanlockhead Community Trust.

The amazing thing for me is that we had an over 81% turn-out of eligible voters. That is truly extraordinary and Wanlockhead should be proud of that.

In the ballot 55.6% voted for and 44.4% against. That was 69 votes in favour and 55 against. It was a majority but we have diverse opinions in our village and we should honour that as we move forward.

We have a lot of support in the community but also need to build bridges and reach out to folks who may have concerns. This is a time for the community to come together and work together. That is essential for the buy-out success.

It does not really matter at the end of the day if you are a yes voter or a no voter on the ballot, we all want the same for Wanlockhead – whether it is beautiful scenery, a safe and peaceful home, or a thriving community for us and our children and our children’s children –  but it has to be done cooperatively and openly with everyone in our community. We enjoy cross-party political support and grassroots support so now we need to get funding support and we simply must do so in a cooperative fashion with everyone in the village.

We are hoping to hear soon what the land valuation will be. Securing local support for the buyout was an important step and a prerequisite for funding from the Scottish Land Fund.

The reason I got involved in the buy-out was that I actually don’t want things to change too much. I love the peace and gorgeous scenery and love the fact that kids can go out and play safely but I think we can create a more sustainable future for ourselves without jeopardising that. We would like to have self-determination and self-empowerment.

Laura Moodie is a community campaigner from Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Greens lead candidate for South Scotland

THIS has been a long-term project led by the community itself and local Greens have been supportive of these plans from the start. The move reflects a long-standing local belief that communities should have more control over land, particularly communities with fragile rural economies.

Dependence on feudal landlords is anachronistic. The Duke of Buccleuch, who currently owns the land, obviously doesn’t have the interests of the community at heart. Absentee landlords don’t build sustainable communities.

Communities across Dumfries and Galloway have been inspired by the project and the region is now a real hotbed of fledgling community ownership projects.

Localism is an absolute bedrock of Green values, and it is a value much appreciated in life in South Scotland. But there’s a long way to go before Scottish Government rhetoric on community empowerment and land ownership is turned into action so that cases like Wanlockhead can become a more common occurrence.

I currently work for Midsteeple Quarter, a community benefit society and co-operative that has ambitious plans to buy out the centre of Dumfries, South Scotland’s largest town, and reclaim a block of the high street for the benefit of the community.
Glentrool and Bargrennan Community Trust, too, are transforming the former village school into a visitor centre and outdoor activity hub.

The Langholm Initiative is another community hoping to buy-out the Duke of Buccleuch; in their case to purchase Langholm Moor, which is currently predominantly a grouse moor.

Langholm Moor also has extensive peatland and I’m hopeful that the campaign I’ve been leading locally against three applications for extended peat extraction will be decided in the coming weeks. It’s clear that communities, when given the power to choose, opt for sustainable and low-impact use of land. Community ownership is essential to building sustainability and tackling the climate crisis.

The stage reached by the community of Wanlockhead is the result of years of perseverance and graft.