"In Our Own Hands": documentary on 25 years of community land ownership in Scotland
A delight to share this documentary (Gaelic with subtitles) from BBC Alba (iPlayer link here, available till mid-September). From the blurb below
2018 is a historic year for community land ownership in Scotland. It marks 25 years since the Assynt crofters took ownership of their own land, and their own destinies. They were pioneers, and since then almost 50 community buyouts have followed in Scotland. Indeed land reform changes in Scotland have also seen inner-city community buyouts become a reality more recently.
Land ownership in Scotland, and in particular in the Highlands and Islands, has a long and turbulent history, stretching right back to the Highland clearances. We look at the story of Scotland’s community land ownership, and the ongoing challenges facing the communities that have chosen this path.
Amongst those we visit are Assynt, Eigg, Glendale in Skye, Gigha, Galson in Lewis, and Barmulloch in Glasgow. At the heart of each initiative is regeneration - creating opportunities, jobs, and improving people’s lives. While there are many benefits, it’s not without its difficulties
“We want more people in urban areas to learn more about community land ownership. It’s often seen as a rural thing, so we’re looking to show that it can be transformative in urban areas too.” [from Jasmine Chorley Foster, head of Community Land Scotland]
Chorley Foster said she thought that community landownership could have particular benefits in urban areas in light of the nature of the “precarious and transient” nature of urban areas, where jobs, homes and communities are often impermanent.
She said: “I think there’s so much good that community land can do. Community land owners have been able to establish places constitutionally bound to communities. That means they’re democratically set up, and unlike private businesses they can’t just leave and relocate."
“They offer spaces to provide non-exchange related social bonds, reduce isolation, and improve mental health. These social bonds can be really hard to achieve in urban areas so having these inclusive spaces to achieve community and own land can be an incredibly powerful tool to do that.
“It offers a certain amount of commitment to the long term and a certain kind of confidence in the community. It also provides opportunities for projects with potential to improve lives.”
Land reform has a powerful and emotional pull in Scotland, given the lingering traumas of the Highland Clearances. (Note the documentary is in Gaelic/talking to Gaelic speakers, which is the historic language of rural Scotland. In itself - as Madeleine Bunting has written - Gaelic is a means of expressing ecological connection with the land.)
For the rest of the UK? The UKGov's recent Civil Society Strategy document has a section on "empowerment and investment for local communities". It talks positively about the possibility of "ensuring community-led enterprises which take over public assets or services are able to secure the funding they need. It is recognised that these initiatives must acquire a genuine asset, not simply a liability, and that they often need non-repayable finance in the form of equity or grants to get going." As ever, with Westminster, we'll see.