Funding announced for community groups to increase use of Gaelic language in island communities

Community Land Scotland with funding from Bòrd na Gàidhlig has made the first round of awards from a new Gaelic Communities Fund pilot scheme, to five community groups from the Scottish islands. The awards will encourage the increase of use of the Gaelic language within their communities.   Five groups were successful in sharing a total of £49,500.  They will deliver a range of events and activities, many of these intergenerational,  across Scotland’s islands including creative classes, a new festival, delivery of food boxes to the vulnerable, conversations, meetings, walks and a new Gaelic ranger service in the great outdoors.

The successful community groups are Bragar and Arnol Community Trust at Grinneabhat 2122 on the west of Lewis; North Harris Trust; Portree and Braes Community Trust on Skye; Horshader Community Development on the west coast of Lewis; and Tiree Community Development Trust.

Bragar and Arnol Community Trust has an ambitious programme to develop intergenerational creative classes, deliver weekly food boxes to the vulnerable, create a new festival with events at Grinneabhat2122 with Gaelic speaking at the core of all activities.

North Harris Trust will develop a Gaelic Medium Ranger Service with a focus on outdoor events for young people. There will be with walking and environmental engagement activities for visitors too, which raise awareness of the local environment including an awareness that the language is living and breathing, being used in the daily lives of local people. It aims to  encourage young people to use the language outside the school environment at weekends and in holidays. This project encourages greater awareness of and engagement with the landscape, wildlife and culture of the islands.

Portree and Braes Community Trust will run 2 – 3 intergenerational events per week particularly targeted at children such as sporting events, classroom activities and youth clubs and held in different settings indoors and outdoors, encouraging those with competency in the language to mentor and support those with less competent. They will encourage use of spoken Gaelic in shops pubs and restaurants.

Horshader Community Development  is organising community health and wellbeing events, ceilidhs and a photography exhibition where a positive image of the Gaelic language will be promoted through interesting content aimed at improving health and wellbeing. Events such as walks, watersports, conversation groups videos talks and demonstrations are all planned.

Tiree Community Development Trust  will run a series of new events including a pop up lunch café which will offer their community engaging events to showcase Gaelic and to encourage people to use Gaelic with different people.   Events range from the viewing of a Gaelic film with discussion panel, dinner with Gaelic songs and poems, to a pop up lunch café run by Gaelic speaking adults and children and Tiree History nights.

The pilot Fund was set up by Community Land Scotland, in collaboration with Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the principal body in Scotland responsible for promoting Gaelic development.

“The successful applicants are all democratically-run community trusts, with the skills, knowledge and experience to support the use of Gaelic in unique and innovative ways,” says Chrissie Gillies, Gaelic development officer at Community Land Scotland. “The projects look at a variety of opportunities, including wellbeing and outdoor events, conversation groups, singing, and lots more.”

“This is a pilot fund to support the use of Gaelic. It is to encourage native and fluent speakers to use the language and was open to community land trusts and community heritage trusts in the Inner and Outer Hebrides,” says Agnes Rennie, board director of Community Land Scotland who chairs the funding panel.

Shona MacLennan, Ceannard, Bòrd na Gàidhlig said “We are delighted to work in partnership with Community Land Scotland and to pilot this participative approach to funding Gaelic development.  Community trusts in the islands deliver invaluable work and the fund aims to ensure that Gaelic is used to increase Gaelic in their activities. The projects which have been funded will all contribute to the National Gaelic Language Plan aim that Gaelic is used more often, by more people and in more situations.”

Working in partnership with Bòrd na Gàidhlig (BnG), Community Land Scotland reviewed applications which were then vetted by an external panel, chaired by Agnes Rennie of Galson Estate on Lewis, vice chair of CLS. The other panellists were Rhoda Meek, Tiree crofter and social entrepreneur, Mairi Buchanan, senior development manager with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Dr Tim Armstrong, senior lecturer in Gaelic and Communication at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (the Gaelic college).

