Work starts on the track to our community turbine site (with the Ben Mor Hydro pipeline in the background). Renewable energy – and an income for the community is on its way!
It’s been all go in the East End of Coigach these last few months with several construction projects in action. RJ Mcleod have been busy on the Ben Mor Hydro site, Curries are now at work on the turbine site, and Kinellan Building and their sub-contractors have been all-out at the Schoolhouse. Scottish Water have had a new road put in below the Piping Cafe for the new water treatment works and a new house is going up in Badenscallie.
It’s all great entertainment for some of the younger members of the community who are delighted by the parade of lorries, diggers, vans and other mysterious vehicles – and good for the local cafe and shop where sales of bacon rolls and snacks have received a welcome boost.
CCDC is delighted to report that Acheninver Youth Hostel looks like having a brighter future. Scottish Wildlife Trust, who own the building and the Ben Mor Estate on which it sits, are inviting applications to lease the hostel. This offers someone with energy and enthusiasm an exciting opportunity to build a business and a life for themselves in an amazing place in the North West Highlands.
Acheninver Youth Hostel is on the Coigach Peninsula, and forms part of the community known sometimes as Achiltibuie (though strictly speaking, this only refers to the area from the church to the school). Roughly, Coigach covers the coastal area from Reiff to Culnacraig – (about 10 miles) with a population of approximately 250.
We are looking for someone with good ideas and practical skills who can: maintain and develop the hostel in some way to benefit the local community and economy; keep Coigach on the map as a great place for visitors and create a rewarding future for themselves as part of that community.
Coigach has spectacular scenery with mountains, moorland and a rugged coastline interspersed with sandy beaches overlooking the Summer Isles. The area is understandably popular with walkers, climbers, kayakers and anyone who enjoys the great outdoors. There is a small primary school, a hotel, two pubs, a couple of cafes, a craft shop and a comfortable community village hall which is a great asset. Coigach is part of a National Scenic Area and is also within the North West Highlands Geopark.
“But what do you do in the winter?” is a frequently asked question. The answer is we just get on with it! People work all year, go to school, and those that are involved in the (largely seasonal) tourism business sometimes remark that it’s good to have a bit of time to catch up! Though small, we are a very sociable community – regular community events at the village hall are well attended, well fed and fun. There are opportunities for people with shared interests to get together: skiff-rowing, music, singing, dancing, fishing, walking, photography, circuit-training, crafts – there is very little opportunity to get bored and no excuse to avoid exercise!
However, the area is not without its challenges. Described as “fragile” the community has suffered as result of de-population and a lack of opportunities for (particularly) younger people. Many of our young people have embraced education and a sense of adventure and gone off to find out for themselves what the wider world has to offer. This is good and Coigach has a broad and far-flung diaspora. Unfortunately it has become increasingly difficult for people to return to or come to live in Coigach. This is partly due to a lack of available, affordable housing and employment. CCDC (Coigach Community Development Company) was set up in 2010 to tackle some of these challenges and to help create a sustainable future for the community. We currently have planning permission for a wholly community-owned wind turbine which will generate an income to invest in local projects. We have two part-time employees funded by HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise) and as well as working on our development plan, we support and promote any projects which we feel will benefit the community. Hence our involvement here.
So come on if you think this is for you – details of the application process are in the Acheninver Hostel Prospectus documents below and the closing date is 21st February so don’t hang about!
Following a meeting (open to all those on Coigach’s electoral roll) on Thursday 14th May in Achiltibuie, and extensive community consultation the directors of CCDC have agreed not to pursue re-registration of Community Interest in the former hydroponicum site. Whatever happens to the land now, we hope it will will bring some benefit to the community in another way – and CCDC has several other projects on the go which are keeping us busy.
Achiltibuie Schoolhouse: we we will soon be taking over ownership from The Highland Council adn will then lease the property to Highland Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT) who will refurbish the building and convert it into two rentable flats.
Former Achiltibuie Smokehouse: since Summer Isles Foods packed up and moved to Alness, the empty building is now in community ownership. We have appointed Alison SInclair as the new Development Officer who will take this project further towards refurbishment and a new lease of life.
Community wind turbine and hydro scheme: we now have Locogen (a multi-disciplinary energy company) on the case so we’re making progress on these all-important projects that will in turn help fund all the other things we have to do.
Old Dornie Harbour: needs extensive improvements to make it fit for purpose as it is essential to our local fishing, fish-farming and leisure industries and we need to find funding to do this. Eventually the income from the renewables projects will help.
Broadband: connectivity is as important in Coigach as it is anywhere – perhaps more so given our remote location so we want to make sure our community doesn’t get left behind.
