SOCIAL ENTERPRISE NEWS
When I started isle20.com, a business directory for the Scottish islands – way back at the start of Covid – it was a wee idea that felt like it might be useful for a few folk.
It became a marketplace, offering an ecommerce facility for businesses. Then I realised that this was an opportunity to create a permanent shopping platform which might help islanders sell more in the off-season.
Because I wasn’t comfortable profiting from it and because I can’t seem to stop having ideas, I decided it should be one of multiple projects under a social enterprise. So I formed Isle Develop CIC and started experimenting with new ideas.
And then I started talking to people about the project and trying to figure out how we could make an impact – both with digital projects AND with the profits.
And people kept talking about the islands’ housing crisis. And I kept saying, “I’m sticking to supporting small businesses.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the housing issue, it was that it felt so big and so impossible.
One day, I saw that a property with huge potential, which had been on the market for ages had dropped its price, and I wondered to myself whether I could buy it, put it on a long term let and develop the associated buildings to the benefit of the community.
So I did the maths and the research, and I discovered that despite being in good full time employment with a software company, and theoretically able to get the mortgage (although I was unclear about where I would find the deposit!) I would be unable to make the mortgage repayments without subsidising it myself, unless it was set up as a short term holiday let.
And that’s when something inside me snapped.
The system is broken. Property in the islands is too often seen as no more than a business opportunity. It’s bought up and renovated by people who don’t stay here, and then put on short term lets. And then we are told that we should be campaigning for affordable housing. And now we have to, because in many places, buying properties which currently exist is a pipe dream.
Because of a lack of understanding, a lack of regulation, and a systemic failure at all levels of government to understand island economies, we’re faced with a problem not of our making. And it is literally destroying our communities.
In my village 50% of the properties stand empty in the off season. 50%.
And so, having joked about doing a version of isle20.com, but for holiday lets…it became less of a joke. Friends were willing to advise and help, the Isle Develop board were willing to take a risk on it, Firstport gave us some funding, and a year’s worth of work later…
We’re taking on Airbnb. Because, if you can’t beat them – join them. Find out more at isleHoliday.com
Rhoda Meek, Isle Develop CIC
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