Community-led regeneration of Gairloch wins European award
The regeneration of the Achtercairn site in Gairloch, north west Highland, won international recognition today at the European Responsible Housing Awards, part of the International Social Housing Festival in Helsinki, Finland.
The annual awards are organised by Housing Europe to showcase outstanding examples from social and affordable housing providers across Europe.
The community-led project in Gairloch won the ‘More Than A Roof’ category, supporting communities of equal opportunities, where developments show a range of social impacts.
Ronnie MacRae, chief executive of the Communities Housing Trust, the Scottish charity which facilitated the project, accepted the award.
The judges commented that it was an “important project aimed at supporting small scale rural communities in Europe”.
They added: “Diminishing communities should not be underestimated. The list of partners and stakeholders is impressive: large 360-degree cooperation with all local actors to rethink the whole strategy of revitalising the rural area. This project could be a good model and inspiration for other villages, and is already being adapted and implemented elsewhere.”
Keen to tackle depopulation, declining services and lack of affordable homes and business premises, Gairloch area residents and around 50 partner organisations turned a derelict site into a thriving new geographic centre for the village.
Achtercairn now includes 25 homes with five different affordable tenures; Gairloch Farm Shop, which also houses a vet clinic; Air Training Corps facility; and the GALE Centre which is Scotland’s first public building to be awarded Passivhaus status. The Centre includes a Tourist Information Hub, a community-run shop and café which stocks produce from the wider region, community rooms to rent, and a veg-growing and composting area for the café. A University of the Highlands & Islands classroom enabling people of all ages to access new education opportunities has since moved to larger premises.
The project tackled some of the many inequalities faced by rural communities, such as fuel poverty and access to affordable housing, education, shops and services. The homes are highly energy efficient, and Scottish-grown timber was used in the construction of the GALE Centre.
The wider range of shops and services available locally reduces the need to travel, and helps to keep spending power local while also supporting the economy of the wider area. The GALE Centre receives over 40,000 visitors per year and supports 100 people locally by selling their crafts and produce.
The project was funded by the Scottish Government and The Highland Council. Other key partners include Albyn Housing Society, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Gairloch Estate, the Ministry Of Defence, the Gairloch & Loch Ewe Action Forum (GALE), and many others within the community.
Ronnie MacRae added: “We know from our daily work that rural communities in Scotland are leading the way in creating sustainable futures for themselves, and for this to be recognised internationally is a great tribute to the power of community-led development.
“The community wanted to make sure the village is a ‘living’ village, and look at the reasons people were being forced to leave. They looked at their situation very holistically, and have managed to help diversify and stabilise the local economy, as well as provide a range of genuinely affordable homes which are protected for use by the local community.
“Scotland has some good legislation and policies for empowering many more communities to follow Gairloch’s example, and we now need to make sure this sort of community-led work is recognised and valued in Scotland too. There is plenty of positive, ground-breaking work going on to help solve the increasingly challenging circumstances of rural communities. We would urge the Scottish Government to fully support and fund community-led development.”
Janet Miles, managing director of Gairloch & Loch Ewe Action Forum (GALE), added: “We are proud to have played a key part in the success of this development and are delighted our work has now been recognised internationally. The whole development has brought new prosperity to the Gairloch and Loch Ewe communities. Jobs and housing go hand in hand here and this development has enabled our tiny Development Trust to create 20 year round jobs and new income-generating opportunities for over 5% of the Gairloch and Loch Ewe population. It is genuine and lasting bottom up regeneration that will yield social, economic and environmental benefits for our community for many years to come.”
Ross, Skye & Lochaber MP Ian Blackford said: “The holistic approach of this initiative, bringing together all interested parties to ensure a sustainable future for this community, is to be thoroughly commended.
“Throughout my constituency, demand for second homes/holiday lets is a factor in the rising cost of properties and, in many cases, rules out the opportunity for local young people to compete in this market.
“The importance of genuinely affordable housing, protected for use by the local community, in rural communities such as this cannot be overstated. Coupled with the jobs which have been created, this has ensured a vibrant future for the people of Gairloch and Loch Ewe and is something I’d very much like to see replicated throughout Scotland.”