PEOPLE from across Orkney will gather in Kirkwall on Tuesday to discuss the remarkable success of community buyouts in the islands.

Orkney has become a flagship for community ownership in Scotland with multiple projects on different island, supporting fragile rural communities. There are at least 16 community organisations owning 39 assets, with more in the pipeline.

Beginnings on Westray

IT all started 26 years ago with a conference on Westray. The topics for discussion were familiar to many of Scotland’s rural and island communities – the weak economy, few jobs, the exodus of young people.

As a direct result of that first conference, Westray Development Trust (WDT) was set up in 1999.

Over the next few years, community ownership and development was increasingly adopted as a key mechanism to build and strengthen the island economy.

Twenty-six years later, projects under the Westray Development Trust umbrella now include a 900KW turbine, a shop, a community garden, the Bayview affordable housing project, a golf course and youth centre.

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Tuesday's event – Community Ownership and its place in Orkney – has been organised by Community Land Scotland, (CLS) as part of its 100 Years of Community Ownership project.

CLS development manager Linsay Chalmers said: “Orkney has become a community ownership hotspot with one of the highest rates in Scotland.

“With community buyouts, people will often think of the Western Isles and the Highlands, and, increasingly, the urban projects in the central belt. But Orkney has developed into a heartland of community empowerment and achieved remarkable success with a wide range of brilliant projects.”

Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre

ROUSAY, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust was established in 2006 across three islands working collaboratively to develop their communities. The trust now has a wide range of projects including a 900KW turbine, community transport, community allotments, a board walkway, and plans for affordable housing.

Its 2019 purchase of Trumland Estate in Rousay was unusual and exciting as the 690-hectare property includes ancient-chambered cairns and a crannog – just a few of the 180 archaeological sites in the area.

Company secretary Helen Castle said: “I feel we have achieved a lot. To get things done, you need a focused community that comes together and works together.

“Administration and applying for funding is hard work and you need people who are good at that. You need people who have time and who will work hard.

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“The 900 KW turbine which creates an income and that income makes a huge difference for us, as we can afford staff. We still depend on volunteers and external funding is still very important, but the turbine income makes a huge difference."

Shapinsay Development Trust was set up in 2003 to help develop facilities for the 350 residents on the island.

The trust recently bought land in Balfour Village to develop social housing, a community hub and an enterprise zone. Chalmers said: “We don’t have rose-tinted glasses – we know there are challenges but Orkney is definitely embracing the benefits that come with community ownership.

“We want to meet and discuss how these projects have been so successful in Orkney, and the lessons learned from the superb work by the communities.”

The momentum continues

THE momentum for change and community development in Orkney continues. With help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust is working on converting the Old Pier Store in Rousay into a heritage display centre.

It is converting an old boathouse and is awaiting a decision on possible purchase of the Taversoe Hotel. Planning ahead, Westray Development Trust will now prioritise affordable housing and a community space for meetings, pastimes and businesses.

WDT operations manager Gina Renball said: “A big part of our success since the community project started in 26 years ago is that we work together as a united community.

“Then we feel there is nothing that we can’t do. Make it a series of small goals and listen to what your community wants and needs, not what people elsewhere think you might want or might need.”