Few 19-year olds can claim to be on the board of an organisation with multi-million pound assets.
But one who can is Brandon Clements. He has just become a director of the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust (IGHT), the community-led body which completed the historic buyout of the island in 2002. Now back working on one of the two fish farms, he is on a mission to persuade others of a similar age to build their lives on Gigha to counter its ageing profile.
In the 18th century around 700 had lived on the island but that had dropped to around 100 by the end of the 20th century. Within four years of the buyout the population had increased by more than 50-per cent to 151, reversing 300 years of decline.
Although people have come and gone, the IGHT has been successful in retaining that population. But Gigha is not immune to the demographic pressures facing communities throughout the land. Some 78, more than half of the 150 residents, are now over 50 and 21 of them are over 70. Brandon is determined to act before the statistics worsen, and believes his own experience can help.
“When I left Tarbert Academy a couple of years ago, I didn’t really think about staying and working at home on Gigha full-time. I went off to college in Glasgow to study software development for a year. But I didn’t enjoy it all. So I thought I would move back, save some money and see where I would go from there.”
He initially worked at the Gigha’s acclaimed Boathouse Restaurant over last summer, but decided he needed something more permanent. “I saw there was a job on one of the fish farms, so went for it and am really enjoying it, finding it very interesting.
“It got me thinking about all the people my age who think they have to leave the island and leave Argyll to find a better job or house or meet other people. I decided to join the Gigha Board to see what we can do to keep some of my age group on the island, or persuade other young people to return or come here. Like lots of island communities, the population is getting older. This is an issue in itself, as we need to make sure we have the right services and help to make sure they can stay on the island if they want. However, we also need young people to fill the jobs, provide the care, keep the school and shop and hotel open and make Gigha a better place to live.
“I have already started to survey all the young people on the island and am just about to hold a meeting with them. I want to find out what they want to see happen. I hope I can be a strong voice on the Board for the young people of my island. “
He said he would like to help shape a new vision for the island. One that would still be financially prudent paying the back IGHT’s loans. These financed the trust’s significant investment in upgrading the substandard houses inherited from the island’s previous private owner, and erecting four money-making wind turbines. But at its heart, he believes any new vision should also embrace the aspirations of Gigha’s young folk, with a place where they could meet a good starting point.
He said “There is a lot to draw young people, but suitable jobs and starter housing remain a challenge. We are three to four hours away from Glasgow on the bus. But Gigha really comes alive at community events such as our music festival in June, which boasts the world record for a non-stop Orcadian Strip the Willow, some 65 minutes.
“At these times, young folk want to be here. We need to keep more of them. I just hope my time on the board will help make that happen. In 5 years I would
like to see Gigha with no debt, with a lower age average and building new houses and community buildings for the islanders.”
Linsay Chalmers, development manager of Community land Scotland (CLS) – the umbrella organisation for community landowners – said:
“Given that the island was once in decline, one of the most inspiring aspects of visiting Gigha is seeing the ferry fill up with children and teenagers coming back from Campbeltown Grammar School and Tarbert Academy at the end of the day. The top priority for many community landowners is creating places where young people can stay and make a good life for themselves after leaving school, college or university. Involving young people in strategic planning can make a huge difference to these endeavours, so we are delighted to see Brandon become a Director of the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust.”
The Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust bought the island in 2002 for just over £4m. It repaid a £1m loan to the Scottish Land Fund, over 15 years ago, as part of a £3.5m support package. The IGHT’s portfolio of assets has been valued at £7.5m. For further information phone Jane Millar, Business Development Manager at the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust 01583 505390.