Population growth hope for community-owned Ulva

Dr Callum MacLeod addresses MSP's at a the Parliamentary reception last week.

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Community land ownership of Ulva is set to help reverse population decline on the island, following success in other rural areas.

Policy Director of Community Land Scotland (CLS), Dr Calum MacLeod, announced encouraging results in a presentation at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday March 11.

Land ownership by communities in the Western Isles has helped see an increase in rural populations, with the CLS reporting that 31 per cent of survey respondents in community-owned areas have observed an increase in population in the past 10 years.

Additionally, almost a third of those surveyed thought that there were more young people in their communities than this time 10 years ago.

Dr Alasdair Allan, MSP for Highlands and Islands, said: ‘It is widely reported that areas like the Western Isles have starkly negative population projections for the coming decade.

‘However, we have an incredibly positive story to tell when it comes to community land ownership and the potential for communities to take an active role in arresting these trends.’

Gigha, which has been under community land ownership since 2002, is a great example of how a local response can be a success. Following the repaying of the initial debt, the community has thrived, setting up a trust which has been able to bring much needed investment onto the island.

This includes the building of new business units, improving trust houses and finding new operators for the island’s hotel and restaurants.

Ian Wilson, of the Gigha trust, said: ‘When the community took on the island, we had decades of under investment to address. This has now been done and the borrowing we took on to achieve this has largely been repaid.

‘We are now in a position to focus on our island’s future.’

It is now hoped that this success can be replicated on Ulva, which has only recently been transferred into community ownership. The end goal is to bring the island’s population up to 50 in the next 10 years, from its current six permanent residents.

The community hope to make Ulva attractive to more permanent residents through schemes to restart agriculture, the building of visitor attractions, and offering more opportunities for tourism to grow on the island.

Whilst there are issues regarding building enough houses to accommodate new families on islands like Ulva, Housing Minister Kevin Stewart is positive saying: ‘we’re investing a record £3.5 billion to deliver 50,000 affordable homes across Scotland by the end of this parliament.

‘We’re also increasing supply through our Rural and Islands Housing Funds. We anticipate that by March 2021 up to 100 homes will be completed with support from these funds, and there are hundreds of pipeline projects in progress.’

Wendy Reid, from the North West Mull Community Company, said: ‘Communities have taken matters into their own hands and worked incredibly hard to turn their local area around. Ulva is a great example of bringing all that learning together in a very remote and fragile community but one which has huge potential for future communities to learn from.

‘This is one of the most exciting things about working on a community-owned island like Ulva is that we are helping our current neighbours, but also planning for how our community can grow and thrive well into the future.’