Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn celebrates 15 years of community ownership of Galson Estate today (Wednesday 12 January 2022.)
Although there was no formal occasion on the day due to ongoing Covid health risks, various special events will run throughout the year to mark this major achievement.
The recently-built business centre at South Galson, Isle of Lewis, will be formally opened in the months ahead.
The new centre will include the launch of two additional features - a community land mini-exhibition in the premises and new visitor facilities on the site. The Strategic Plan for the area is due to be refreshed in 2022 and consultation events will be organised shortly. A re-launch of the Community Investment Fund, which was suspended due to the failed cable, is also planned alongside this.
This year is expected to see a comprehensive programme of popular events to be back up and running, such as Sunnd, Plòigh and Plòigh Mhòr, Fèis na Fairge and Dùthchas, plus family favourites Bookbug and Health Walks. Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn will add further activities over the coming months to celebrate the significant milestone and continue to grow the popular health and wellbeing programme.
Agnes Rennie, chair of the Urras said: “I feel extremely proud to be part of the Urras team that has achieved this amazing milestone today. It seems like yesterday that several hundred people gathered on a stormy January day in 2007 to mark the official transfer of Galson Estate to community ownership. So much has been achieved since that day and we owe a massive debt of gratitude to staff and Board, past and present, who have made this happen. “
She went on to say, “The resilience of the Urras has been tested many times but never more so than when our office was destroyed by fire in February 2019 and during the last two years by the impact of the Pandemic. I am grateful that despite all of this the Urras has been able to continue delivering a first-class service for the community and together we can look forward with great optimism.”
Land ownership by communities has been going from strength to strength and Galson Estate is no exception. In the past fifteen years, the community of the Galson Estate has experienced many benefits that can be achieved through community ownership of land. Not least amongst these is the critical response provided during the COVID-19 lockdown when the Urras took temporary responsibility for key services including delivering local prescriptions and crofting supplies, together with publication of a community newspaper.
The first four years of ownership saw the management of the Urras being undertaken by the volunteer board of directors, with some initiatives being supported by short-term project staff. Over subsequent years, with an increase in projects and the move to in-house administration of crofting records, staffing has grown to a team of fourteen people on a mix of full-time and part-time positions, situated in the purpose-built UOG Business Centre in South Galson and the Habost Household Recycling Site.
One essential project delivered over the past decade, which underpins the sustainability of the Urras and the wider community, was the installation of three wind turbines at Ballantrushal, near Barvas. This has been a product of the excellent working relationships between the Urras and the directors of Galson Energy Ltd. and Urras Energy Society, all partners in a very successful community model that has been replicated across other areas.
The Urras is grateful for the support received over the years from funders and other public agencies. This help has been critical to allowing the Urras to develop new projects and to respond to new opportunities. Increasingly it has also been hugely important to work alongside other Community Land Trusts and to share learning and experience.
Fifteen years in community ownership has seen a host of challenges emerging, not least over the last three years, but with a significant increase in the estate value, an increase in employment, facilities and general land management, it can be concluded that this has proved to be a successful model of land ownership for the community of Galson Estate as it moves into the next phase of regeneration.