Based in Cairndow in the Scottish Highlands, Here We Are (HWA) is a charity whose interest in heritage lies in how Cairndow’s past can inform and empower the present-day community.
Opened in 2001 after three years of planning, HWA runs a variety of projects intended to keep the local community self-sustaining, ranging from local exhibitions about local tradition, to long-term renewable energy projects.
Our Houses Their Stories is a community history project undertaken by HWA which chronicled the biographies of 107 houses in the vicinity of Cairndow and the people who have inhabited them since the 19th century. All 107 houses were photographed and before long local people were coming forward with their own photographs from over the years. Now, the project represents a comprehensive history of the lives, occupations and livelihoods of Cairndow’s residents – a history that is still being added to today.
HWA’s Glen Fyne project set out to map changes in the landscape and land use from 1905 to the present day, culminating in an online interactive map which offers a fascinating insight into how the local area has evolved over the years. Local residents have submitted hundreds of photos to the project, which tracks the evolution of traditional farming and shepherding practices in the area – traditions which are central to Cairndow’s sense of cultural identity.
HWA’s 100 Years of Shepherding on Adkinglas Estate project takes great pains to chronicle local traditions of sheep husbandry, given its cultural significance to the local area. The project has surveyed and recorded the remains of 20 sheep fanks – traditional sheep pens built into the land out of stone and turf – that otherwise would have been lost due to the grown of bracken and natural regeneration. Older members of the community who can remember traditional shepherding methods have been interviewed on camera to record their experiences, preserving local knowledge for the next generation as well as future archaeologists. The project was conducted in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland.
Other local history projects undertaken by HWA include Mother’s Messages, a recipe book containing authentic recipes from some of the Cairndow community’s beloved characters past and present, complete with biographical information about the chefs and their roots in the community.
HWA is currently in the process of attempting to digitalise its entire photographic archive – numbering some 7000 photographs. A portion of the collection has so far been uploaded to an interactive digital touchscreen in its visitor centre on the shore of Loch Fyne, but the completion of the project will depend on securing further funding. HWA remains committed, however, to opening its entire collection to residents and visitors in a modern, accessible, engaging format.
HWA is also involved in the running of S.J. Noble Trust, which provides financial and business support to new and existing businesses in the Argyll and Islands area, Our Power CIC, a wood chipping plant providing energy to the electrical grid, and Merk Hydro LLP, a river hydro scheme which generates local electricity.
Initially relying heavily on grant funding, HWA is now largely sustained by its own generated income, having set up two enterprising arms to foster sustainability.
After an exhibition celebrating Cairndow’s heritage of locally generated power from water mills and a micro hydro, HWA sourced funds from Community Energy Scotland for a feasibility study to explore all sources of appropriate renewable energy.
The result was HWA’s enterprising arm Our Power CIC: a chipping plant established in 2007 which now sells approximately 1700 tonnes of wood chips, or 4000 megawatts of heat, using timber sourced from a local area of 30 miles.
HWA launched its second enterprising arm, the Merk Hydro Scheme, in 2015 – in partnership with three other organisations.
The Merk Hydro Project LLP is a 1MW hydro scheme, located in the vicinity of the Merk Burn on the River Fyne near Cairndow. The hydro benefits from a very high head of pond and generates an average of around 3300 MWh of electricity, which can be sold to the Grid to bring in extra money for HWA to pursue community benefits.
HWA has significantly increased the social capital of Cairndow and the surrounding community, bringing both social and economic benefits.
In its first 10 years of operating, HWA helped the local community access over £1m of inward investment, also creating 14 local jobs and sustaining a further five. All HWA’s staff members have served for over 10 years now, having been recruited locally and then provided with comprehensive training in specialised areas.
Recently, HWA was commissioned to undertake a community action plan – a local consultation which has resulted in a number of community benefits including a path to the head of Loch Fyne from Clachan, as well as an increased level of external funding entering the community.