The definition of community wealth building, according to the Centre for Local Economic Strategies is “a people-centred approach to local economic development, [which] reorganises local economies to be fairer, stops wealth flowing out of our communities, towns and cities, [and] places control of this wealth into the hands of local people, communities, businesses and organisations.”
Whilst this type of economic strategy has clear benefits, strengthening our local organisations, communities and businesses through collectively-produced and sustainable wealth, the benefits of community wealth building are not solely economic. Community wealth building also develops the skills of local people, by way of both mentorship opportunities and partnership-based working. It stimulates an inclusive economy, with a healthy, resilient and informed community at its heart. Thus, community wealth can be seen to be multi-faceted, with multiple outputs.
For many, community wealth building is seen as a concept. However, it is a reality for residents of the Galson Estate, who are dispersed throughout the 56,000 acres of community-owned land in the most north-westerly part of the Isle of Lewis. Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (Galson Estate Trust), established in 2007, is the community landowner that manages the Estate on behalf of and for the residents who live in the 22 active crofting townships between Upper Barvas and Port of Ness inclusive. Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn is a company limited by guarantee and a registered Scottish charity.
Underpinning the community engagement, support, projects and developments that Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn delivers is its ‘Strategic Plan 2017 – 2037’. The ‘Strategic Plan’ has five key aims to support and nurture the needs of the Galson Estate residents, and these aims also inform the services offered by the Trust to the entire demographic of the Estate. Some examples of these services include ‘Plòigh’ and ‘Plòigh Mhòr’, a comprehensive programme of school-holiday activities encouraging both indoor and outdoor play, and ‘Sunnd’, a wellbeing programme aimed at more advanced years, helping people to feel safe, supported and well during the winter months. The ‘Strategic Plan’ also informs Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn’s Community Investment Fund, which is a strong example of community wealth building in practice.
The Community Investment Fund (CIF) was first launched on 3rd October 2014. Derived from funds created by Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn’s renewables project (Galson Energy wind turbines), the Community Investment Fund is open to constituted, eligible groups with projects that would benefit the aspirations, needs and issues of Galson Estate residents. First launched as a pilot project with a £1,000 fund available, a subsequent £5,000 fund was launched on 4th November 2016 after the success of the pilot. Finally, to mark the 10th anniversary of the community buyout of the Galson Estate, the £10,000 CIF fund opened in January 2017. All three streams are still active to this day, and the aims and deliverables of the fund remain the same – offering mentorship, advice, training, opportunity for partnership-based working and the development of the skills of Galson’s people, which contribute to the overall wellbeing of the area.
In total, over 90 individual projects have been supported through the CIF. Beneficiaries encompass a wide range of groups and activities – training equipment for local first responders, support for an Alzheimer’s dementia café and toilet facilities at a local play park, to name but a few.
The community have a strong vision for the area, as outlined in Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn’s vision statement: “A thriving and well-connected community with excellent local services and amenities, harnessing its natural assets to sustain a unique cultural and social environment”. In this, they have embedded the values and principles of community wealth building. The focus of the community is to continue to adhere to these principles and hopefully, in turn, continue to see a transformative change in the area and the quality of lives for those who reside on the Estate.
You can find out more about Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn’s work here.