The Lochcarron CAM area covers 320 square miles and includes the communities of Lochcarron, Strathcarron and Kishorn, which straddle the shores of Loch Carron and Loch Kishorn in Wester Ross.
With an abundance of wildlife and scenery, the area around Lochcarron is renowned for the scenic beauty of its mountains, sea lochs, rivers and glens and for the wonderful opportunities it provides for recreation to the many tourists who visit every year. The larger village of Lochcarron, with a population of over 900, has a number of services such as a shop, primary school, post office, medical centre, two petrol stations, hotels and cafés.
Lochcarron Community Development Company (LCDC, formerly known as Kirkton Woodland and Heritage Group) was formed in 2009 and is operated by a voluntary board of directors. It was established to help revitalise the community to ensure its long term economic, social, cultural and environmental sustainability.
A detailed development plan was produced in 2011 and LCDC became the anchor organisation for the area under HIE’s Community Account Management (CAM) in 2012.
The intended outcomes associated with CAM are enhanced resilience through communities undertaking sustainable community action planning, and delivering projects which have direct benefits to them. A fundamental requirement of this approach is the aspiration to develop sustainable community-controlled income streams.
With funding through HIE’s CCB programme, a Local Development Officer (LDO) was appointed and has helped to drive forward, and continues to progress, a number of key projects.
LCDC submitted an application to purchase the 93ha Kirkton Woods from Forestry Commission, Scotland through the National Forest Land Scheme in 2011.
HIE’s local area contacts and the Community Assets Team worked closely with the LDO to provide advice and support throughout the application process. HIE was also able to assist financially to cover the legal fees, and in 2014 LCDC officially acquired the woodland with funding from the Scottish Land Fund.
The group is now exploring a number of further development opportunities and sources of revenue within Kirkton Community woodland, such as housing rental via a housing association, the creation of woodland crofts or smallholdings, and potential micro businesses e.g. a local firewood business.
Together with OctoberFilms, LCDC built the Strathcarron Treehouse in just five days as part of Sky TV's Great British Treehouse Challenge. The building has proved to be a fantastic, unique resource, a venue for meetings, and a nature classroom for music sessions, cultural events and photo-shoots.
All money raised from the Treehouse hire goes towards running the community woodland and supporting the many activities on offer.
LCDC owned land around the Smithy at Strathcarron, and were looking at ways to develop the site as a sustainable, income-generating asset for the benefit of the community and the public.
Two architect-designed, multi-use workshop units, each 96m2, were built the following year at a cost of £182,000 - with HIE awarding £54,000, £118,000 from LEADER, and the balance from LCDC. They are now leased to local craft, heritage and environmentally-based businesses.
Lindsay Simpson, Development Manager at HIE: "The new units are helping to generate income as well as to encourage local businesses to remain in the area. We're delighted to have supported the group in achieving another valuable asset for the community."
LCDC continued to develop the Smithy site into a busy heritage and cultural hub, with the facilities being maintained by regular volunteer days.
The Hub is used as a base for training courses in rural skills, art and craft, environmental based workshops and research into local heritage. The group also runs a monthly Producers Day Market and Country Day events, helping to raise awareness of the local environment and encourage visitors to the area.
In recognition of the group’s work in identifying and developing the value of its existing local assets, the Treehouse project, together with the workshops at the Smithy, won the ‘Creative Regeneration’ category of the SURF Awards in 2012.
By developing and encouraging good environmental practices, enterprise and traditional regional crafts, the community is actively helping to safeguard the history, culture and heritage of the area for generations to come.
Image top: (L-R) Bart McFleat, Keira McFleat, Victoria Stonebridge and Lindsay Simpson (HIE)
Image centre: Strathcarron Treehouse
Image bottom: (L-R) Victoria Stonebridge, Rob Teago, Terry Hitchen in the pottery workshop
Picture credit Malcolm McCurrach / HIE