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Case Study One:


Camille Dressler

bulletFrom concept to reality
bulletGoals and achievements

1. Introduction

This case study will look at the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, almost two years on, and reflect on the ways in which the trust has involved the community in the decision-making process. It will also examine how much the trust has achieved so far and what obstacles it has encountered on the way.

When the inhabitants of Eigg embarked on their buy-out campaign, the issue of community rights was given particular prominence. The islanders stressed how the community had been kept out of the decision-making process by the system of private ownership and how this exclusion hampered the economic development of the island. This aptly demonstrated the need for a new form of land ownership, one which would involve the community in decision-making and give it a stake in its own future and also safeguard the natural environment of the island.

The community buy-out of 1997 effectively put in place a charitable trust, which has aims largely determined by the islanders, and a board of directors on which there is 50 per cent island representation. With four island directors elected by the Eigg Residents Association (ERA), two Highland Councillors, two Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) directors and one independent director acting as chairman and holding a casting vote, the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust combines local, regional and conservation interests for the benefit of all, and presents an innovative alternative to private ownership.

The trust’s business plan proposed to strike a moderating balance between ensuring the financial security of the estate, enabling private enterprise and facilitating appropriate and sustainable development on the island. The plan also took into account the diverse range of ideas and skills on the island, and most importantly, was based on the premise that the community would be actively involved in all stages of planning and indeed would direct the process.

2. From Concept to Reality

The Relationship between ERA and the Trust

When the trust was launched, it was obviously more of a concept than a reality, ideal on paper but needing some fine-tuning to work in practice, despite the thinking that had gone into it. In the heat of the campaign, little time was actually spent reflecting on how the trustees were to achieve accurate representation of the community’s aspirations. As the Trust started operating, it was assumed that the ERA vote, giving the island directors the mandate to take decisions on behalf of the residents, adequately addressed the issue of representation.

At first the Eigg directors consulted their fellow-residents very much in the style in which consultation had been carried out during the buy-out campaign. Every time there was a pressing issue, an ERA meeting was convened and the community was asked for an opinion there and then. Obtaining this kind of ‘knee-jerk’ reaction had been very useful during the campaign, but it was now perceived as being too hurried and not giving enough time for consideration and deliberation.

However it was not always easy to achieve reflection on policy and current issues through ERA meetings. Community workshops before the buy-out had suggested the creation of working groups within the ERA to explore various issues. Yet, when the directors of the trust set up sub-committees of the Board, to deal with various issues such as leases, properties, land use, tourism and to make the workload easier to handle, these were not replicated within the community, with the exception of one tourism focus group which was set up on the initiative of a group of residents who had direct concerns about tourism issues.


Communication - liaising between the trust partners as well as with the local community - was one of the tasks included in the Project Officer’s remit, when the post was created in November 1997. Like each island director, the Project Officer was available for discussion on any issue relating to the trust. She also produced a regular update in the form of a newsletter to inform the community about what was going on within the trust, as well as minutes of each directors’ meeting, which were displayed in the shop and the Post Office.

In spite of this, there were still some difficulties in getting communication going between the trust and the community. The reasons were many-fold: some inherent in the dynamics of small communities; some having to do with the island’s remoteness, which makes it difficult to convene board meetings on the island, and which can cause frustrating delays at times. Another very important reason was that the passing on of information was not as effective as it was thought to be. No matter how much printed information was made available, it became obvious that it was not always read. There was still a need to thrash things out in a debating arena if this information was to be really useful and people were to feel involved.

How the issues should be debated was actually the question, for as a rule islanders do not like formal structures very much. They would rather discuss topics in an informal setting, often within the framework of a social occasion, rather than sit at a meeting. But this form of consensus-building was not entirely satisfactory because it did not necessarily include everyone in the community, nor did it provide a formal record.

Another factor seemed to be a cultural reluctance to put one’s opinions forward in public, stemming probably from the long history of feudal oppression in this part of the world. Not only did this hamper the ability to debate and discuss, but it also meant that feedback was not being properly relayed at ERA meetings. Common Dolphin

There was also a tendency for people to forget altogether that the trust was theirs to make it what they wanted it to be. They were then tempted to project onto it authoritarian attributes, and with these the kind of unformulated suspicions previously directed at landlord figures.

As a result of all these factors, meetings were irregularly attended. Consequently the directors representing the islanders felt rather depressed by the fact that there appeared at times to be a lack of support and understanding for the work they carried out on a voluntary basis. They felt that people were keen to criticise but not so keen to participate.


