Sunday, June 23, 2024

Island Issues

Scotland: Is the Bubble About to Burst for Community-Owned Gigha Island?

A community-owned island in Scotland is in dire financial straits, with reports suggesting that the heritage trust in charge of the island is almost GBP 3 million in the red.

Isle of Gigha

Isle of Gigha

It appeared to be one of the world’s most positive examples of a community island buy-out – Gigha Island, bought by its residents by means of the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust back in 2001 was once a shining beacon of island life – home to cultural events, music festivals and – until recently – a steadily increasing population.

Yet according to a report featured in Scotland’s The Sunday Herald last week, the bubble may be about to burst on Gigha, as rumours of a looming financial crisis gather at an increasing pace. According to documents obtained by journalists at The Herald, the island’s Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust is in a “precarious” financial position, with debts of GBP 2.7 million.

Despite initially succeeding in boosting the island’s population from 98 to 170 residents, the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust has been unable to sustain its forward momentum, with improvements to housing stock and attempts to decrease the island’s reliability on fossil fuels slowly giving way to stagnation and increasing concerns for Gigha’s future.

Indeed, the situation is so grim that even the island’s community-run hotel has been forced to close over the winter as part of emergency cost-cutting measures, with the bar– a social hub for Gigha’s 170-strong population – now operating on dramatically smaller schedule, which sees it open just two nights per week – much to the disappointment of the increasingly divided island population.

Whilst commending the progress made in previous years, a strategic review laid bare the true extent of the problems, warning of a desperate need to devise and implement a successful turnaround plan. “The IGHT is in a precarious financial position, with total third-party debts of GBP 2.7 million. The overall debt structure is unsustainable based on current revenues.” Ongoing operation will likely result in bankruptcy, it concluded.

Gigha’s sudden change in fortune has created considerable tensions amongst the island’s residents, and a vote of confidence in the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust’s chairwoman, Margaret McSporran has already been scheduled for next week.

“Everyone talks about the trust every day and this has caused ­divisions. There is too much going on behind closed doors,” explained one resident, who chose to remain anonymous. “Apart from the huge debt there is no community spirit now. The incomers and mainland advisers have no idea what life used to be like,” he added.

Others were more optimistic, with land reform campaigner and author Andy Wightman who described the challenge facing the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust as an “onerous task”, whilst adding, that is was “easy to find fault” in such a scheme. “Everyone is doing their utmost to get to work,” he explained. “It is something we must get working.”

Land reform campaigner and author Andy ­Wightman was quick to lend his support. “At least they [the islanders] have the capacity to resolve those ­problems now, which they didn’t before. It is important not to look at it in isolation and say, ‘Is it successful on its own terms?’ – but rather to ask whether it is a move in the right direction. I would always argue yes, as you are putting these kind of issues and problems and responsibilities in the hands of the people rather than relying on the vagaries of the international property market,” he explained in a passionate interview with The Herald.

For her part, IGHT chairwoman Margaret McSporran asked the islanders for patience and to keep in mind the considerable achievements made by the community when all odds were against them. “All businesses review their business plans and structures and we are no different,” she explained. “We have recently carried out a strategic review, with the support of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which has focused on the use of our assets, financial performance and debts of the trust. The management of debt is part of our plans for the future.”

Head back to Private Island News next week to find out the results of the potentially make-or-break vote of confidence and find out what the future holds for Gigha Island or visit our social media pages (Facebook, Twitter & Google+) to have your say on this intriguing island issue.

You must be logged in to post a comment.