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When the Isle of Eigg finally came under community control in 1997 there were many who doubted the project would last more than a few weeks or months at most.
But 25 years and a celebratory anniversary party at the weekend later and Eigg should be held up as an example to the rest of Scotland of what can be achieved when communities put their mind to it.
So said former Isle of Eigg trustee, journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch. As islanders and their supporters prepared for the weekend’s celebrations – although the poor weather conditions ultimately saw many unable to get a boat over to the island – Ms Riddoch praised the developments that have taken place on Eigg over the intervening quarter of a century.
‘When Eigg officially came under community control on July 12 1997, many naysayers gave it months or just weeks.
‘Actually people power has seen incredible developments over the last quarter of a century including a population hike of 70 per cent, self-built homes using local timber for just £40,000 and 100 per cent renewable energy delivered by the award-winning off-grid system called Eigg Electric,’ Lesley told the Lochaber Times.
‘Part of the badly sited cash crop forest planted by a previous landowner has been cleared and replaced by 17,000 saplings grown from locally collected seeds – Eigg now has one of Scotland’s few island tree nurseries.
‘The secret – Eiggachs have always been determined to harness their own resources, natural and human, and have never waited for off-island expertise.
‘Over 25 community-controlled years they’ve produced a circular local economy with a burgeoning of storytelling, music making, application writing, project management, lacemaking, fencing, website construction, wind turbine maintenance, quarrying, boiler servicing and a steady supply of new, affordable, island-built, energy-efficient homes and organic willow weaving.
‘This sustainable, joined-up action was co-ordinated by no-one from high command. In fact, eco-ingenuity arose spontaneously on Eigg, the minute remote control ended.
‘There’s a lesson in there for the whole of Scotland.’
Secretary of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust Maggie Fyffe told the Lochaber Times it had been disappointing many people had been unable to get over to the island for the celebrations due to the bad weather but said those that were present had a great time.
‘It was brilliant,’ she said. ‘We had the band Shooglenifty, plus local musicians and others who had managed to get over. On Friday we had a bit more of a formal day with one or two people saying a few words and then had our party.’
Ms Fyffe agreed with Ms Riddoch’s comments about the anniversary being a good example for others to follow.
‘I do think the 25-year mark is a milestone and I think we can be held up as an example – but there has to be the will to do it. There has to be commitment from everyone involved, but it is well worth it in the end.’
One of those who was able to make the sea crossing for the celebrations was Lochaber land activist John Hutchison, who served for eight years as chairman of the Eigg trust.
He told the Lochaber Times: ‘Working with the Eigg community has been one of life’s privileges. There is simply no comparison between the dreary, anxious, situation pre-buyout with now; population almost doubled, full employment and a vibrant young community. Friday was a relaxed, self-assured, day with achievements apparent in every direction.’
The community buy-out in 1997 witnessed the end of the island’s procession of absentee landlords.
In the 1990s, Eigg was home to only around 60 people, with many deeply concerned about how the small Hebridean island was being managed, especially with regard to the lack of security in the tenure of homes and farms. Talk began of mounting a community buyout.
And it was the 1993 purchase by crofters of the 21,000-acre North Assynt Estate in the north-west Highlands that inspired Eigg’s residents with the confidence they could be successful with their own takeover.
Support for the project flooded in from across Scotland and a campaign was launched to highlight the plight of the islanders.
A fundraising appeal – called Let’s Crack It – was launched with assistance from Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust to help finance the £1.5m purchase.
Now boasting a population of 110, including young families, Eigg has shifted away from a reliance on fossil fuel generators to power homes and businesses.
Its renewable energy scheme was the first in the world to provide electricity 24 hours a day from a mix of wind, sun and hydro power and led to the creation of similar schemes elsewhere in the world, including Africa and the Americas.
Islanders on Eigg celebrated 25 years of community ownership at the weekend. Photograph: Corinne Thompson.
NO F24 Eigg
Extra pics: Lesley Riddoch, being interviewed by Lochaber Times reporter Mark Entwistle prior to her appearance at an independence campaign event in Fort William’s Nevis Centre, in February, says Eigg’s success is an example for the whole of Scotland. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F08 Lesley Riddoch interview
Former Eigg trust chairman, John Hutchison, said working with the island’s community had been one of his life’s privileges. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos
JOHN HUTCHISON John Hutchison. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos
John Hutchison. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos