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Island saves only shop

24 September 2013

A small island community on Scotland’s west coast is celebrating saving its only shop from closure.

The island of Raasay lies just off Skye in the Inner Hebrides. Its population of 150 rely on Raasay Stores for all the daily essentials such as milk, bread, the papers and everything else. The previous owner of the shop put it on the market in early 2012 and, when there was no interest from private buyers, decided to close the shop down.

The local community quickly formed a steering group to try to take over the shop. With help from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the local development officers, they started raising the money to buy the shop and cover the initial running costs.

With support from Investing In Ideas, Village SOS, The Princes Countryside Trust and HIE itself, along with over £10,000 raised from selling shares to local people, a total of £180,000 was eventually raised.

The shop was finally sold last week to the Community of Raasay Retail Association Ltd, the co-operative society which grew out of the community steering group.

David Carslaw, who has been appointed as the new Store Manager, was very relieved: “The local shop is so important to life on the island. If there is nowhere people can go to pick up their groceries then they will start to move away from the Island. This could threaten the school and other services and then the community is finished.” The next nearest shop for residents is a two-hour round trip away in Portree, involving ferries and a car journey.

As well as all the financial support, Raasay was able to turn to other Scottish communities which have already taken over their own local shop. Staffin, Sleat and Jura for instance all provided advice, ideas and a few warnings too.  The hope now is that Raasay Community Store can increase its turnover in the same way that those other community shops have done, and so become a sustainable cornerstone of the community for generations to come.

As well as supporting the community to employ a development officer for Raasay, HIE provided access for the shop board to specialist advice in retail business planning and human resources, and a grant and loan package of £92,500.

HIE’s Jennifer MacPherson said: “We are delighted that the local community has saved this vital service for Raasay. Across the Highlands and Islands, HIE is helping communities to sustain facilities such as shops and filling stations through community ownership. Projects not only keep services alive but also create jobs, provide income streams and ultimately help people increase the opportunities in our more remote areas.”

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