Future-proofed affordable housing in South Uist looks set to be within reach thanks to a new initiative by community landowner Stòras Uibhist and Rural Housing Scotland.
The plans for Smart Clachan have been unveiled in a series of information sessions recently as the latest step in developing next-generation housing to tackle depopulation and climate change.
The housing development at Rubha Bhuailt by Lochboisdale will comprise shared equity housing with priority for island residents.
Emphasis is being placed on making the homes energy-efficient and including shared amenities like workspace and outdoor space, features it is hoped will encourage people to remain in the community.
Though highly modern, the design of Smart Clachan is a reimagined take on a traditional island township. It is envisaged that the Rubha Bhuailt development will echo the same sentiments and have a strong community feel like the community-led townships of the past.
This approach, it is anticipated, will be achieved by the community-led cooperative housing model that is to be used.
Rural Housing Scotland comment: "This community-led, cooperative ethos is fostered through a range of shared services and facilities to enhance sustainability and connectivity, including a community work hub to enable households to establish their own business or work remotely."
The drop-in sessions are set to continue, with more locations and dates in the pipeline. At these sessions, members of the Uist community can learn more about Smart Clachan and share their views.
One issue attracting attention is digital connectivity and how there are parallels with a project in rural Ireland working to close the digital divide.
With Smart Clachan's proposed community workspace/hub closely aligning with the work being done in Ireland, a study visit could be on the cards to discover more about how Ireland successfully tackles the issue in remote and rural areas.
The linkage between Uist and Ireland was highlighted by Jake Ryan, head of the Irish Government's Regional Development and Innovation Unit. He contacted Smart Clachan Project Officer Donna Young to discuss how the Irish Government launched their National Hub Network and its online platform, Connected Hubs. Just over 200 remote and co-working hubs are supported in Ireland by the Connected Hubs project. But this number is expected to swell to over 400.
One important component is the Broadband Connection Point initiative. This initiative provides high-speed connectivity to community centres, sports clubs and other publicly accessible places in rural and isolated communities.
This broadband initiative is rolling out connectivity to sites where high-speed broadband is not commercially available. It then adds Wi-Fi access points to provide remote work facilities, skills training, arts & culture activities and eHealth.
Currently, 250 broadband connection points are operational, including 12 on offshore islands and a further two being added to a 50-strong rollout this year.
Comparisons of 'black spot' areas in the Outer Hebrides are identical to the challenges faced in places like Malin Beg, Co. Donegal. However, Ireland's much-needed improvements to digital connectivity are already reaping the rewards. The community workspace/hubs breathe new life into rural communities and provide vital lifeline services for increasing phone and internet connectivity dependence.