This reports marks the end of our fifth year of operation in which we continued to pursue the goals identified by members of the community when the company was established. These are, essentially, to help Coigach achieve sustainability and growth in challenging times. Never an objective to be achieved in a short space of time we continue on the paths we have established and informed you of in the past.
Our main strategy is to secure sources of long-term income and to then spend that money in the community to help us collectively and individually achieve a range of things we can all benefit from. And we all know it is needed – we just have to look around our community to see ample evidence of that.
Few things of course happen in strict order, at the most convenient time and according to plan, and so it is that we have had delays imposed on us in our income generating projects whilst we have had opportunities thrust upon us before we have the resources to make the most of them. These things conspire to put more pressure on staff and our volunteer directors so I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all for their hard work throughout the year, and also those volunteer directors of our subsidiary companies who are not directors of CCDC – Alison Sinclair for Coigach Wind Power Ltd and Peter Drake for Ben Mor Hydro Ltd. We started the year with Julia Campbell, Anne Campbell and Peter Muir on our staff, each holding a part time post amounting to 1.5 FTE with Julia and Anne job-sharing the Local Development Officer (LDO) post, for which we are again grateful to Highlands and Islands Enterprise for funding, and Peter working as part-time development officer for the Smokehouse, funded by the Lottery. With Anne forced to take sick leave her post has been taken meantime by Linda Macleod who stood down from her directorship to take the role; likewise Alison Sinclair stood down from her directorship to take over from Peter in the role of part-time development officer for the Smokehouse. Both roles had been publically advertised.
CCDC Directors serving this year have been (in alphabetic order): Steve Husband, Ann (AB) Macleod, Linda Macleod, Iain Muir (Chair), Iain Scott, Phil Shaughnessy and Alison Sinclair. As I said, Linda and Alison stood down to take their employed positions. I will now give my customary encouragement for members to propose and appoint new directors who share our commitment and vision for community sustainability and development – too late for new directors at this AGM unless previously nominated but we can co-opt directors at any time.
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 Mor Hydro Ltd who will update us on their respective activities since our last AGM.
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
In response to expressed community need we have committed ourselves to provide community-owned affordable housing and this remains a priority for us. Our first success in achieving this objective has been the acquisition of the former Achiltibuie Schoolhouse from Highland Council which we have drawn up an agreement with Highland Small Communities Housing Trust to renovate and convert into two flats for which HSCHT has secured funding. Though the building was eventually sold to us for the princely sum of £1 the process was immensely tortuous and difficult. We would like to thank HIE’s Community Land Unit for their assistance in paying our and THC’s legal costs in the process. Julia’s role in this needs special mention.
We retain our interest in initiatives I’ve referred to in last year’s report – the provision of housing plots and new crofts through apportionment of Common Grazing land and the generous offer of land for development in front of Island View. These are some of those opportunities I referred to earlier which have come along in advance of being able to allocate resources to.
Regarding the site of the former Achiltibuie Hydroponicum, after considering a number of issues the directors opted not to apply to renew our interest in the site under the SG Community Right to Buy. We await with interest what the owners will now do with it.
Turning now to the Smokehouse. I’d just like to preface my remarks by answering those who say “Why are CCDC not doing anything with the Smokehouse – why don’t they start another smokery/micro-brewery/bakery/laundry/craft workshop/heritage centre/etc., etc.?” The simple answer is that that’s not what we’re here for. CCDC acquired the building for the community and we’ve invited the community to come and use it. We’re still waiting for people to come knocking on the door to say “Can I come in and start a smokery/micro-brewery/bakery/laundry/craft workshop/heritage centre”, to which the answer will be “Yes!” and we’ll help them with the process of getting started. But nobody, until recently, has had the ambition to use part or all of the Smokehouse for a commercial enterprise Meanwhile the smokehouse is being used by Heather Ablett for craft production, to house a heritage display, for 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 – all good and worthwhile uses, but not fulfilling the ambition we have for it. As I indicated, we are now pursuing a development with a local person keen to set up a new and valuable service business in the Smokehouse. We have funding for Alison’s post until March of next year by which time we expect to have plans approved and funding in place for developing the structure of the building to make it as attractive as we can for new tenants.
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 projects – 2014 – have slipped – 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]
Badentarbet Pier and Old Dornie Harbour
This is being led by the Pier Users Group. Our involvement at the moment is to help the group source funding for a study which will define a development in Old Dornie and then apply for funding to the upcoming European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. This is something we have agreement in principle for from HIE to cover the majority of costs.
We have continued to have discussions throughout the year with Scottish Wildlife Trust about the future of Acheninver Youth Hostel which they own and had leased to SYHA. We have advertised the opportunity which this presents on our website and recently on BBC Radio Scotland’s “Out of Doors” programme – we’ve had over 20 expressions of interest as a result of all of this and have passed these on to SWT. SWT may lease or sell the building and we are heartened that they have supported our view of the important role the hostel has served over the years by determining to ensure the building is retained as an asset serving the community through provision of accommodation and/or as a centre for outdoor pursuits. Why haven’t we taken on the hostel ourselves? Because we do not presently have the resources to do so.
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, we are working with Community Broadband Scotland on a proposed programme to link Loch Broom and Little Loch Broom communities with the Highlands and Islands superfast service. It remains to be seen what exactly this will deliver, and when, for Coigach, and we will pursue other avenues if it does not meet our needs. An audit we conducted last year 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.
We were pleased to be able to help William and Lucy Wilding with advice and practical assistance in becoming crofters with the assignation of the then vacant croft close to the hotel – and it’s good to see the energies both have invested in it since in such a short time.
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 the CCDC Facebook page, the CCDC Twitter account and Coigach Wind Power’s website. 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 just remains for me to thank all the members for their support during the year and hope that we continue to receive it.
Chair, Coigach Community Development Company