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Welcome to the Scottish Community Land Network

This site is for people interested in the management and ownership of land-based assets by communities in Scotland. A Scottish Community Land Network, you might say... As you know the internet is a big 'place' with everything about anything so we brought you relevant news and events, and provide opportunities to share ideas with other people interested in this subject. There are almost 1000 members, and more than 800 articles in our archive.

 

Scottish Community Land Network will not be kept up-to-date after March 2012. However, a new site is being produced by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and details will be published on this site as soon as they are available.

The most recent articles are available on the home page - previous articles are in their relevant topic areas (browse the 'Topics' menu on the left).

In search of the ideal campsite

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For anyone following the discussions on the SCotLaNd forum, shop sildenafil a case study about a community run campsite will come as no surprise. This summer we took a camping trip to Islay but, before we went, decided to do a bit of 'internet research' to see what our options might be.

With a quick google (when did that become a verb?), I managed to find out that there are two official campsites on Islay as well as opportunities for a bit of 'unofficial' camping. I found the website islayinfo.com, which is pretty straight about things - it gives details of the relevant legislation for wild camping and parking of motorhomes, as well as admitting where it might be possible to find a freebie for the night. It also helpfully provides links to the campsites so you can get in touch.

With the options of 'free' camping, a privately run campsite or a community run site, we decided it might be good to see how the 'community hub' at Port Mor compares with another community campsite that we used at Levenwick in Shetland a few years ago. We still rave about that one now.

Port Mor has a ground source heat pump beneath the car park!Turning up at the site, we were impressed to see the modest wind turbine chugging away, and thermal-solar panels on the roof of the building.  Much more importantly, a rather comfortable on-site cafe lured us towards coffee, bacon butties and tasty cakes. Now that's civilised (I think it's been coined Glamping - glamorous camping!). Because it is a community hub, the building is multifunctional, providing changing facilities for the local football team, which double as the shower-block for the campsite. There’s also a kitchen facility for campers within the building plus a full laundry. From the perspective of a visitor, this place is great, and relatively cheap for what is available.

Unfortunately for our holiday, my interest was roused in the community aspect of the place. How did they manage to put together such a diverse range of services all in one place and appear to make it a viable business?

"Have a word with Robin Currie," was the warden’s advice. He's the development officer of Iomairt Chille-Chomain, the community group behind Port Mor. Fortunately for our holiday, Robin was away during our visit, so all we could do was soak up the whisky, sun (yes really!) and seascapes... Not necessarily in that order.

When I caught up with Robin by phone after our visit I was intrigued to find out how they had ended up running such an impressive ‘community hub’ and whether there was anything that other groups might be able to learn from, particularly thinking about the issue of camping on the machair. It’s funny how the best laid plans...

Robin told me that it ‘began’ when the community of Port Charlotte was successful in buying 18 hectares of land in 2001 with help from the Scottish Land Fund. The local football pitch was in danger of being lost when the land was put on the open market. Saving a community resource appears to be a good focal point for generating action, but 18 hectares seems like a mighty big football pitch!

Naturally, the newly formed company (charitable status, limited by guarantee) Iomairt Chille-Chomain, looked at the options for what else could be done with the land, and a number of ‘fortuitous’ things were taking place around the same time.

“We had a few things to think about,” Robin continued, “The local village hall committee were unsuccessful in bidding for refurbishment funds and sold the hall, so we needed to include that aspect. There was an identified need for a campsite to replace one that had closed when the new doctor’s surgery was built on that land. There was also a desire to create new crofts and we needed to conserve natural heritage of the site, due to its legal designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.”

Fortuitous is one way of looking at it, complex nightmare of competing interests might have been another. And all this before the Land Reform Act was in place. So with a feasibility study on the shelf, 18 hectares of land and lots of enthusiasm, they went about raising the additional funds to turn those dreams into reality.

The wind turbine at Port Mor“We were lucky to have ERDF [European Regional Development Fund] available,” he admits, but so far they have raised about £1 million from a whole host of funders, including some innovative thinking to buy land within the village for the croft houses, allowing a housing association to buy the remainder of the plot for social housing, and reinvesting the surplus into the construction of the Port Mor building. So there are two new crofts, a high quality community facility that includes a level football pitch (!), a flourishing campsite and a cafe, not to mention the renewable energy generation to minimise the carbon-footprint of the resource. Of course that’s just visible ‘outputs’ – there are over 100 members of the company who are all part of its success – and everyone benefits from the facilities now available.

Never having grown out of being the daft laddie, I asked whether there were any advantages to the fact that Robin is both the development officer (part-time) and a local Councillor.

“Hmm. I’ve been asked that before,” he says, naturally suspicious of my motives, “and I suppose there are some advantages to knowing the rules and which box someone might want to see ticked.  But when it comes to Council decisions I just declare an interest and sit back to watch.  The important thing is making sure the directors of the company do more than just turn up every couple of months for a meeting – having a paid development officer is good, but it has to be a community effort.”

But he’s somewhat understated in the achievements of the company. “It wasn’t too hard” he says of having recently set up a trading arm to remain within the charitable status rules. With 2,000 visitors to the campsite this season and the associated benefits through the income from the cafe (which is run independently as a business), it sounds like success borne of hard work over the years.

“Any secrets to that success?” I ask, tentatively.

“Strong leadership is important”, he suggests, “but it’s also about listening to what people are asking for and looking for ways of meeting their needs.”

A campsite that is also a community resourceAnd, how about seeing this replicated across the Hebrides? Are we likely to see clones popping up across the Western Isles? Well, from the outside, Port Mor has a lot going for it as a model – a multifunctional resource useful to both residents and visitors, built on principles of minimal energy requirements, with a variety of income streams and providing employment in the rural economy. But I don’t think it’s fair to ignore the people who have dedicated a huge amount of time and energy to make things happen. Taking that model and imposing it somewhere else is a recipe for disaster all too easy to cook up.

So what about camping on the machair? The Port Mor initiative wasn’t driven by that issue, but I suspect that if the campsite wasn’t there today, parts of Islay would probably be showing signs of camping strain. I suppose, however, that Port Mor demonstrates that a number of apparently disparate problems can be solved with a bit of coordinated (and at times radical) action. And I’d be prepared to bet that the campsite’s reputation and popularity will grow, and with it, I hope, a wider recognition that there is an inextricable link between the community, the environment and the visitors that come to share it.

You can find out more about Port Mor on their website www.islandofislay.co.uk

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