It was only when concerns about participation were finally voiced at an ERA meeting convened for that purpose, that progress was achieved. A community workshop explored the style of decision-making; the relationship between the trust and the islanders; the way agendas were set; and the way ERA meetings and meetings of directors of the trust were co-ordinated.

This went a long way to clear the air. A formal system was put into place to allow for a more relaxed tempo in decision-making - one which would allow time for reflection. The agenda for directors’ meetings, which take place every two months on average, are now displayed four weeks in advance. Two weeks before the directors’ meeting, the ERA holds a meeting to give feedback on the agenda and receive an update on other business. If further discussion is needed, issues can be taken to a community workshop. Working groups have now been planned to allow the community, and crofters in particular, to have more involvement in feeding ideas to the board, and in management as policy evolves.

Since these changes have been introduced, there has been far more participation in debate at ERA meetings and a greater feeling of involvement on the part of the community. Interestingly, it seems that the issue of the new ferry terminal was pivotal in getting people to express themselves in a much freer way. With the help of the trustees from outwith the island, the community’s response to the way the external agencies handled the project evolved from an emotional gut-reaction to a concerted and reasoned opposition, which has resulted in a decision acceptable to all. It took what was almost another campaign - though on a much smaller scale - to focus people’s attention on the need for self-expression.

3. Goals and Achievements


One of the first goals of the trust was to secure leases for those who did not have security of tenure when the island was offered for sale. It took about a year to finalise the terms of most of the leases and farm tenancies. It took even longer in some cases, but it was the first time that these issues had been addressed and it was important that the trust started on the right footing.

Interestingly the trustees could find only one independent land agency which had experience of west coast conditions and circumstances, as most land agents focus on the eastern part of the country and deal with a very different way of farming. The land agent was asked to take into account island conditions and the fact that the trust did not seek to maximise profits, but even so the valuation was felt to be far off the mark. The rents which were suggested were actually lowered to what the trust felt was realistically within people’s means.

The wording of the leases themselves also offered some difficulties. Standard, ‘off the shelf’ leases, even from firms which are used to dealing with conservation issues, needed quite a bit of readjusting. They did not seem to address adequately the problem of combining farming, conservation and tourism interests. Nor did they seem necessarily appropriate to new forms of ownership such as community trusts. To adapt them to make them right for Eigg cost both the trust and tenants a lot of money, as documents went back and forth between all the interested parties.

One solution could be to produce a new batch of standard leases which would be better adapted to the changes in ownership and uses of the land. Another could be to make legal advice more easily available at the drafting stage, so that interested parties would have points of reference. Such measures could reduce legal costs and so save a lot of money for not-for-profit organisations, often operating on a shoe-string budget. This is perhaps an issue which the Not-for-Profit Landowners Project Group might be able to deal with successfully, possibly by drawing on the variety of experience accumulated by its diverse membership.

The Pier Building

Another important priority for the Trust in its first year of ownership was to build the new shop and tea-room facilities, taking advantage of the funds offered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise on 12th June 1997. However, in order to secure the funding, the trust had to meet the very tight deadline of having the building roofed before April 1998 - something particularly difficult to achieve in winter conditions and on an island. But the challenge was accepted and every effort was made to meet the deadline, as this was a flagship project for the trust, which would show what the new ownership was capable of now that conditions had changed.

It was an advantage that the trust was able to award the tender to an island contractor who knew what conditions were like on the island and could give much-needed employment to island residents. The trust was then able to form Eigg Trading Ltd, as a subsidiary company, and give it a loan of 25,000 for the purpose of building the pier centre, repayable over 22 years from income derived from renting the premises within the building. Eigg Trading Ltd was then able to access grant aid, Lochaber Ltd, LEADER II and Highland Opportunities contributing up to 60 per cent of the costs incurred in setting up and equipping two of the three businesses within the Pier centre.

By building the Pier building, the trust effectively enabled two island businesses to evolve into something much more professional. The tea-room became a subsidiary company of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, employing two young people on the New Deal, providing two more part-time jobs and taking part in the Investor in People scheme. The craftshop became a marketing co-operative for craftshop goods, giving islanders an opportunity to sell their craft goods and develop a wider range of crafts. The trust also helped a third business by providing new premises for the existing general store, thus giving it an opportunity of economic viability and growth which would have been much more difficult to achieve otherwise.

