Community ownership in unusual times

Posted: 14 September 2020, in News

Community ownership has a long and rich history in Scotland. From the islands of Gigha and Eigg to Inverclyde and Helmsdale, the local ownership of land, housing and other assets is driving regeneration in many places.

The community groups behind this renaissance are often development trusts, co-operatives and other similar organisations. Dedicated to the success of their local community, they form a key part of Scotland’s diverse social enterprise movement. 

The community ownership agenda is of course now taking place in the context of a lockdown economy. The movement faces a crucial test to see how much can be achieved in the midst of a pandemic and the related economic impacts.

The recent Community ownership in Scotland 2019 report published by the Scottish Government on 9 September 2020 shows evidence of a growth in community ownership since 2018. The report also tracks a sizeable shift since the introduction of community empowerment laws, the Scottish Land Fund and other support was introduced a few years ago.

The Community Ownership Support Service (COSS) offers specialist support to groups in Scotland to take a stake in or ownership of previously publicly owned land or buildings.

This adviser based service aims to provide community groups like development trusts, as well as public bodies, with expert advice on all aspects of asset transfer, with training, signposting and online resources.

Linda Gillespie, Programme Manager at Community Ownership Support Service said:

“The COVID pandemic has seen communities across Scotland respond to the challenge of delivering services on a hyper local level, from hot meals and online classes, to establishing  websites as a central point of information for all the support available. Communities have without doubt been agile and innovative in their response to community needs.”

“As we come through COVID there will undoubtedly be challenges in securing finance and adapting buildings and operations, but there is also a sense of opportunity with new methods of service delivery and partnerships with the public and private sectors. This, on top of the resurgence of community activism that COVID brought with it means that development trusts and their community anchor counterparts are well placed to lead and deliver a community-powered recovery.”

Community-led initiatives are established in many parts of Scotland, in both urban as well as rural and remote communities.

Sarah-Jane Allsopp is Project Development Officer at the Castle Douglas Development Forum in Dumfries and Galloway. Their team has worked hard to build support in the face of tourism challenges. She shared:

“We started from a very crisis driven point of view, when VisitScotland closed the visitor information centre, while our small agricultural market town had been increasingly relying on tourism to support the population.” 

“Our development trust struggled to capture the local community’s support but when we decided to ask VisitScotland for a temporary lease on the building we had no idea the positive effect it would have.” 

“The heart of Galloway Visitor Centre is now a thriving community run visitor centre providing information to thousands of visitors all year round. It also hosts products from over fifty local small businesses, providing them with high profile retail space.” 

“We’re now in the process of completing our next much larger community land project. This will see us apply for the community asset transfer of the closed local authority outdoor education centre and the town’s caravan park which sit on the edge of the stunning Carlingwark Loch.”

Land ownership in Scotland continues to be a serious concern in the context of our economic challenges. Scotland still has a very concentrated pattern of land ownership, with around half of privately owned land in the hands of just a few hundred people. 

Communities that purchase the land on which people live and work can regenerate areas and improve their home for future generations. This can boost confidence, reverse decline and drive economic opportunity.

Linsay Chalmers, Development Manager at Community Land Scotland, said:

“In normal times, people come from across the world to learn from Scotland’s community landowners and how their democratic approach to ownership has tackled issues from depopulation to the loss of urban greenspace. Thanks to their deep community connections and entrepreneurial approaches, community landowners have shown in the past six months how effective they can be in an emergency. They are now turning their thoughts to supporting their communities through further potential lockdowns and into the recovery phase.”

With continued and increased funding and the right business support communities in both rural and urban Scotland can open up new opportunities. Just knowing that community ownership is a possibility can galvanise people into action. 

The lockdown economy has already seen a huge community effort, increased volunteering and people taking action to help their neighbours. Taking community ownership forward will play a key part in creating the new, wellbeing economy that we so urgently need.

If you’d like to learn more about community-owned projects in Scotland, you can watch the recording of our recent webinar with Linda, Sarah-Jane and Linsay:

Webinar recording – Assets, Land and Community Recovery from Social Enterprise Scotland TV on Vimeo.

Duncan Thorp, Social Enterprise Scotland