In 2010 the West Harris Trust, a community company with open membership to all residents, became the first community to purchase its crofting estate from the Scottish Government through the Community Empowerment Act.
On the 7225 hectare estate there is a population of about 120 people, spread between the crofting townships of Losgaintir, Seilebost, Horgabost, Na Buirgh and Sgarasta Mhor. The area is nearly all under crofting tenure either as individual crofts or as common grazings. There are 52 individual crofts and four common grazings.
The community aims to grow the local population, create new housing opportunities, generate renewable energy and safeguard the rich natural and cultural heritage.
Promoting inward investment
Since owning the land the West Harris Trust has undertaken a range of projects. To promote tourism on the island, it has installed an 81m pontoon at Horgabost beach, and has opened four motorhome hook-ups within the grounds of the old school at Seilebost. They also provide several camping spots.
One of the Trust’s flagship projects is the Community Enterprise Centre in Horgabost, which is nearing completion. The centre, to be called Talla na Mara, will provide 120m2 of office/business/studio space, an exhibition area and a performance venue with full catering facilities together with three campervan pitches.
Beside the centre, the Hebridean Housing Partnership commissioned six houses, which are due for completion in 2017. These are the first ever affordable homes in the area, and will be a combination of rented and shared equity housing units. The Trust sees these as playing a significant part in increasing the local population to their goal of 170 people by 2020. To achieve this goal, the Trust also made available eight affordable housing plots.
Other inward investment projects have included the construction of two industrial shed units, which has resulted in two marine engineering companies locating in Seilebost.
In the original business plan for the purchase of the estate, the Trust identified renewable energy as a sustainable income stream. To this end, it installed two wind turbines (53kw and 5kw), and a third, a 100kW turbine to serve Talla na Mara and the neighbouring houses is also being installed.
Work also begun on a hydro scheme at Gleann Dubhlinn.
The Trust is taking forward an ambitious local energy project with support from HIE through the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP).
As the first project in the Highlands and Islands to be supported through the new programme, West Harris Renewables Ltd - established by the Trust to manage the project – is investigating the installation of a new, locally managed, innovative green energy system.
The feasibility of installing an array of small scale wave energy units in the Sound of Taransay is being investigated. The wave energy generated would power and increase the sustainability of the new Community Enterprise Centre and social housing units which are also being developed at the site at Rubha Romagaidh in Horgabost. The wave energy will be integrated with a small wind generator and innovative storage devices to ensure that power can be supplied on a continuous basis to customers across the site.
This project will build capacity in the local community to support other similar island energy projects around the globe. This is an excellent opportunity for the region to be engaged in developing small scale marine renewables and to see benefits from this work flowing to the local community.
Photo above of Talla na Mara nearing completion courtesy of the West Harris Trust.