Even though the islanders were very much involved in the pier project, its successful completion would have been much harder to achieve if it had not been for the Project Officer, who was appointed in November 1997, six months into the new ownership, mainly to research and bring forward work on the heritage and community development projects. She acted as co-ordinator between the architect and the contractor, and also liaised with the three businesses which now occupy the building, as well as dealing with all other aspects of the project including funding and the training plan for the tea-room staff.

The Role of the Project Officer

In addition to her co-ordinating role in the pier project, the Project Officer has also had duties to carry out for the board of trustees, such as acting as clerk at meetings of the board and liaising between directors and the community. However the Project Officer’s main role has been to assist the trust to produce a development plan which will safeguard the future viability of the island and its heritage. However the pier project took much more of the Project Officer’s time than was at first envisaged, highlighting the fact that there are limits to the amount of work which can be put on directors who are acting on a voluntary basis, and the importance therefore of having one person employed full-time in order to carry a major project through.

Despite the importance of the Project Officer’s post, the trust had considerable difficulty securing funding for it. The salary was covered for the first year by a funding package negotiated by the trust, with LEADER II contributing 50 per cent, Lochaber Ltd and The Highland Council 20 per cent each, and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) 10 per cent, while the trust contributed housing and energy requirements. The Community Land Unit has funded the post for a further six months, after which it will contribute only part-funding. This has necessitated funding applications to other agencies. Unfortunately these have not been successful: Rural Challenge funding, for instance, was not available for a post which already existed.

The question of funding is one which Maggie Fyffe, Secretary of the trust and one of the four island directors, feels is crucial. "If a Project Officer could have been funded before the buy-out, we could have been a lot further down the road in knowing what was possible," she points out. "When Brian Wilson announced the creation of the Community Land Unit on 12th June 1997, it was largely because of the problems which we had had during the buy-out, but it was not operational until a good while after that.... It would have made a big difference to the community to have had that service in place straightaway. The big problem in the first few months of the campaign was not knowing what way to turn to find information about legal advice, financial advice, planning and funding. Professional services are too costly - we would never have been able to afford them. We were lucky that we had so many people, in The Highland Council in particular, willing to help who donated their time and expertise so generously, but once we had succeeded, we couldn’t constantly put these demands on them. We also thought we would have had access to a feasibility study through the conservation plan which was included in our Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) application, but we were told that the HLF does not fund feasibility studies. There is an obvious need for a properly drawn up and costed management plan, but there are many difficulties accessing funding to carry it out if you are working on a shoe-string budget".

In practical terms, the Project Officer found out that 50 per cent of her time was largely taken up with administrative and secretarial duties: dealing with insurance and council tax, preparing invoices for rents, etc, filling in grant forms, co-ordinating proposal schemes for the trust, writing minutes of meetings, tracking down people on the phone for feed-back on decisions, etc. Only 30 per cent of her time was actually spent moving projects on, finding sources of funding, or working out the logistics of projects. The remaining 20 per cent was taken up dealing with enquiries about the trust, preparing reports for Lochaber Ltd, LEADER, and the Community Land Unit, and also dealing with issues that arose on the island and talking to islanders about problems. This was the case, even though much of the administrative work was already devolved to the Trust Secretary, who is unpaid and carries out these extra duties on an entirely voluntary basis.

The large administrative burden illustrates the need to create a part-time support post for an administrative secretary. This in turn poses the question of accessing enough funding for two posts rather than one. It also highlights the need to broaden the skills range within the community so that when the Project Officer’s contract comes to an end, a larger proportion of these tasks can be devolved.

The Development Plan

Nevertheless, the Project officer managed to bring together all the necessary elements of the development plan, including the housing repair strategy which concerns most of the 17 properties owned by the trust, a large number of these being in various states of dereliction. Both the local authority and the local housing association have been a great help in trying to find a way to do up empty homes and tenanted houses. One difficulty is that help-packages are not particularly geared to the needs of not-for-profit landownership. Another is accessing funding: security for loans for improvements and repairs is a problem since, unlike traditional landownership, the trust does not want to use land as security. A bigger problem is the need to have a guaranteed income to cover monthly repayments on a loan. This issue is part of a continuing discussion about housing. The trust can either take a mortgage to help fund repairs, which would lead to an increase in rents, which may in turn lead to a reliance on housing benefit. Or the trust can sell one of its empty properties to make a contribution to repairs on the others - a policy contrary to its original intentions. This is the dilemma currently being discussed by the community.