Paths: in partnership with Coigach Assynt Living Landscape we are working on improvements and developments to the local paths network to improve infrastructure for visitors and locals alike.
Acheninver Youth Hostel: this is SYHA’s last year of leasing the building however we hope to help owners Scottish Wildlife Trust find new tenants as we don’t want to lose this iconic facility that has been bringing visitors to Coigach for about 70 years or more.
And we have the office to tidy up….
And perhaps also time for a little reminder that CCDC’s directors are hard-working volunteers who put in many hours of their valuable time for the benefit of the wider community. We’d all like to wish Peter Muir all the best on his retirement and thank him for the many years of work he has contributed – both as employee and the countless extra time he has put in particularly in regards to our renewables projects. And thanks too to Ben Walton, who has been our treasurer for the past four years and has now stepped down as a volunteer director.
Here’s who we are:
Chair – Iain Muir
Vice Chair – Iain Scott
Anne Campbell, Local Development Officer
Linda Macleod currently standing in for Anne Campbell as Local Development Officer who is on sick leave
Alison Sinclair, Smokehouse Development Officer
Julia Campbell, Local Development Officer
And we have over 100 members – that’s over half the community!
Project Manager – Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape Project
(Fixed Term until 31 December 2016)
35 hours per week/Job share considered
We are looking for a highly motivated individual to lead on the ongoing development of the pioneering Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape Project (CALL). This is a groundbreaking partnership currently comprising of 12 partners working together to deliver landscape scale conservation management and community benefits over an area of 70,000 hectares in the North West of Scotland.
As Project Manager you will work closely with a number of organisations and individuals, locally and nationally, to develop and deliver a range of environmental, social and economic projects in the area. You will have excellent all round project management, communication and organisational skills, strong nature conservation knowledge and a sound understanding of rural community issues in Scotland. Importantly, you will have the enthusiasm and initiative to make things happen.
Applicants should be educated to degree level in a relevant discipline, self-motivated and able to demonstrate achievements in partnership working and environmental and / or community projects. Ideally, the successful candidate will be based or willing to relocate to the project area.
Acheninver (or Achininver) Youth Hostel has been an iconic part of the local landscape for a long time. A former croft house, it became a youth hostel in the 1930’s when hiking and hosteling was the new big thing. Since then people of all ages (some more youthful than others) have stayed here: walked The Rock (the Postman’s Path from Ullapool); climbed the local hills, enjoyed the scenery and made friends. Many have returned and remember the hostel fondly as their introduction to the area – and some have never left!
Summer 2015 looks like it will be the hostel’s last in its current form as the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) are giving up their lease on the building; it is currently owned by Scottish Wildlife Trust as part of the Ben Mor Estate. At present, the future looks uncertain but we feel there is an opportunity to create a new future for the hostel. The accommodation is basic but the location is stunning and there is currently a shortage of short-stay, budget accommodation in the area.
Nothing is set in stone, and we are discussing various options but would welcome comment or notes of interest from anyone who might be interested in taking over the lease and running the hostel as their own business. It would suit someone one with energy and enthusiasm, and an interest in outdoor activities who would like to develop a business but perhaps does not have the capital to buy a property and start from scratch. It’s not going to make anyone a millionaire but there is the opportunity to increase business through extending the season (the hostel is only open in the summer months) and encouraging group activity bookings, or reducing the dormitory accommodation and offering a slightly more luxurious stay in private rooms. It may also be possible to benefit from SYHA’s advice and ongoing support as an affiliate. All is subject to negotiation and agreement with SYHA, SWT and CCDC.
Common room with kitchen area, upstairs Dormitory (8 beds), downstairs dormitory (8 beds?), family room (4 beds), warden’s accommodation, showers/toilets, sheds.
Access is by foot along the burn from the car park at Achavraie – there is a rough path but only passable by appropriate vehicle (quad, 4×4). The path continues down the Acheninver burn to the sea where there is a sandy beach.
If you would like to know more and are considering an exciting challenge in one of the most beautiful parts of the world (we have stunning scenery AND a friendly community!) please get in touch. You might even like to come and stay this summer and see for yourself. Or if you stayed in the past and have happy memories, or would like to make some suggestions for improvement please let us know.
Coigach is part of a National Scenic Area and the North West Highlands Geopark. The hostel overlooks Loch Broom and the Summer Isles and is a 25 mile drive from Ullapool (where the ferry departs for Stornoway and the Western Isles). There is a very rough path from Ullapool round the base of Ben Mor Coigach – suitable only for experienced and very hardy walkers. Or you could come by small boat or canoe as there is a sandy beach nearby.
