THERE is an island in Scotland’s Small Isles where the community increasingly runs much of its own affairs and generates its own electricity through renewables, as it powers on towards growing its population. No, it’s not the one people usually think of – Eigg. We’re talking instead about Canna.

There are similarities. Both are breathtakingly beautiful but were blighted by the Clearances, have faced struggles with retaining numbers in the community ever since and lie in the shadow in many ways of their tourist megastar sibling Skye.

That all said Canna and wee Sanday, which are joined at the hip by a causeway, are fighting back. In the past I’ve written suggesting the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which owns Canna, has not always got its dealings with the community spot on, but I’ve seen real signs of that changing. A swathe of impressive projects aims to double the population and grow tourism in a sustainable and positive way.

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Isebail MacKinnon, from the Isle of Canna Community Development Trust, evokes just how special her beach and hill-kissed island home is: “Canna is a wonderful place – peaceful and beautiful.

“We also have a dynamic community and are very community orientated, with room for people to be themselves, whether you are one of the 16 permanent residents or just here for a while.”

The impressive way Canna is powered is woven around the same community ethos and drive. “Canna is run 100% on community owned renewable energy,” MacKinnon explains.

“We use a mix of solar and wind power and several of the businesses and visitor facilities are owned and run by the community, many of these on an honesty basis.”

Canna Community Shop is one of those. It provides free WiFi, a wealth of groceries that shame my local supermarket, local produce including local meat from Canna’s farm, hot drinks and a handy toilet. It’s easy to see why it has won awards from the Plunkett Foundation, which supports community-owned businesses.

This summer, the shop will be joined by a new visitor hub, also run on an honesty basis. The toilets, showers and laundry facilities are a boon for the sailors using the 10 community moorings in the finest natural harbour in the Small Isles.

The hub is also a base for the new NTS ranger, who will help both in the island’s conservation and also in visitors getting the most out of Canna in a sustainable way. Nearby, look out for new community housing, which is designed to encourage and retain younger people or families, rather than second home owners.

The Shearing Shed is also new, a community meeting and events space where visitors can make a hot drink, enjoy homemade baking and learn about the community.

I do a lot of work with community tourism body SCOTO ( and this aligns with the “temporary locals” concept it espouses. Visitors are encouraged to engage with the community in a meaningful and mutually beneficial way. The island’s development trust is a SCOTO member.

The most dramatic Canna project is the reborn Coroghon Barn. The man behind the design is Hebrides specialist architect Will Tunnell, who also worked on Eigg’s superb An Laimhrig community hub. It’s a symbolic site, in an old landmark barn by a cleared township.

MacKinnon says, “Coroghon will be reborn for the community and visitors, with a bunkhouse extension. It will deliver an events space with a community library and archive where we can document the history and future of the island. It will be a living museum that constantly evolves and documents the lives of the community.”

Bunkhouse guests will have plenty to see and do. Canna House, famous for John Lorne Campbell’s Gaelic language archive, is a joy.

There is talk of ceilidhs and even wedding packages at Coroghon Barn to augment the annual 10km run. Innovative new snorkel trails open this summer at two sites, with a beginners’ and intermediate trail at each.

Vicki Cridland, who works with the NTS on Canna, is excited about a Dark Skies application she has been working on. She said: “The night skies are spectacular here, with minimal ambient light and we often get the Northern Lights too.”

The community shop has free backpacks to borrow with blankets, binoculars and other stargazing essentials.

Canna is also making headlines in the publishing world. As I was working through this article in my head I saw a massive billboard at Haymarket station in Edinburgh advertising Cafe Canna: Recipes from a Hebridean Island, by Gareth Cole, the cafe’s dynamic owner.

His new cookbook is brilliant, as is his cafe with its fresh Canna seafood, lamb and beef. Who could resist Singapore chilli Canna crab?

Cole says: “We use everything local we can get our hands on. We forage for seaweed and bake our own bread. Canna is an island that encourages people to be resourceful and creative.”

The cafe even brews its own beer. Well it is Canna after all, where everything seems possible these days.

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