Community Land Scotland will shortly launch the second round of funding open to community land trusts and community heritage trusts in the Inner and Outer Hebrides who have ideas that would support the use of Gaelic in their areas. Applicants are encouraged to contact Chrissie Gillies to discuss their ideas.



Bragar and Arnol Community Trust

Grinneabhat, the former Bragar School, is now a community owned and developed ceilidh/meeting place which also offers accommodation and other facilities and is run by Bragar and Arnol Community Trust.  The group is the recipient of a new grant from the Gaelic Fund which will enable them to provide a programme of events and activities for the community and visitors including a repeat of a successful Story Box project with local artist Sandra Kennedy.

This project carried out through the Gaelic language invited participants to bring along items of personal significance. Sandra then took those on the course through the creative process resulting in these 3 boxes. (pictured) The repeat project will cater for adults and will also target inter-generational transmission of Gaelic.

The new funding will also enable the preparation and delivery of vital weekly food boxes to isolated and vulnerable members of the Urras Coimhearsnachd Bhràdhagair agus Àrnoil (UCBA) community through the winter months.  Other plans include a new festival in February, the provision of Gaelic language learning and promotional activities and an event in August 2022 celebrating 100 years since the erection of the famous Whalebone Arch visitor attraction.

“We will also be planning trips for some of our local residents accompanied by volunteers to local attractions which will encourage the speaking of Gaelic and to help these people get out and about which they would not normally be able to do” says Murdo Morrison, Community Officer.


North Harris Trust

North Harris Trust established a ranger service in 2013 to encourage awareness, responsible engagement, care and use of the natural and cultural heritage environment on Harris. This has taken many forms over the years and built strong relationships with local stakeholders. “With the introduction of a Harris Warden service in 2021, to build capacity for visitor management, we believe it is now time to take the ranger service in a new direction with the appointment of a Gaelic medium ranger fluent in Gaelic,” says Michael Hunter from North Harris Trust in Tarbert.

The North Harris Trust manages 25,900 Ha of community owned estate land.  The funding from Community Land Scotland and Bord na Gàidhlig would help facilitate outdoor events including a mountain festival (Feis nam Beann).  Youth engagement is an important part of the project  and there are plans to deliver Gaelic medium John Muir Awards to local young people.  “We believe this would be the first time locally that a John Muir Award has been run through the medium of Gaelic.”

“We believe it’s important to use Gaelic outwith the school environment at weekends and in the holidays, and to support the next generation of community speakers, boosting language confidence and capacity in a natural way,” continues Michael.

An outdoor events programme includes twice weekly walks to spot birds, marine mammals and other wildlife, tree planting, beach clean ups and path building. These are targeted at visitors and will showcase how Gaelic is part of a living community. “We have the highest density of golden eagles in western Europe,” says Michael. “Visitors will learn the Gaelic names and words for birds and glens bringing the language alive with non-speakers. We want to include an awareness that the language is living and breathing, being used in the daily lives of local people.”


Portree and Braes Community Trust

Portree and Braes Community Trust has been awarded a grant from Community Land Scotland’s new Gaelic Communities Fund.  The grant is for a project designed to revive spoken Gaelic in the area and will be run in partnership with Portree and Braes Community Council.    “It will be delivered through a series of events – meetings and activities where native speakers and learners of all abilities can converse in Gaelic,” says Fay Thomson a member of Portree and Braes Community Trust and a Portree and Braes Community Councillor. “It’s all about speaking Gaelic in everyday situations.”

The trust owns land and buildings for community use on Skye.   It aims to stimulate and coordinate the economic, cultural and environmental regeneration of Portree and Braes in response to community identified priorities. And with this new project aims to establish Portree and Braes as a stronghold of spoken Gaelic and increase its everyday use.

“We will be promoting the use of Gaelic language in local businesses, particularly in shops, pubs and restaurants where people gather locally” continues Fay. “We will be asking businesses to encourage staff to welcome customers in Gaelic and to display signage that indicates that the business supports and promotes Gaelic.”

“We aim to establish a network of native speakers and those interested in increasing their confidence of using the language -our twice weekly meetings are designed to encourage native speakers and people of all ages and abilities to speak Gaelic.”