Contact: Julia Campbell, Local Development Officer, CCDC
phone: 01854 622 379 (home)
write: Coigach Community Hall, Achiltibuie, Ullapool IV26 2YL
facebook: Coigach Community Development Company
visit: fly/train to Inverness, bus to Ullapool, bus to Achiltibuie – or drive approximately 25 miles north of Ullapool.
Last September we were approached by the Wilders/ Williams family who own the island of Tanera Mor. The family announced their intention to sell the island but first wanted to offer CCDC the opportunity to buy the island on behalf of the Coigach community. This was exciting news and following a public meeting, called by Richard Williams on 1st October to discuss the matter, it was agreed to investigate the options further. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) agreed to fund an options appraisal and financial review to help the community arrive at a decision – either to work towards a community buyout, or if declining, to allow the family to put the island on the open market in spring 2013. Whilst wholeheartedly welcoming the offer of community purchase, CCDC chair Iain Muir sounded a note of caution when he stated that CCDC’s ability to take on the project would be a stumbling block: CCDC is run by a board of voluntary directors with two part-time development officers who are already working at full stretch on a number of important projects for community benefit.
Consultants were invited to tender for the options appraisal and financial review in December and Munro Gauld, who has considerable experience in community land management, was appointed to start work on the options appraisal, and accountants Scott-Moncrieff were appointed to undertake the financial review. Following a very thorough investigation, and broad community consultation via a questionnaire that went to every resident household in Coigach, Munro presented the findings of both studies to another Public Meeting called by CCDC on Thursday 7th February in Coigach Community Hall. It was clear from the appraisal and return from the questionnaires that while there was a very positive response to the Wilders’ generosity in their offer to the community, it was regrettably too large a project for the community to take on at present.
It was a good humoured and cheerful meeting with many thoughtful, imaginative and positive comments from those present who confirmed the findings of the appraisal: that while community purchase may not be an option, working with the Wilders and Williams to promote the sale could be extremely beneficial to all concerned. What the appraisal also revealed, was that buying Tanera presented a fantastic opportunity for someone – or a group – with resources, energy and enthusiasm who can work with the community to realise its full potential as an integral part of Coigach.
The largest, and only inhabited of the Summer Isles, Tanera attracts yachts, cruisers and watersports enthusiasts as well as visitors to its residential activity holidays, café, and world famous Summer Isles Post Office which publishes its own stamps. The new owners, whoever they turn out to be, have the opportunity of not only owning a fantastic island surrounded by spectacular scenery, but of being part of a strong, vibrant Highland community.
The meeting concluded with a proposal from the Chair that: ‘We support the conclusion of the questionnaire that we do not pursue the generous offer made for community purchase of Tanera Mor. In coming to this conclusion we recognise that the future of the island plays an important part in the future of the wider Coigach community. As such we undertake to assist the owners in finding a purchaser who will serve the interests of both them and the rest of the community’. The proposal was supported by a show of hands in favour.
CCDC will continue to work enthusiastically on its many other projects in hand which include proposals to erect a community wind turbine to generate much needed income which will be used for social housing , workshop units to encourage business activity and to support other local organisations, facilities and initiatives. Other projects include a micro hydro scheme in partnership with local landowner Scottish Wildlife Trust, a feasibility study with a view to community purchase of the local piers, and the Achiltibuie Smokehouse which the Company is also hoping to purchase through the Community Right to Buy process.
Coigach Community Development Company are keen to acknowledge the generosity and co-operation of Bill and Jean Wilder, their sons Jack and Harry, and their daughter and son in law Lizzie and Richard Williams in offering the community the opportunity to buy Tanera, and the information and help they have supplied so far. While we are declining with regret, we look forward to working together towards a positive outcome for all. We would also like to thank HIE for their help in funding the studies undertaken to help in the process, and all those community members who took part in the consultations and meetings.
The Wilder family greatly appreciate the effort made by the community of Coigach to consider the opportunity of taking on Tanera. We fully understand their reasons for deciding not to, and we hope that whoever owns the Island in the future will enjoy the same warm and cooperative relationship with the community that we have for the past 17 years.
Coigach Community Development Company invite you to a
Public Meeting on Thursday 7th February at 7.30pm in Coigach Community Hall, Achiltibuie.
Following community consultation and an options appraisal, our consultant Munro Gauld will present his findings. At a public meeting in early October, it was agreed to carry out an indpendent appraisal so we could look at whether a community purchase is viable and to consider the options from a different perspective.
For further information please contact Julia Campbell 01854 622 379 firstname.lastname@example.org