Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is rolling out a programme to support the future of over 40 communities in its most fragile rural areas.
Building on its long history of support in remote areas, HIE is to invest in encouraging selected communities which want to develop and implement plans for local growth.
Working in partnership with local authorities and other public agencies, the initiative will create locally employed community development workers. As well as assisting with community consultation and planning they will work with local groups taking forward projects included in the overall community plans. In addition, a HIE staff member will work closely with each community to advise and support the process.
“Communities themselves will control and drive their development, with HIE on hand to provide the support they need. Evaluations of previous LEADER and Initiative at the Edge/Iomairt aig an Oir regeneration schemes showed that groups which employed local officer support generated significantly greater benefits. This new programme will build on this success and add to it. The intended outcome is communities undertaking sustainable community action planning and delivering projects of direct benefit to them,” said John Watt, HIE director for strengthening communities.
The agency plans to spend almost £1.5 million over the next three years on this aspect of its strengthening communities remit. HIE is also utilising up to an additional one million pounds from the European Union's LEADER programme and local authority sources.
In each area the community development officer, employed by a key local community organisation, will work to support social, economic and cultural activities to strengthen the community. The amount of locally employed support required will be agreed according to the needs of the particular community, but HIE anticipates around 40 full and part time posts will be needed across the Highlands and Islands.
Communities are being identified through discussion with community planning partnerships. The first communities benefiting from the new approach are:
- On Shetland, in partnership with Shetland Islands Council, at Northmavine and Fetlar.
- On the Orkney islands, in partnership with Orkney Islands Council, Eday, Westray, Sanday, Rousay, Egilsay & Wyre, Stronsay, Shapinsay, Papa Westray, North Ronaldsay, Hoy and Flotta.
- In Highland, Rum and Knoydart
- In Argyll and the Islands, Jura and Coll
- In North Ayrshire, Cumbrae.
- In the Outer Hebrides, Barra & Vatersay and Callanish.
Additional communities, mostly in the Highland Council and Outer Hebrides areas, are being discussed with key partners.
A good example of the approach is on the Orkney island of Eday, where HIE has been working with the community since 2004. Chair of the Eday Partnership Clive Brookes says that the projects which they have achieved there would not have happened without the support of their development officer.
The community has seen the population on the island grow by 17%. The various groups which form the partnership have supported each other in developing a range of community owned assets that provide lifeline services, like their community shop and heritage centre. They have also provided a ranger service on the island.
“The community on Eday definitely feels its future is brighter as a result of the projects we have achieved. There is a sense of optimism and expectation. Having improved key infrastructure we are looking at how we promote Eday as a place to live and visit,” said Mr Brookes.
He added: “Our successes have also inspired us to continue to grow. Projects we are developing now could see us benefit from an additional income stream from a wind turbine and we are working to introduce a small fast ferry passenger service which would run between the North Isles.”
The programme will also play a part in HIE's response to its crofting community development role transferred from the Crofters Commission.
“The majority of communities we will be working with are in areas where crofting is a significant activity. The community growth plans will incorporate crofting development aspirations. We will be using these programmes to continue, develop and diversify crofting in our remote communities,” said Mr Watt.
By delivering projects to benefit their collective futures HIE wants to help communities become more resilient. Mr Watt commented: “We would expect to see positive outcomes including increased income levels, population retention and growth, enhanced infrastructure, better local services and new income streams. Ideally, all communities should generate an income to sustain this process for themselves in the future. As a result of doing all this we would expect community confidence and accomplishments to grow.”