ACHA opens 107 new homes in Oban

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One November in 1785, in a field by Mossgiel Farm in Ayrshire, ‘The Ploughman Poet’ Robert Burns turfed up a tiny mouse’s nest, which it needed to survive the coming cold and wet West Coast winter.

Moved, and still at the plough, Burns composed his poem To A Mouse, including the now world-famous line: ‘The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, gang aft agley.’

Burns’ words rang true again this November in Oban, at the slickly choreographed opening of Argyll Community Housing Association’s (ACHA) 107 affordable homes in Glenshellach.

Dignitaries from the august partnership that funded and built the £15.4 million project, including the Scottish Government (£6.8 million), ACHA (£6.7 million) and Argyll and Bute Council (£1.9 million), lined up to celebrate its successful conclusion seven years after it began.

The opening, delayed from November 2020 due to Covid, offered yet another boon for Oban’s city status bid. Everyone knew what to say, when, and where. A press release was locked and loaded, ready to be fired into The Oban Times’ email inbox half an hour after the event.

Everything was going to plan. However, for once, it was not ‘man’s dominion’ that broke ‘Nature’s social union’. This time, it was nature that foiled man’s best laid schemes – or, more accurately, a call of nature urgently pressing upon Timmy the dog.

With precision timing and lead trailing, Timmy broke free from his owner’s grasp, joined the party of officials poised to unveil the Achnaba granite stone and plaque, and cocked his leg over it, to the cheers and groans of the crowd.

After the opening ‘ceremony’, the dignitary Timmy had beaten to the task, Argyll and Bute MSP Jenny Minto, could not resist giving the dog a friendly head scruff.

Timmy the dog stole the show, despite ACHA’s best laid plans.

Proceedings quickly got back on script. Ms Minto, ACHA chairperson and Oban councillor Roddy McCuish, and a new tenant, 11 year-old Evie Paterson, planted a native tree, which Timmy, now in a firmer grip, mercifully left alone.

Councillor McCuish said: ‘This development, which is ACHA’s largest in Oban to date, meets much needed housing need, provided 75 jobs throughout the seven years of its development and, at a personal level, I am so proud to see decent affordable homes for our community here in Oban. I hope these houses become homes for generations to come.

‘Housing is the most important thing for stable communities. If you don’t have a decent home at the base of the pyramid, other things fade into perspective. We have the challenge of an overpriced housing market, which means it is increasingly difficult for many young people to buy a first home. We need to keep our young people, we need to arrest population decline, and housing plays an integral part along with decent jobs and opportunities to deliver that.

‘People have asked me why did ACHA name streets after places like Sunderland, Stranraer, and Catalina. During the Second World War, the Catalina, Sunderland and Stranraer flying boats operated out of Oban Bay to protect the convoys in the fight against Nazism and fascism. Service men and women from all over Britain and beyond were based in Oban, and used this glen to practice to defend us all.’

Councillor McCuish then asked one of the world’s finest pipers, Benderloch-born Angus MacColl, to play Donald McLean’s Farewell to Oban, ‘in memory of those who left here and never came back’.

Angus MacColl played the 4×4 march, Donald McLean’s Farewell to Oban in memory of the Second World War airmen killed in the Oban RAF base’s Sunderland, Catalina and Stranraer flying boats, after which the estate’s streets are named.