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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).

It's a set-up...

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The heady first days of a new community group can be filled with enthusiasm and passion. Finally, viagra generic thumb it feels like you can begin all those things you wanted to do. And then, shop decease most folk end up coming down to earth with a bump as the reality of mundane matters like constitutions, search mind office-bearers and legal structures begins to set in. The first whiff of excitement can be quickly quashed by a multitude of forms, submission dates and legal language that sounds like it hasn't been updated since the dinosaurs roamed the earth.

So, how does a new group get through it all? How do you decide what set-up your group should follow? What are the options and what happens if you get it wrong?

To find out how some groups have worked through these early hurdles, I spoke to four different groups, each with a different legal structure. I asked them what had prompted their choice of structure and how, with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, it was working out for them

Uig Community Cooperative - the local shopFirst stop on my list was the Uig Community Cooperative, located on the western side of the Isle of Lewis, just along from the home of the famous chessmen. The co-operative was formed in 2003 and currently has 206 shareholders, all of whom have some association with the island. It's responsible for running the exceptionally well-stocked Uig shop, as well as a launderette, petrol / diesel pumps and a refreshment area. The building that houses the shop was bought by the Uig Development Trust, and it's now leased to the co-operative. I asked Elaine Newton, shop manager, why they'd decided to set up as a co-operative. She explained that most community shops are using a co-operative legal structure rather than anything else. "The Development Trust bought the building but isn’t able to trade so we needed a structure that would allow the shop to operate. Because we're a corporate member of the Co-operative Society we can utilise their distribution system for ordering supplies for the shop. We also use their banking and insurance services and benefit from preferential rates and an understanding ear. Without that, we'd struggle to get a lot of goods supplied to this shop."

It seemed like a relatively simple choice for the people of Uig shop and I wondered if the whole process of establishing the shop had been as clear-cut. Elaine laughed – "Not really. It's a pretty fragile area here and difficult to sustain a business. We did OK in terms of securing funding and other services, but we had a lot to learn in terms of things like employment law and how long it would take to do all the jobs involved in the day to day running of the shop. If we did it again, we'd definitely want to speak to someone who's done it recently and could tell us how long everything actually takes."

So, if you're planning to be a community shop, the co-operative model seems to be a pretty popular choice. But what about other businesses? Next stop on my whistle-stop tour of community groups was the Isle of Skye ferry at Glenelg, who have decided to go down the Community Interest Company route.

The Glenelg ferryThe Glenelg ferry runs across Kylerhea, providing a five minute hop to the Isle of Skye on a historic turntable boat. I spoke to Clive Pearson who's their CEO. "Our decision to go for a Community Interest Company (CIC) was based on advice from the Highlands and Islands Social Enterprise Zone (HISEZ) – we wanted the advantages of being a single organisation rather than a company and a charity. Setting up was pretty easy and we got plenty of help from both HISEZ and the CIC regulator. Being a CIC's worked out fine for us, but we have decided to set up a charity as well now. That's because most other charities can only give to charities – there's nothing wrong with CICs, but charity law hasn't really caught up with them yet. Ideally, OSCR (Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator) would change that, but until that happens, it was easier for us to be a charity as well. CICs have to pay corporation tax too, so it's something that groups need to think about quite carefully – but it's a useful set up if you want to trade and get away from a reliance on grants."

Whilst getting away from grants may sound ideal, it's not an option for all groups. Some projects don't lend themselves to income generation and need a set-up that will cater for a more traditional community project. Many of those groups select the company limited by guarantee model, including the Abriachan Forest Trust (AFT). Old man of the forest - Abriachan Trust artworkThey set up as a company limited by guarantee in 1996 and took ownership of the forest on behalf of the community shortly after. The trust is involved in a real spread of activities within the forest, ranging from a big education programme through to offering training in Nordic walking. When I asked Suzann Barr, education co-ordinator at AFT, why they'd gone with the company limited by guarantee model, she was refreshingly honest: "It was based on advice from a solicitor and was way back in the dim and distant 90s, when the great new age variety of other options wasn't really available. The £1 liability for members was a good selling point for us because it defused any community concerns about what would happen if things went wrong. Registering was simple and the need to submit returns to Companies House hasn't been too much hassle. I guess the only problem we've found is that it can be hard to change any wording in your constitution if things change later down the line. We need to get a 75% positive vote from members before we can make any alterations, which can make even the smallest change turn into a bit of logistical nightmare. With the wisdom of hindsight, and with the ongoing demographic changes in the community, we should perhaps have made our constitution a bit more realistic."

North Kessock Pier - a SCIOAnd then there's the elusive Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation or SCIO. I know it sounds more like a rare creature of the underworld, and it has felt like I've been chasing the Loch Ness monster, but a SCIO is the latest addition to the legal model options. Billed as giving trustees a high level of personal protection, registering as a SCIO has only been available since April 2011. According to OSCR's website, 68 charities have registered as SCIOs so far, but it took me a while to track one down. Eventually, I found the North Kessock Community Pier – a recently formed group who registered as a SCIO in August 2011. I spoke to their chair, Jim Prentice, and asked how the registration process had been for them. He seemed almost surprised at its simplicity – the group were registered in around 6 weeks, with only a handful of additional questions from OSCR. I asked him why they'd decided to go with the new SCIO model. "Mostly it was because it seems to be a slimmed down version of a company limited by guarantee. We're hoping to take ownership of the North Kessock pier, so we needed a way to ensure that Trustees weren't personally liable for any problems in the future. Going with the SCIO model rather than being a company limited by guarantee and a charity reduces the need to file two sets of accounts and still gives the committee some protection. We've not reached our year end yet, so we haven't gone through the process of submitting accounts, but I really don't envisage it being a problem. We'll be submitting our first funding applications soon as well, so it'll be interesting to see how funding organisations react to this new model."

So there you have it. Sadly my whistle-stop tour was a virtual one, but it's clear that one size doesn't fit all and that different groups have chosen models that appear to match what they want to achieve. What does seem to be important is to do some research before you make a decision, as changing horse half way through the race can prove tricky. There's a wealth of advice and information out there and a quick search through the groups registered on SCLN will help you find examples of almost all possible legal structures. We've also prepared some background information on the different models:

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