Communities across Scotland invest to keep vital services going

The Herald, by Sanrda Dick

They include shops facing closure, fledgling distilleries, hydro power plants and struggling sports clubs which without investment seemed doomed.

Across Scotland dozens of small communities have been pumping big money into local share schemes to help provide funds to save vital facilities and bring new business to their areas.

In some cases, investors are reaping impressive rewards, with significant returns on their cash as well as creating jobs and inspiring extra investment in their communities.

Over the past three years at least £12 million has been raised through community share schemes across Scotland for a variety of projects, from tiny village post offices to whisky distilleries, ground-breaking hydro power plants, community centres, sports facilities and even a harbour.

One of the most significant has seen local money pour into the establishment of a whisky distillery in Dingwall – the first for 90 years in the area – while islanders on Barra, which featured in the classic movie, Whisky Galore, are snapping up shares in a planned distillery there.

Some projects are eligible for up to 50% tax relief and have seen investors enjoy up to 7% returns on their investments – far higher than current bank savings rates – with the promise of more to come.

One of the most lucrative is Scotland’s first community hydro power scheme, Donside Hydro in Tillydrone, Aberdeen.

The renewable energy project offered £500,000 worth of community shares with a healthy 7% return for investors.

The latest has seen South Cowal Community Enterprises Scheme smash its £60,000 target to raise £65,000 to help take over the area’s only shop and Post Office which had been threatened with closure which included giving every child in the area a £10 share each.

The move saves locals from what would have been a 34-miles round trip to Dunoon for post office and banking services.

In addition, locals have received a £256,000 Scottish Land Fund grant to buy the premises, and there are now plans to create a bunkhouse for passing tourists at the site.

In what’s thought to be the first move of its kind in Scotland, every under-16-year-old in the area – from south of Dunoon to Inverchaolain and including the tiny villages of Toward and Innellan – has been handed shares in the scheme, giving them part-ownership and ensuring they have a vested interest in its future.

However, the South Cowal scheme is just one of dozens of projects that stretch the length and breadth of the country, some of which are set to reap rich rewards for investors.

They include Glenwyvis Distillery Community Benefit Society in Dingwall which has created Scotland’s first community-owned craft whisky distillery and returned production to the town after a 90-year absence.

The UK’s largest community share scheme, it has raised over £3m and has around 2,500 members from 30 different countries.

Investors are expected to receive 4% interest on their funds from 2022.

A raft of community-backed renewable energy projects is also set to line community investors’ pockets.

North Uist Development Company’s community share offer to support its wind turbine project is projected to generate at least £2.3m for the North Uist community over 22 years.

“Quite a lot of shareholders, especially those in hydro-electric schemes and whisky distilleries are seeing fairly good interest and have received around 4% on their investment,” said Toby Sandison, programme officer at Community Shares Scotland, which has helped 26 communities raise more than £12m.

However, other projects – particularly large scale renewable energy schemes – are believed to have operated independently from the agency to raise huge sums.

He added: “People are getting a bit more back than they would do if they were putting their money in a bank, and for a community group it is cheaper than a
bank loan.

“There is a very diverse range of schemes. Quite a lot are community shops but there are a few renewable energy schemes too, whisky distilleries, arts centres and one group that sells Fair Trade sports balls.  It can be used for anything that a community is going to support.”

One scheme in Edinburgh’s Bruntsfield area has raised £30,000 from 320 members to launch Dig-In, a greengrocer specialising in working with local producers, while the city’s Bridgend Farmhouse scheme raised over £70,000 to halt the sale of a derelict property and turn it into a community centre, training hub and office space.

Others have seen £100,000 raised by Portpatrick Harbour Community Benefit Society to secure the historic harbour of Portpatrick for the benefit of the community, and a share offer to locals in Uig, Lewis, which saw them spend £25 each for a share in a community co-operative to run a shop, petrol station and post office.

The Highland Community Energy Society recently launched a £1.89m scheme to fund six hydro projects, with plans to pay its members a return of 4.5% per annum on their shareholdings.

Community shares schemes are not intended as “get rich” schemes. Instead, they were launched as a way for communities to invest in facilities which could benefit their area.

In South Cowal, there are plans to invest surplus cash into the area rather than pay investors a return on their funds, Linsay  Chalmers, chair of South Cowal Community Enterprises, said: “If our local village shop were to close, it’s a 34-mile round trip to the nearest shops in Dunoon via Loch Striven for some locals shopping for vital supplies.

“The post office facility is in effect our local bank in many ways and our local pottery and other businesses rely on the Royal Mail for delivering their sales.”