Last week Leapfrog were invited to attend the Leading Communities to Success event in the Three Villages Community Hall in the village of Arrochar, set against the head of Loch Long, located on the Cowal peninsula in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. The event was organised as part of the second Argyll Enterprise Week that brings business and community support events to towns across Argyll. The themes for the events had been wide ranging covering topics from tourism, food and drink, to digital. The event we were invited to attend focussed on Community Led Development, and was aimed at supporting communities that are interested in buying local assets and developing community-led projects.
Through a succession of talks, case study presentations, networking opportunities, and workshops, the day aimed to ‘inspire, inform and connect individuals and groups to help them to make real and sustainable improvements within their communities.’ Key to the day was the opportunity for communities that have already developed their own community projects, and aspiring communities yet to get projects off the ground, to gather to share their insights, their learning, and their valuable experiences, all with the help and support of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Argyll and Bute Council, and Community Land Scotland.
The day began with a warm welcome from Ian Hepburn, the chair of Community Land Scotland, which exists to ‘represent Scotland’s new generation of community land owners’, supporting communities to benefit from community land ownership. Ian opened proceedings with a brief introduction to Community Land Scotland and the work they do. Following Ian’s rapid overview Dave Thompson of the Scottish Government took the floor to talk about Community Right to Buy. Dave introduced the scheme and took us through the technical and process information about how communities can register their right to purchase local assets, as well as some valuable advice from his considerable experience of community buy outs. He spoke about how recent legislative changes in Scotland have opened up more opportunities for communities to take control and participate in their local area development. He spoke of success and how we define success, the scale of success, and how actually ‘success is many different things to different people’. Yet for him, success is when the community achieves what it set out to achieve, and his advice for making community projects a success was to get out and engage the community from the start and throughout, which can really help to make community land projects a success.
Following the warm welcome and the introduction to Right to Buy by Dave, the day moved on with two community case studies from existing stories of success. John McDonald talked about their community successes, and Elaine Morrison, representing the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust, presented their trials, tribulations and successes since the community buy out of the Isle of Gigha in 2004.
Two very interesting talks that, as well as showing just what is possible for a community with a lot of hard work, collaboration and creativity, showed the value of community engagement and its place in community developments. Elaine especially was a great advocate for engaging with communities and sustaining engagement as a major component to community-led projects. Not such an easy task at the scale of an entire island! Yet the point was that communicating with a community at every stage leads to trust and understanding that is imperative to sustainable community developments. What was particularly inspiring to hear was the big impact that really good community engagement can have. Good community engagement often leads to successful community initiatives, that, in the case of Gigha, has led to maintaining a stable population and even a reversal of depopulation, an issue for many communities on the Western Isles of Scotland. This is if course not always the case, but this example shows the impact of how making engagement a key part of a community development strategy can have positive ramifications down the line that can last for a long time.
After a lunch and networking there was an informative talk about asset transfer in Argyll and Bute, quickly followed by delegates getting involved in two workshops. The first focused on community housing and the second on community-led renewable energy. As the day drew to a close there was an opportunity for feedback and discussion and finally the day wrapped up with some closing remarks and ‘next steps’ plans for the future by Ian Hepburn. Over all it was an incredibly interesting and inspiring day, and a great opportunity for communities across Argyll to come together to meet, share ideas and learning, hear of the latest developments in community-led assets, and see the value of community engagement.