However, the Woodland Grant Scheme put together by the SWT has now been finalised. This five-year programme will create much-needed employment for islanders in fencing, clearing trees, and chipping these to lay paths to improve access to the island forestry, an asset which the trust wants to maximise as a visitor attraction, as the timber is not commercially valuable, although some is used locally. Costing 220,000, the programme will be partly funded by LEADER, SNH and Lochaber Ltd, with an anticipated shortfall of 100,000 mostly relating to capital equipment. This, it is hoped, will be met by the Millennium Forest for Scotland Trust. The Woodland Grant Scheme represents the start of a longer plan for forestry improvements and the development of new woodland areas. It is at the core of the trust’s management policy for existing woodlands on the island, which is designed to benefit nature conservation, landscape and amenity and public access interests by encouraging the regeneration of natural woodland and the associated wildlife benefits that this would bring. With work due to commence in autumn 1999, a trust sub-committee has been set up to make decisions with the islanders on such issues as contracting rates, the type of equipment to be used, the training required and the grants which can be accessed through crofting schemes.

4. Conclusion

The transformation of the trust from abstract idea into effective management tool has probably been one of the most important achievements in the first 18 months of the new ownership. The somewhat laboured way in which the change has been brought about highlights how important it is to take time and effort to establish a formal definition of the representation process in complex partnerships such as the trust. It also shows that even if a community wants to have a better voice or more representation, it cannot take it for granted that this will happen.

Although much can be said for learning from experience, there should be easier ways of achieving better representation than trial and error. This is not after all a question of re-inventing the wheel, and the Community Land Unit may very well be able to help in the future.

Enabling organisations, such as Highlands and Islands Forum, have been extremely valuable in helping a small, isolated community such as Eigg to learn how to achieve consensus through group workshops. Whilst the workshop approach has been constantly helpful in resolving problems, a wider range of participatory methods would have been equally useful. The Residential Workshop of the Not-for-Profit Landowners Project Group held on Eigg in September 1998 highlighted how much communities differ in their knowledge and use of such methods.

There are plenty of training schemes available to build up self-assertiveness and self-expression as well as leadership skills. This type of training is in fact routinely offered in-house in most businesses and administrations. As part of a help-package it would go a long way to giving a positive kick-start. Introducing such training as a pre-requisite to a community buy-out would probably be very rewarding in the long term. In fairness it should be available to those individuals who volunteer to carry out important functions in their community for it would help them to fulfil their tasks. It would be equally useful for community councillors. Acquisition of leadership and facilitation skills throughout the community would also go towards enlarging the pool of suitable candidates for these types of roles.

As experience in the community proves, it certainly takes a great deal of assertiveness and confidence to acquire a say in the future. This often means tackling a bureaucracy and a legal system which does not necessarily take into account community aspirations. As the land reform movement has demonstrated, the contrary is more likely to be true, for these systems "were designed to deliver policies geared to the existing pattern of ownership and are in no condition to deliver to a reformed pattern".

However, despite the financial restrictions caused by the limited income available to the trust and the other difficulties described above, much has been achieved in the first eighteen months of ownership. The pier building, a major project, has been completed. Its ownership by the trust has allowed individual and collective businesses on the island to develop. Employment is to be provided through the Woodland Grant Scheme and the housing repair programme. The necessary ground-work for a development plan has been completed. Financially, the trust and its subsidiary companies have even managed to show a small profit in their yearly accounts, something which few new businesses can boast of in their first year.

Taking stock and accumulating data has also allowed the trust and the islanders to become more realistic. Expectations have been tested by reality, and adjustments will have to be made to policy and planning. At the same time perhaps, the most useful lesson learned has been that a small community can handle only so much at a time and needs to phase development in a manageable way, as well as remaining in control of it, a point abruptly brought to mind by the issue of the ferry terminal with all its implications. It is healthy for the community and the trust to decide in favour of slower progress with decisions on future development made in an informed and steady way, thereby increasing the learning curve and responsibility-taking throughout the community.

However, success still depends on the powers-that-be helping to deliver funding for the crucial post of Project Officer over the next two years. If Eigg was part of an overseas development scenario, it would be acknowledged that results would emerge only from a serious commitment to long-term funding. In the Highlands and Islands it seems this has yet to be recognised.


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