Islanders in favour of community buyout of Colonsay Hotel

The Colonsay Hotel and bar is up for sale.

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A ballot of residents on Colonsay has returned a majority vote in favour of a community buyout of the island’s only hotel and pub.

Talks with business consultants are now under way to assess the viability of a community bid for The Colonsay Hotel, which is on the market for offers over £650,000.

Alex Howard, laird of Colonsay, and his wife Jane, stepped in to keep the former inn open 17 years ago, after a previous owner closed it. Mr Howard was not available for comment, but Peter Seymour, hotel and leisure director at Graham & Sibbald, which is marketing the hotel for the Howards, said the sale represents a ‘fantastic opportunity to acquire an established and profitable island business’.

There are around 130 residents on Colonsay and ballot papers were sent to all 98 permanent and second home households, with 30 Yes votes for community ownership,  14 No votes and eight voting Maybe/Unsure.

The nine bedroom hotel, which was built in 1750, was put up for sale under another agent last year.

Dannie Onn, chairman of Colonsay Community Development Company, which organised the ballot after being approached by islanders, said: ‘There weren’t any buyers last year and our concern is losing the community pub and community bar, it’s a holiday island, but it’s also a living community.

‘Other communities have done it before, there is lots of government support, but we know it’s a big task.’

The community company has sought advice from residents in Knoydart, who recently made a  successful community buyout of The Old Forge, the most remote pub in mainland Britain. They are also getting advice from the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust, about its experience of buying Gigha 20 years ago.

The nearest pub to Colonsay is in Oban, which is two hours and 20 minutes away on the ferry, or Islay, which is a 15-minute plane journey.

In the summer season the hotel and bar are manned and in past years an agreement has allowed locals to keep the bar open for the community through the winter. However, this year it was closed for maintenance work.

A spokesman for the steering group, set up to investigate the buyout idea, said: ‘The fact that the hotel bar has been closed over the challenging months of this winter has spurred on locals to consider community ownership.

‘The message is clear, the majority of Colonsay’s community want to see the bar and hotel run differently, with community at the heart of the business.’

The spokesman added: ‘If a couple or family wanted to take on the business, running the hotel in a way that fits the needs of the local community, that would be warmly welcomed. What is a concern is the thought of excluding local people through it becoming an upmarket and exclusive destination. If it was to be bought by investors with this in mind the island would suffer a loss and it’s clear now that the community here are in favour of something different – community minded management at the heart of the island.’

The steering group has contacted the Scottish Land Fund seeking feasibility funding and have been allocated an advisor by Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Business consultants have also been approached.

The feasibility study brief specifies the ambition of a year-round bar and hotel business and an appraisal of options to determine a viable way forward, including improvements and additional facilities.

A similar ballot to determine interest in a community buyout was held in 2013 when the hotel was on the market for £545,000.

Although there were then 62 votes in favour and only four against a buyout then, the idea was scrapped after the district valuer, at that time, valued the property lower than the asking price.

The spokesman said the Howards have always been supportive of a community buyout. When the hotel went up for sale in 2013 they said that although they had other projects they wanted to concentrate on, they would only sell if the right buyer came along.

The hotel has a restaurant with sea views and has three lounge areas. There’s also a staff bothy, which can sleep two people, and further staff accommodation available for purchase or lease, by separate negotiation.