This AGM marks the end of CCDC’s fourth year of operation, working towards our primary objectives of helping community sustainability and growth in challenging times. We’ve not got there yet but we are progressing along several different paths from which we anticipate emerging with substantial improvements and benefits for the area and all who call it home or who hold it dear…or simply come as interested visitors.
The format of this year’s report is as before with input from directors of our two subsidiary companies, Coigach Wind Power Ltd and Ben Mhor Hydro Ltd who will update us on their respective activities since our last AGM.
Before detailing the year’s activities I’d like to mention and thank our staff, Julia, Anne and Peter for their continuing hard work in tackling ambitious projects which in most cases are breaking new ground and which we hope will bear fruit for years to come. Julia and Anne job share the Local Development Officer (LDO) post for which we are again grateful to Highlands and Islands Enterprise for funding. Peter’s post is as part-time development officer for the Smokehouse, funded by the Lottery, in addition to which he spends a considerable amount of time as a volunteer working on our two renewable energy projects – having built an expertise and becoming established in that area when we previously employed him as a part-time LDO.
CCDC Directors serving this year have been (in alphabetic order): Maureen Fraser, Steve Husband, Ann (AB) Macleod, Linda Macleod, Iain Muir (Chair), Theresa Ross, Iain Scott, Phil Shaughnessy and Ben Walton. Maureen and Theresa stood down during the year because of other commitments. As ever, we are keen for members to appoint new directors who share our commitment and vision for community sustainability and development.
Looking at this past year’s activities I shall concentrate on those things which occupy most of our time and effort, being the priorities for a sustainable community:
Land and Housing
Efforts to provide community-owned affordable housing and workshops remain a priority for us. Our objective of adding to the local housing stock with the provision of community-owned social housing has not yet been achieved. However, we have a number of initiatives which, between them, we are confident will yield results. The project to get the Schoolhouse passed into community ownership is now well advanced with Highland Council finally on board and our successful engagement with Highland Small Communities Housing Trust who look able to secure funding and manage a project to convert the building into two residential flats. With her involvement in that project I am delighted to report that Julia Campbell has been proposed and selected to become a director of the HSCHT. Another initiative being pursued is the provision of housing plots and new crofts through apportionment of Common Grazing land – one of our crofter directors is actively leading on this with landowners SWT. We also have the generous offer of land in front of Island View for development and have very recently been in communication with Moulton Ltd regarding opportunities for acquiring the site of the former Achiltibuie Hydroponicum.
Turning now to the Smokehouse, a number of developments have taken place in the past year. To remind you, our objectives for the smokehouse are to try to replace some or all of those things we lost with the relocation of Summer Isles Foods, and more: to provide significant employment; to create a visitor attraction we can promote for the benefit of the whole community; to add value to local produce; to create opportunities for new business start ups; to develop the Achiltibuie brand. The money we were awarded by the lottery was essentially to purchase the building and develop the business case for its new life under community ownership. We have proposed creating a flexible, multi-purpose facility for food processing, heritage displays, crafts and a produce outlet. We ran a series of adverts locally inviting interest to be expressed by potential tenants; this yielded a number of enquiries some of which we are working with and building a case for additional funding to deliver those dedicated yet flexible facilities. As many will know we were also approached by an established food processing firm from outwith the community who was interested in taking over the entire site as a production base for a new product development and offering a good number of jobs. This interest put our own development plans on hold at the point where the plans diverged. The interest has recently been withdrawn as the company concerned have delayed their development plans, and we are moving ahead with our own plans again. Meanwhile the smokehouse is being used by Heather Ablett for craft production, by the rowing club for its teams to practice on its rowing machines, by CCDC as its office and by the community trust for storage of equipment – and it was the site for a pop-up shop in the summer raising money for Hall funds.
The anticipated steady income stream from our two renewable energy projects is vital for our community development plans – for investment and support for community projects, organisations, businesses and individuals. The original grid connection dates given by SSE for our wind and hydro projects have slipped, both now standing at December 2016 – something totally outwith our control but nonetheless a key issue for our projects, and a simple answer to the question “we have planning permission, so why aren’t we up and running?”
[Over to Alison Sinclair, Chair of CWP Ltd for CWP report]
[Over to Steve Husband, Director of SWT JV, BMH Ltd, for BMH report]
I will just add that while our interest in the wind and hydro projects is because of the income they will generate, it was nice to see that they were short-listed for the inaugural ‘FRESH’ (Fintry Renewable Energy SHow) awards in May of this year.
