The Ross of Mull (including Pennyghael and Tiroran) makes up the area on the south west peninsula of the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides. The Isle of Iona, the tiny island which was home to St Columba, is separated from Fionnphort on the Ross by a mile wide stretch of water known as the Sound of Iona. The Ross of Mull and Iona has a population of 730.
In 2010, Mull & Iona Community Trust (MICT) was the original anchor organisation for the Community Account Management (CAM) area, with the Local Development Officer and the development projects managed by a steering group.
The steering group constituted in 2014 to become South West Mull & Iona Development Ltd. (SWMID), a company whose aims are to regenerate the area by supporting businesses, the community and the location. The Board is made up of 12 volunteer Directors, who work as sub groups dealing with different elements of the business. The LDO post is funded by HIE’s Community Capacity Building Programme.
The Ross of Mull and Iona Community Plan, produced in 2011 after extensive community consultation, outlines the development company’s intended outcomes:
A larger and more balanced population;
A fit-for-purpose infrastructure;
A stronger more diverse business base;
Increase in average household income;
Strengthened local culture;
Improved community resilience;
A fully developed social infrastructure.
In March 2016, the first of a series of Café Conversations was held, with support from Connecting Scotland, to gather thoughts and ideas to renew the plan. An online survey was also created to capture the views of those unable to attend an event.
HIE's Kirsten Logue, SWMID’ Account Manager said: "It is impressive how SWMID has built capacity and resilience since constituting formally. The professionalism and enthusiasm to creating lasting change in the community is inspiring."
In November 2015, after months of negotiation and planning, Tiroran Forest came into the ownership of South West Mull and Iona Development on behalf of the community of South West Mull and Iona.
The Scottish Land Fund awarded SWMID £750,000 to bring the 792 hectares of Tiroran Forest, on the west side of the Island of Mull, from Forestry Commission Scotland into community ownership. Funding was also sourced from a £200,000 loan from Social Investment Scotland, and some additional grant support from HIE to help over the first five years of the project.
The purchase, made under the National Forest Land Scheme, allows SWIMD to manage and develop the woodlands to provide and maintain space for conservation, education and recreational projects alongside commercial developments.
Morven Gibson, LDO for the CAM area, said: “Much work has gone into the project over the past few years and this is an enormous boost for local people.
“We are getting closer to Tiroran Forest becoming an income-generating, community-owned asset, which will be managed by the community, for the community.”
Two further posts have been recruited – a Forest Officer and an Administrator. The forest will be commercially felled and the timber sales will go towards the repayment of the loan secured for the purchase, and will produce a profit for SWMID.
Drawing on shared experience and expertise from other community-owned forests, such as North West Mull Community Woodland and Kilfinan Community Forest Company, SWMID are now planning how best to develop the land once it is felled and the suitable areas are replanted.
SWMID has now working on a Stage 2 Growing Community Assets (Big Lottery) funding application which will enable them to put in a road and infrastructure access to extract timber, as well as to create social and environmental opportunities for the community.
The forest is forecast to turn over between £150,000 and £200,000 by year three. SWMID intends to cover core staffing costs, including the LDO (or an equivalent type role) by 2018.
The Scottish Land Fund has £9 million over four years to assist communities in rural Scotland to acquire, develop and manage local land and land assets. The programme is funded by the Scottish Government and delivered in partnership by the Big Lottery Fund and HIE, both of which have extensive experience of helping communities to acquire and develop their assets for over a decade.
The other key project for SWMID is the Columba Centre in Fionnphort. The Centre is currently not open to the public and is owned by Historic Scotland. Negotiations for a phased lease arrangement between SWMID and Historic Scotland are on-going. The lease of part of this building initially will bring an under used asset into use again as well as providing office space for SWMID and income from sub-letting. Business planning and community consultation is underway and it is expected this project will move forward in 2017.
SWMID are involved with a number of projects which have arisen as a result of the adoption of the community plan. It also provides help and advice to other community organisations on issues including help with funding applications.
The company is currently leading a partnership with the Sound of Iona Harbours Committee to develop the pier infrastructure in Fionnphort and Iona.
Another partnership project, with Mull and Iona Community Trust, Mull and Iona Ranger Service, Scottish Natural Heritage, Argyll and Bute Council and members of the wider community, is to develop a long distance pathway/cycle route from Craignure to Fionnphort.
With SWIMD’s support, the Ross of Mull and Iona community transport scheme has been formed. A Feis in Bunessan also took place in February 2016 to celebrate culture and heritage of the area and to provide tuition for children on Mull and Iona in Gaelic arts.
SWMID has also supported organisations on Iona to take forward their prioritised projects. In May 2016, Iona Housing Partnership handed over the keys to the new tenants of five affordable houses on the island, the first to be built in over 30 years. Iona Housing Partnership raised £60,000 towards the costs through various fundraising events, and a virtual ‘buy-a-brick’ campaign.
The SWMID area will also benefit from the GigaPlus Argyll project to bring superfast broadband to the area.