“My great-grandparents had four children; two sons and two daughters. Two sons and one daughter emigrated to the United States and Canada respectively leaving one daughter (my grandmother) at home to look after the parents” recalls Norman.
This was typical of many families in the Islands of the Outer and Inner Hebrides. The promise of better jobs and a better standard of living has meant that many young people have left their homes in search of a better life.
Despite the obvious natural and raw beauty of Lewis, which was crowned the number one island in Europe at the TripAdvisor 2014 Travellers’ Choice Islands Awards, younger generations have been emigrating to areas which appear to offer them a better future.
This doesn’t have to be the case. The Galson Estate Trust community is a beacon of hope for similar communities.
The group, via their subsidiary Galson Energy Limited, have just unveiled their second and third community owned wind turbines – which gives the island and the people who live there the chance to create more sustainable economic opportunities. But communities don’t simply appear, they are formed and moulded.
“We believe that opportunity in Lewis is growing, and people who want to stay should be able to, and contribute to our mini sustainable society which we are hugely proud of. That is the real energy which we want to harness. A spirit if you will”
The road to creating the Galson Estate Trust began many years ago. In 2001, a first Government reading of the Land Reform Act was a catalyst for change, and galvanized this particular Lewis community.
The Act took nearly four years to become statute, and Norman reflects that this was their opportunity to take ownership of the land which was more than their home, it was their entire world.
“Our community came together, and quickly became organized with a clear goal and strategy for The Galson Estate: create new jobs, new opportunities, and be a fully sustainable estate using this land for good – and for the people who live here.”
It started with ten. Ten elected directors of the Galson Estate Trust, each of them bringing a breadth of experience and knowledge base to drive forward the process of community land ownership.
One of the main difficulties for communities purchasing land is navigating through legal red tape and convoluted procedures, and Norman states that they were fortunate to have the skills available to do so.
“I have a background in commercial/project management and was a mechanical engineer, and the other directors were accountants, publishers, business owners to name a few. Lewis clearly has talented people, and when focusing our attentions together for this singular community focus – we were so much stronger together. Whilst additional support was provided by external organisations, I like to think that the fire-in-the-belly which drove this project forward came from the Lewis residents.”
The effort and dedication to oversee the ownership has been a real labour of love, with all of the directors volunteering their time for this all encompassing cause. It took until 2007 to finally secure the Galson Estate on the northern tip of the Isle of Lewis, and plans to harness the wind began to take shape.
Over the past eight years, the Galson Estate Trust community has been gathering momentum. More members have joined the community and the islanders are quickly getting a reputation for being experts for the knowledge they hold in renewable energy.
Mr Hajime Kitaoka, the Consul General of Japan visited Lewis to build knowledge of both wind and wave energy technology.
The visit was particularly important as the country is looking towards different energy sources following the nuclear disaster caused by impact of the 2011 tsunami.
“Together we have taken the time to learn more about renewable energy and it’s fantastic that people from around the world have taken an interest in our wind turbines. I think any research of renewable energy, and the different ways which societies can generate it is a good thing; it means renewable energy will constantly be improving to meet different needs.”
Energising the community
The Galson Estate Trust has big plans to use the profits from the turbines to keep the community evolving. The addition of two turbines will mean that the community trust pot will grow, and the benefits have already been seen on the Island. One of the beneficiaries is the local genealogy society – which is a cause particularly close to Norman.
“With island emigration being a long tradition, the society has helped me understand my own history. So many people throughout the 20th century have emigrated around the globe from Lewis– mainly Canada, United States, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. I have more relatives in New Jersey than I do on Lewis.”
It is this sense of tradition which the entire Lewis community are trying to protect. Lewis in particular had the highest percentage of Gaelic speakers in Scotland. Although the numbers are dwindling, there has been a recent effort in Scotland to increase the number of Gaelic speakers in the country.
It has returned in some parts to the national curriculum. Norman himself a proud Gaelic speaker, insists that profits from the turbine will not only protect local traditions but provide a platform for them to grow.
“The island is a hive of creativity, and we have a number of arts and crafts being produced as well. The funds will be used to ensure that people who want to practice these crafts – have the opportunity to do so. Materials, tutors, spaces…whatever is needed.”
In the past couple of years, 11 small organisations have benefited from the Community Fund, and with the addition of two turbines – the number of organisations which will benefit is due to grow. These investments are not going to prevent people leaving, but they can certainly create an environment for people to return with decent prospects.
“Many young people will leave to go to college or University, and we would encourage that. We believe that opportunity in Lewis is growing, and people who want to stay should be able to, and contribute to our mini sustainable society which we are hugely proud of. That is the real energy which we want to harness. A spirit if you will.”
words: chris yong
Galson Energy Limited (GEL) is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Galson Estate Trust (Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn). The Galson area’s way of life is about the intricate interaction between a crofting lifestyle, a panoramic landscape and a diverse natural environment. GEL’s initiative is a number of projects carried out by the company and the principal aim of the project is to provide financial stability of the local community and provide additional funds for investment in community projects. Triodos Bank financed the construction and operation of their two additional wind turbines.
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