New Western Isles community business centre

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Work starts this week on an energy efficient business centre for Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (Galson Estate Trust) which is supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The £850,000 development is also part funded by the Big Lottery’s Community Assets programme and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and will include a new office for the trust as well as storage for the estate records and croft archive.

Meeting spaces will be available for community groups in the area and a specific area for crofters’ markets will give producers the opportunity to showcase what they have to offer.

The centre will boast its own wind turbine, electric car with charging point and provide a much needed service for visitors and the community.

Local contractors Alex Murray Construction will build the multifunctional centre which aims to become a hub for business activity within the fragile area.

The 56,000 acre estate includes the 20 crofting townships, from Port of Ness to Upper Barvas with a population of around 3,000. In January 2007 the community took ownership of one of the biggest estates in the Outer Hebrides which was made possible with funding from HIE and the Big Lottery Fund’s Scottish Land Fund as well as money raised from the community.

The area maintains strong links with the international Gaelic community and is at the forefront of progressing Gaelic culture and arts. A ranger has been in post for around six years and is already delivering considerable benefits to the wider community, facilitating sustainable management of the natural environment.

HIE has been working closely with the estate through its account management process and will over the next three years assist in its ambitious plans to improve opportunities for economic growth. The priorities are to create jobs, reduce local food miles by encouraging new croft based producers to sell locally, and to lower the carbon footprint by using renewable energy technologies.

The trust is currently advertising for a Local Development Officer, supported by HIE, to work with them and the wider community to develop and implement a community growth plan which will take account of opportunities for enhancing the social, economic and cultural welfare of the local area.

Lisa Maclean was recently appointed as the trust’s Commercial Development Manager. This post which is supported by HIE will progress a number of initiatives including the new building, a camping site and a wind turbine development.

HIE’s Head of Communities in the Outer Hebrides, Jane Macintosh, said: “Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn is now another step closer to realising its ambition of a sustainable future, with work commencing this week on the new building. Further ambitious developments are underway including promotion of tourism and environmental improvements to provide real benefits to both the community and the estate.

“The area faces challenges, but is showing signs of positive change and an upturn in population. The trust aims to continue to encourage this growth and the business centre will provide sufficient revenue to fund future projects.”

Agnes Rennie, chair of the Urras Board of Directors, said: “We are delighted that a local firm has started work on the new facility. The building is located in the village of Galson and will be central to all parts of the trust area. The community has great potential and we hope the new business centre and support from our staff will provide an added incentive for economic development in the area. We have been keen from the outset to work with partners to realise that potential and the new centre will mark a significant milestone in that regard.”

Councillor Archie Campbell, Chair of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Sustainable Development Committee, said: “The Comhairle is pleased to support the business centre and to contribute £50,000 from the Community Regeneration Fund. The business centre will be a valuable local asset for the community and visitors alike. “

The business centre has been possible with support from various organisations including BIG Lottery Fund, HIE, Leader, Community Energy Scotland, Climate Challenge Fund, and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.