North West Mull Community Woodland Company owns and manages land and assets on behalf of the local community, empowering them to shape the future of where they live. We spoke to development manager Wendy Reid to find out more about why the organisation was founded and the impact it has on community life.
What does North West Mull Community Woodland Company (NWMCWC) do and what makes it unique?
The company was set up to buy land and businesses, putting them to work generating benefit for their surrounding community. As our name suggests, the first purchase was woodland near Dervaig in North Mull and this is one of our biggest projects. The woodland brings income through timber sales and has created many other opportunities for local people. We’ve created seven crofts and set up a forest school in the woodland to offer outdoor education. Environmental regeneration is a community priority and felled trees are being replanted with native broad-leafed species.
In 2018 we supported the community in a bid to purchase the Isle of Ulva, a small island off the west coast of Mull, from a private owner. Currently, we are working to repair homes and improve the pier infrastructure, but our intention is to rejuvenate life on the island, reintroducing families and creating a heritage programme that tells the story of Ulva’s people and history.
We’re a community-run company, meaning that anyone in the geographical area can join and have a say in our projects and priorities. No community in Scotland is like another and this company exists to meet local needs, supporting people to flourish.
What challenge led you to set up NWMCWC?
It all comes down to communities needing access to local resources and power over how they are used. As a remote island, Mull faces particular challenges, for example a lack of housing and limited employment opportunities. There’s been a long history of community action around Dervaig and as a group the company can potentially do more with land than a single owner, to try and tackle these issues.
What is going well? What challenges do you face?
These assets – the woodland and Ulva – being owned by the community opens up opportunities and offers people a say in the future of where they live, which is very powerful.
Our challenges are the time it takes to move things forward and accessing the skills and resources needed at a community level, where many people need to learn as they go along. Community buy-in is needed which takes time., and importantly decisions are made not only from a business perspective but also take account of their cultural and environmental impacts.
How does Triodos Bank share your vision?
What’s great about Triodos is they want to support the broader social and ecological benefits of what we do. Developing a relationship with the bank means we don’t have to explain ourselves all the time. They understand our ethos and share our values, and this means they are able to support our actions.
We operate in a difficult context, where commercial companies may have struggled, but because Triodos understands our broader aims, they are flexible and open minded, it’s very refreshing.
How have you used lending from Triodos Bank to expand your impact?
Knowing we have Triodos’ backing gives us confidence to explore and deliver projects more quickly, enabling greater impact for our communities. It’s really uplifting speaking to our relationship manager and knowing that they want to help our organisation succeed, not just offer individual lending.
What’s next for NWMCWC?
Over the next couple of years, we’re looking to find a tenant for our farming operations on Ulva, renovate the homes that are currently unoccupied and develop more housing both on Ulva and around Dervaig. We want to improve paths on the island and offer a permanent ranger service, so tourist visitors can enjoy what’s there. Replanting of previously harvested areas of forest with more of a mix of native broadleaf and commercial species will commence in 2022.
What happens on the island will be influenced by the new households that come to live on it, but we’re conscious that we need to balance increasing the population, and therefore its carbon footprint, with preserving the unique landscape and environment of Ulva. We’re working with other islands from across Europe – via the European Small Islands network – to draft a clean energy transition agenda for the island and this plan will feed into our projects.
What long lasting impact would you like to make?
The company’s long-term aim is to improve quality of life for people who live in the area. To support them to continue living here and to encourage people to come back, to start businesses and build their lives in these communities.
Ultimately, we want to be an enabler and facilitator for our communities and to do that in a way that minimises our environmental impact.
What’s your personal motivation?
I was motivated to join the Ulva project by the opportunity to be involved in something potentially significant from an early stage. I feel that I’ve got a role in shaping the island’s future on behalf of the wider community and I can help bring something back to life that otherwise wouldn’t exist. It’s work that has purpose and speaks to my personal values. I feel very privileged to do the job I do and to see the impact we have on a day basis.
Wendy Reid is a development manager with the North West Mull Community Woodland Company. She has a long history of working on community development projects across the Scottish Highlands and Islands. A focus of her role is helping to delivery community aspiration for the development of the island and in 2019 she moved to live on the island, as part of this work.
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