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Community resilience in Scotland

The old phone box that we use to illustrate our contact page has an unexpected connection with resilience in communities. Sometimes we find ourselves up against powerful interests that seem to hold all the cards, but the story of the region around that phone box shows that well organised individuals in a community can make a difference.

The phone box is located in a region called Assynt, an isolated and stunningly beautiful area on the West Coast of Scotland. However the area has a history. Much of the land was divided up into vast estates owned by wealthy and absent landowners. The people who lived on the land were tenants, living in small cottages or crofts and making a subsistence living from farming and fishing. In a process called the Highland Clearances many tenant farmers were encouraged to leave their land, or in some cases driven away. The relics of old abandoned crofts are everywhere.

What is surprising is that the Highland Clearances are not just old history, vast tracts of Scotland are still bought and sold by wealthy corporations and individuals, sometimes without much consideration for the people that live on the land, and  Assynt has had its own very recent clearances-style drama.

A coastal strip containing 13 villages forming part of a 34 square mile estate called the North Lochinver Estate was sold in 1989 by the owners to a Swedish investment company for £1M. In 1992 this company went into liquidation, and the land was divided into 13 lots and put up for sale, in order to pay the debts to a Swedish bank. No consideration was given to how this sale would affect the crofters who were actually living and working on the land.

Within weeks the local community had formed a committee with the aim of raising the purchase price and buying back the land for themselves. The attempt to win back the land was reported in the press, and donations started to flow in. Within six months the crofters' committee had agreed a deal with the liquidators, and the title of the land was transferred to the Assynt Crofters Trust in 1993. Since then an Assynt Foundation has been established which has bought further estates from the landowners and taken them into community ownership.

You can learn more about this fascinating story of community resilience by folowing the links below.