Twenty years ago, the people of the Hebridean Isle of Eigg bought the island from its absentee landlords

Wind turbines on Eigg. Image: W.L.Tarbert/Wikipedia.

One of the Small Isles of the Inner Hebrides off the north-west coast of Scotland, Eigg is a place of history, flora and fauna and home to a vibrant community of 100. Changeable weather aside – although this too is part of its charm – it is an idyllic setting, offering all the benefits of island life. The Conversation

But in 1997 the population had declined to 65 and islanders had suffered for decades with absentee landlords, where security of tenure was denied to all but a few and investment in homes and businesses was at the whim of the owner. This was before land reform was introduced, to allow those who lived in such places some democratic control over their lives.

As pioneers of a movement across the Highlands and Islands, in April 1997 a bid for the island by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, a partnership between the residents of Eigg, the Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, was accepted by its enigmatic German owner, an artist by the name of Maruma. The people had “won the land” to echo the similar struggle of the people of Assynt in Sutherland in 1992.

In Scotland, if communities can raise the funds to meet the market price, they have first option to buy their land when it comes up for sale; in the crofting counties this is a right which can be exercised at any time, which essentially means a forced sale. To attract public sector support, there must be a community body registered to manage the process.

The Eigg community buy-out was funded by public and private donations from across the globe. Since then, the Heritage Trust has been managing the island on behalf of the community, assuming responsibility for stewardship of the island, its buildings and natural heritage, and for promoting economic and social development.


Some of the essentials of modern living had been denied to people on Eigg – especially energy. From reliance on domestic diesel generators and coal for very restricted heat and light, the Trust has established its own renewable electricity supply by establishing a local grid run by Eigg Electric. Washing machines, TV and other modern appliances can now be operated, within limits of 5kw per household – which represents a big improvement on the past. A fast broadband connection is available too.

Locals run and maintain the grid, the wind turbines, mini-hydros and the bank of solar panels – and they continue to explore local solutions and training opportunities. Eigg Trading, a subsidiary of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, leases the pier centre – An Laimhrig – to the local store, tearoom/bar and craft shop.

New housing, glamping and eco pods, a brewery and bothy project (revamping old estate worker dwellings) are all examples of how the community is evolving in ways that contrast starkly with the neglect of previous landlords. The forces of the lords and lairds, who cleared and then impoverished such communities of rural Scotland, have been progressively tamed by the efforts of Eigg, Assynt and others in remote and fragile places.

In March, after a short fieldwork trip to Eigg, I found myself stormbound for three days. Ferries only land every other day, so this enforced delay confirmed how vulnerable and yet resilient such communities are. That the people of Eigg can take such disruption in their stride is testimony to islanders’ resilience generally, but it also demonstrated the capacity to accommodate visitors, to ensure those living alone were kept warm, fed and well.

After the storm, the natural beauty of this Hebridean island – dominated by An Sgùrr, a magnficent, lofty hunk of rock circled by sea eagles and a prime place to spot whales and dolphins – complemented the discussions in the eco-centre and at the ceilidh in the café.

Looking over to the spectacular island of Rum from Eigg. Image: Ginger Inc/creative commons.

What was revealed was the rich human capital, the resourcefulness of the people of Eigg and the way in which the residents led by the Trust have grown into managing and developing this community. Work and incomes are critical to the survival of such communities, yet the islanders voted against a fish farm development in line with their Green Eigg eco-commitment.

Saltires, CND flags and anti-nuclear banners are noticeable here – this is an island that pursues an environmentally sustainable approach to life, that voted for independence and to remain in the European Union. Without the heavy weight of the landlord destroying enterprise, activity and vitality, a very different future has become possible on Eigg. While external support and funds have been important in their island’s revival, it is the islanders’ own energy and vision that have turned this place around.

An island on the edge, on the periphery of the continent, Eigg considers itself as part of a movement of thinking globally and acting locally. This is an island of immigration and inclusion – not an insular community, but one connected to the wider world. Recently, representatives of the unions for the landless of Brazil came to Eigg to discuss building community resilience through renewable energy projects – and islanders have hosted and visited other communities from across Scotland, Europe and beyond to share knowledge.

Eigg, Gigha, Assynt and other community buy-outs have demonstrated what “ordinary” people can do, given the chance. Like the working lighthouse operated by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, the community here stands as a beacon for people seeking reversal of decline across Scotland and in disempowered communities around the globe.

Mike Danson is professor of enterprise policy at Heriot-Watt University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.


What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.