Community bodies across the land have earned the right to become one of the building blocks on which Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic is founded.
It was they who had to make the Scottish Government’s ‘stay at home’ instruction work on the ground.
It was they who ensured the most vulnerable could be: protected; would have food; medicines; money; human contact.
In the vanguard were many of the 420 plus community bodies who own local land, buildings and other assets, from the Highlands and Islands to the cities and south to the Borders, according to Community Land Scotland (CLS) and the Community Woodlands Association (CWA).
Today these bodies publish a report on the remarkable local efforts, entitled ‘Built-in Resilience: Community Landowners’ Responses to the Covid19 Crisis.’
Its publication is in support of CLS’s call for a bold ‘Rural New Deal’. This would embrace further land reform, with a Scottish Land Fund supported by up to £20m a year, to help rebuild Scotland’s economy, plan a greener future and prepare local protection against any new emergency.
The report on the pandemic shows how: “These community owners, provided an anchor for local residents as the tide of infection flooded.”
It says it is no accident their roots lie in the early headline buyouts in Eigg, Assynt and Knoydart, which confronted threats to local interests posed by failing private ownership.
There are case studies from across the country including –
In the north of Lewis the community landowner the Galson Estate Trust developed a communication system to contact its 1900 residents, many of them elderly, in 800 households across 22 villages.
Volunteers ensured there were deliveries of shopping, prescriptions and other necessities to all who needed them.
They recognised social isolation was a real issue, and began offering Gaelic and English Bookbug sessions on their new YouTube channel, as well as A Gentle Movement class session.
In Skye the Broadford and Strath Community Company, made great efforts to ensure local residents had enough to eat.
It started a food share with produce from the Co-op which would otherwise have gone to waste. Volunteers supplemented this with fresh produce from the allotments in the community woodland. They have also provided 90 hot meals per week to families and elderly people in need.
In Glasgow the community-owned Kinning Park Complex (formerly part of a school) set up of a programme that has seen organisers: register 100 local volunteers; deliver flyers delivered to every household telling how to get help; offer a dog-walking service; gardening help; and art and English classes. Volunteers have been delivering almost 500 nutritious meals per month, with grocery boxes providing another 4500 meal equivalents.
The report argues that while ministers had initially supported community ownership to achieve more balanced land ownership, it had delivered something equally important.
“The Covid-19 public health emergency has proved that the (community ownership) model also creates a new front line in local resilience. Something that ministers should recognise as they chart a course towards economic recovery.”
CLS’s Policy Director Calum MacLeod said:
“We need more community land and asset ownership because it’s a proven model of enhancing the resilience of rural and urban communities. The pandemic has underlined that. So we’re calling for the expansion of the £10m Scottish Land Fund up to £20m annually to provide the necessary investment to ensure that scaling-up of community land ownership across Scotland.”
A Land Value Tax and other fiscal measures to reduce inflated land values, should be considered, he said. Meanwhile A supplementary charge to the Land and Buildings Transactions Tax (replaced Stamp Duty) for private sales of large estates, could provide extra revenue for the Scottish Land Fund. This would allow the fund to finance more community buyouts.
He said that while the economic storm created by the coronavirus had to be addressed urgently, so too did the climate emergency which hadn’t gone away.
“Community land owners have already led the way in renewable energy generation and conservation. “
Jon Hollingdale of the Community Woodlands Association said:
“Over the last few decades, hundreds of community organisations across Scotland have acquired assets – woodlands, land, buildings – to help them address the needs of their communities, whether that’s for affordable housing, accessible recreation, or local shops and services.
Owning and managing assets enables groups to deliver their objectives and improve the lives of their communities, and in addition the experience of doing so builds community confidence and capacity, and empowers community organisations to tackle new issues.
The coronavirus epidemic has been a challenge nobody wanted, but the wide ranging and effective responses of community bodies illustrated here demonstrates the value of community-owned land and assets in developing community resilience and underlines the importance of continued support for the expansion and development of the sector.”