Badentarbet Pier and Old Dornie Harbour
For much of the past year this has been dealt with by Coigach Community Council and the Pier Users Group. CCDC stepped back from things after we had commissioned and delivered the Wallace Stone report as the community council was seen as the more appropriate organisation to lead on Highland Council owned facilities. As we know, Badentarbet Pier has been closed without reasonable prospect of reopening; plans to develop Old Dornie into a fit-for-purpose harbour were dealt a blow when an application for funding to the Scottish Coastal Communities Fund was rejected. Just recently CCDC has become involved again in a bid to seek funding for a professionally produced application for an upcoming European fund (European Maritime and Fisheries Fund 2015); we all hope that that will yield the sort of result we need for what is our most important economic sector.
Discussions are ongoing with Scottish Wildlife Trust about the future of Acheninver Youth Hostel which they own and lease to SYHA who want to divest their interest in it. Though it has undoubted appeal, we are reluctant to simply take it on as in its present state it falls well below the standard expected of accommodation generally being offered, and it is financially precarious. It does however have potential, not necessarily as a youth hostel but perhaps put to some other leisure activity purpose; SWT will be promoting this to its database of members through one of its publications and online to see what responses are forthcoming. All being well the hostel will be transferred to community ownership through CCDC.
We have a number of footpath projects registered with Coigach and Assynt Living Landscapes’ Landscape Partnership programme which we are working with Richard Williams and his team on in their preparation for their final bid. If the bid is successful, as it is anticipated to be, it will see several new footpaths established, adding to a number of developments led by others in Coigach.
We continue to be involved with the network of small remote communities throughout the Highlands and islands which, like us are supported by HIE, and as before we meet with and share experiences and ideas with these communities in a process which allows us to learn from the experiences, successes and pitfalls others have encountered.
On broadband, with Coigach not due to benefit from the Scottish Government funded roll out of fibre optic broadband across the Highland and Islands by virtue of our size and remoteness, and with the logistical challenges posed by the alternative solution being offered by Community Broadband Scotland we are arguing our case with the MD of BT in Scotland and with HIE’s Head of Digital and Broadband for provision of a better service. An audit we conducted revealed some 140 separate users of broadband in Coigach where it is put to use to benefit our local economy – this figure excludes non-local holiday home owners whilst acknowledging sometimes multiple use in a single household with mixed sources of income.
On the subject of what we see on screens, it was a great pleasure to see Neville Gaby’s film ‘Afloat’ which charts the building and rowing of the community’s second coastal rowing skiff, the Lily Rose. For those who haven’t seen it yet it’s a super film showing the community and its spirit in a tremendous light. The project was initiated through Susan Christie of Inverness Old Town Arts and CCDC with an application for funding for Neville as an artist in residence in Coigach. I am pleased to say the project has been recently shortlisted for a national ‘SURF’ award and though the film has so far only been shown selectively, it will be seen far and wide and will do the community no harm at all. There are plans to show it in New York, and our MSP Rob Gibson was so taken with it he wants to have it shown in the Scottish Parliament.
Communicating our activities and other matters to members and beyond remains an ongoing role for staff and directors. Never an easy thing to achieve to everyone’s satisfaction we work at it on several fronts. We have our online presences, with the CCDC website (http://ccdcompany.wordpress.com), the CCDC Facebook page, the CCDC Twitter account (@CoigachCDC) and Coigach Wind Power’s website (http://coigachwindpower.wordpress.com/). We continue to publish and distribute editions of our newsletter, place minutes and other relevant documents in the Post Office and post notices in the community hall and in the Ullapool News.
Though we’ve moved the CCDC office to the Smokehouse our LDOs are present in the hall for consultation on Wednesday mornings to coincide with all the other activities taking place then. I would make a plea that if there’s anything you would like more information on, rather than sitting back and waiting for it, just ask! Most of us involved in CCDC are volunteers and busy people, but we’ll always find time to talk to you!
That brings my report to an end. It’s been yet another busy year with much achieved yet much still to do in order that the hard work and long hours that we’ve put into this process finally start delivering lasting benefit to all of us in Coigach. I’d finally like to thank all the members for their support during the year and hope that we continue to receive it.
Chair, Coigach Community Development Company