“The challenge is to reverse the decline in the use of Gaelic by building confidence and normalising everyday use. Research shows that while the number of Gaelic learners is increasing the use of the language is decreasing. Many native speaker comment that there are fewer opportunities to speak Gaelic. Leaners report a lack of opportunities to practice the language especially with native speakers. There is mutual benefit in bringing the two groups together and this project aims to do exactly that.”

“Above all, we want people to enjoy speaking Gaelic whether they are fluent or just want to learn how to say a few words.   We really hope this project will go some way towards re-establishing Gaelic as the language of Skye.”

Meetings will be open to all on Skye and on Raasay, as well as visitors to the area.


Horshader Community Development

Horshader Community Development on the island of Lewis – will develop Slàn san Dachaigh, a ‘Healthy at Home’ Project first trialled in 2020. This will incorporate weekly outdoor and indoor events, ceilidhs at the homes of residents, Gaelic classes, and a photography exhibition in partnerhip with other local organisations. The new funding from the Maoin Choimhearsnachdan Cleacdaidh Fund enables this alongside funds generated by the Wind Farm run by Horshader.

“We have in part been inspired by the lockdown and the challenges thrown up by being forced to stay at home.  And we realise that there are members of our community who are harder to reach and may not attend our existing events,” says Euan MacLeod, development manager.

“It’s very important to have a health and wellbeing programme, focusing on improving mental and physical health for everyone. We have had some success already with a broad range of ages who have taken part in our outdoor programme of community walks, fitness classes, and water-based activities. Regular health and wellbeing events for all ages, run primarily in Gaelic, is our plan for the future.”

“The use of the Gaelic language is integral to everything we do. In 2020, for the first time, Horshader approved a Gaelic plan as a formal agreement in our group, rather than expecting language development to happen naturally.”

“The new funding enables us to recruit a Gaelic speaker with the appropriate skills and knowledge to help us deliver this programme.”

“Not only will we create a new employment opportunity, but we intend to reach out to more of our local community who may be housebound, or who haven’t engaged with other services and events. This will be achieved through Gaelic videos for social media, online materials, and other at-home resources.”

“In October we ran our first indoor event in 16 months, with the lifting of the restrictions of a global pandemic.  Since then, attendance at community events has somewhat unexpectedly returned to a pre-pandemic level.  This highlights the benefits of providing social and educational opportunities in at a local level.”


Tiree Community Development Trust

Tiree Community Development Trust was set up as a way to develop the community environmentally, economically and socially. The island off the west coast of Scotland has a population of 650 – of which around 36% speak Gaelic as well as English.  This is one of the highest percentage of speakers in Argyll & Bute.  Pre 5s are taught purely in Gaelic. The new funding awarded from the pilot Gaelic Fund will give everyone in the community of Tiree the opportunity to use their Gaelic or build on their Gaelic by hosting a range of events throughout the year.

The trust employs a range of project officers, youth worker, ranger and Gaelic development officer.  The project aims to bring all of the community together to celebrate their language.

“We want to offer the community engaging events to showcase their Gaelic and to encourage people to use Gaelic with different people, “ says Gaelic development officer Kathleen MacKinnon.  “We already have links to groups within the community such as Curam, which focuses on the elderly and our youth worker will encourage younger people to attend a new series of events.”

“We hope to increase everyone’s confidence and pride in their language, whether they are fluent and/or just learning. Gaelic is strong within the primary school setting, but it does drop slightly when pupils move into secondary and after school is less likely.  Unless you have established relationship with others through Gaelic it can also be difficult to identify others in the community who have Gaelic and who want to use their Gaelic. Holding these new Gaelic events will help identify those who have Gaelic or want to learn it and connect with others.”

“We aim to bring the whole community together with intergeneration events so they can learn from each other in a non-structured environment.”

Kathleen plans to show Gaelic films, a dinner with songs and poems, a pop up lunch café run by Gaelic speaking adults and children, Tiree history nights, all ages prize bingo and quizzes!