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The Shieling Project

The social enterprise was set up in 2013 to provide people with the tools to live a more sustainable life and also benefit the wider community.

A social enterprise for the community

By harnessing centuries old skills that were common across the Highlands, the Shieling Project believes that by looking to the past the project can provide a blueprint for a more sustainable future. Its founder Dr Sam Harrison set out to build the Shieling Project as a social enterprise “to work for the community and not shareholders”.

The project is an off-grid learning centre, that invites and encourages everyone to experience outdoor living. The team teach people how to raise livestock, erect buildings from scratch, how to weave baskets and make burgers from the meat they have raised onsite.

From an empty plot of land in the Highlands, Dr Harrison and his team of dedicated volunteers have built the Shieling Project hub from scratch. The facilities include bothies that can sleep up to 36 people, a kitchen, toilets, washroom, a classroom and outhouses.

Dr Harrison said: “We found the perfect spot, we’ve got an historic shieling on the hill above us where we have started an archaeological dig and the site boundaries onto a pristine Glen full of wildlife and biodiversity.” The team hope the Shieling Project can inspire others with similar ideas to make them a reality. He added: “You have a strong sense of purpose and it is truly rewarding as you soon see the benefit your work is having on the community. For consumers, it makes businesses more relatable.”

I wanted to create something that was both beneficial for the community and sustainable as a business. We have proved those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I hope others will see this path as an example of what can be achieved.
Dr Sam Harrison, The Shieling Project

The Shieling Project is a social enterprise success story and has grown from a revenue from £3,000 in 2015, to £100,000 four years later.

Diversifying income streams by increasing the project’s offering for paying visitors has been key to success. This includes catering for school trips and Duke of Edinburgh Awards groups, as well as venue hire for events. To match the increasing demand, the team has been able to expand.

Dr Harrison said: “In the beginning it was just me and a few directors who were advising on a voluntary basis, now we have 10 part time staff as well as many volunteers.”

He added: “I definitely could have benefited from the support HIE's Start-Up School is offering. Often social entrepreneurs begin with a real passion but are less clear on the business side of things. Ensuring your offering is marketable and you are able to make revenue income is vital in the early stages. This is exactly the kind of support offered.

“It all comes down to finding the right people to support you. We have had all sorts of wonderful people involved in the Shieling Project. It’s about finding people who can come and give time and energy to your social enterprise to help it flourish.”

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