It was a privilege to be asked to facilitate the AGM of Storas Uibhist last night in one of the village halls in Uist.
The team at Storas has been managing the community owned South Uist estate, which includes the islands of South Uist, Eriskay and most of Benbecula for a decade. This is still the largest buy out of any estate in Scotland and the figures presented last night should be a source of inspiration for any community that is considering a similar move.
In 2006, the estate was valued at £4.2 million pounds. Ten years later the gross value has risen to northwards of £30 million. Incredible, when you consider that during this decade the rest of the world was dealing with the banking crisis, the worst global recession since the 1930s and years of austerity. In that time South Uist began to prosper.
When you dig into the figures from the past and the present, the leap forward by this community is even more staggering. Ten years ago the estate employed 13 people who were paid an average annual salary of £6500. Storas Uibhist now employs 29 people on an average salary of £17,400. The work force has doubled, average pay has trebled and the money going into the community in wages, has increased six fold from £80,000 to more than half a million pounds every year.
After years of neglect, the estate moved from being loss making to profitable in five years. The world famous Askernish golf course has been restored to the glorious links first laid out by Old Tom Morris. Three wind turbines have been erected that produce a significant £700,000 annual dividend. A £10 million pound marina has been built in Lochboisdale, land has been released for much needed housing and the vital drainage system is being restored. Again, incredible.
Future plans include additional wind turbines, a distillery, a further extension of the marina and ferry terminal, which is the gateway into the islands, and myriad smaller projects that will all help build a more solid economic base on the islands. Islanders were told last night that the capital projects planned for this estate outstrip what is in the pipeline for the whole of the rest of the Western Isles.
All of this is happening because the South Uist estate is a community owned company, led by an inspirational and dynamic chairman with a talented and hard working team behind him. Communities which are still in the grip of private landowners should take note.
Clearly, like so many other rural areas, this community still faces economic and other challenges but the success of the last decade should give them confidence that islanders in control of their own destiny are more than capable of facing up to and overcoming them.
Storas Uibhist is a sensational success story. I am delighted that Morrison Media will be working with them to tell their story.