Doing community regeneratively

A photo taken by Aden shows the regenerative community of Tarbert - a row of pink, blue and white houses reflected in the water of the harbour, and green hills in the background.

Community — what does it look like for you? It’s something that I keep thinking about as we travel and stay in different places. What sort of community/communities do I want to be part of? To invest emotionally. To cheer on. To rely upon. 

Island communities buying land together (rural Scotland). Knitting groups and wellbeing walks in the city (central London). Wild swimming Wednesdays (Sheffield). In-person. Online. WhatsApp groups. There are many ways to do community. 

 Here are three examples that I’ve glimpsed upon recently. Each has regenerative aspects.

Community-owned castle: Inner Hebrides of western Scotland

We were staying near a small pretty harbour town called Tarbert (see above photo). It’s got a ruined castle: not unusual in this part of the world! The signage proudly describes how Tarbert Castle Heritage Park is ’owned by the community and entirely cared for by volunteers.’ 

They do the fun stuff: senior pupils from Tarbert Academy illustrated Medieval characters on the historical displays; and the less fun stuff: picking up litter and emptying waste bins. 

As a way to increase biodiversity of the castle ruins, the community have created a woodland and orchard, and own a flock of Hebridean sheep to keep the grass cut. They’ve partnered with a local supermarket and rely on donations to ‘achieve their sustainable maintenance plan’. 

I like the fact that the community are flipping the script on ownership and how well they’ve thought it through (including using sheep to regenerate the land). Their sense of pride is palpable. Even as a passing visitor, you sense it. 

A picture taken of Hebridean. They are used in the regenerative community of Tarbert.
Hebridean sheep. © Pinterest.

Community buy-out: Island of Gigha

Not far from Tarbert is the tiny island of Gigha (pronounced Gere, as in Richard). Scotland is notorious for absentee landlords. When the entire island came up for sale in 2001, the islanders clubbed together to buy it. 

With support from grants and loans from the Scottish government (via the National Lottery and another enterprise), they raised the millions of pounds required. From soup ‘n’ sandwich days to quiz nights and ‘sponsored rows around the island’ they made their vision a reality. According to the Gigha website, this put them ‘in the vanguard of the Scottish land reform movement.’ 

Clearly, they needed a structure and proper  governance to make it work. The Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust was formed. Its aim: to promote ‘community regeneration, employment and sustainability.’ 

A photo taken by Claire shows the regenerative community owned island Gigha - the green hilly landscape with some small houses nestled in the middle and the sea behind.
Dramatic landscape of the island Gigha.
A photo taken by Claire of a white sand beach in Gigha - the regenerative community owned island. Sunny blue sky spotted with fluffy clouds, turquoise clear water and white sand below.
A beautiful beach in Gigha.

‘The Island is part of me’

Island life might not be perfect. But this short clip gives you a flavour — watch it for the hypnotic Scottish accent. When we spent the day there (travelling via ferry), we were lucky to get a table at the renowned restaurant on the island, the Boathouse. The campsite was busy and so was the tourist trade. 

The islanders have overhauled run-down housing and the population decline has been reversed. Plus, they have a viable long-term income through their four wind turbines, selling renewable energy to the mainland grid with all profits ploughed back into the Trust. (According to their website, back in 2004, Gigha was ‘the first community-owned grid-connected windfarm in Scotland.’)

Regeneration: creating a sense of care in the community 

According to an article on the Seeds of Good Anthropocenes, not only has ‘community ownership built local self-confidence…. It’s changed the way people on Gigha relate to nature and one another.’ This speaks to the regenerative quality of care. So much easier to care about where we live if we have a vested interest in the place itself. (Another way we talk about this in regen is ‘place-sourced potential’: a bit jargon-ny, I know.)  

Green spaces and heatmaps

We left Scotland reluctantly. But now my husband Aden and I are finding our ‘London legs’, staying in Bloomsbury.  Just in the past day, I’ve seen a host of signs that point to the community initiatives here. From the Marchmont Community Centre to ‘improve the quality of life of local residents’, to farmers markets (everywhere in London these days, like in Sydney), to awareness about heatmaps. (Inevitably the less green in a city, the hotter they become. You can chart the hot-spots through heatmaps.) 

City community does things differently. In central London the garden squares create a focal point. I’ve missed Bloomsbury’s ‘tell the stories behind the trees’ event. But I’m signing up for the ‘wellbeing walk’ to increase my weekly step count. Last night our lovely 94-y-o neighbour, Betty, invited us for drinks. (Lovely, as we are only here a week!) She told us ALL about the colourful characters she’s known living here since 1976. 

Each place has certainly given me ideas on how I want to see communities thrive. 

What about you? How does community feed and nourish your life and work? Thoughts? Stories? 

Taken by Claire the image of a sign for a Farmers Market in Bloomsbury, London.
A picture taken of a sign for 'wellbeing' walks in the area of Bloomsbury.
"Not a guided tour".

Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.

The wood-wide web: How forests can teach us about regeneration

The wood-wide web: How forests can teach us about regeneration

Imagine if your industry was like this. Everyone is connected – not just digitally, but really connected in a way that they care about each other. Some of the big players do more than advise newbies or budding entrepreneurs, they actively help with resources, insight and energy.

In the neighbourhood where these workplaces are located, there’s a central hub. This is like the wellspring of wisdom, creativity and growth. Ideas are exchanged. Strategies are shared. This hub helps everyone in the system thrive. Instead of competition across your industry, there’s genuine co-operation. You’re all working to the same end: to create more life, more vitality. And this co-operation extends beyond the four walls of the office block. It supports the barista in the corner cafe, or the community garden in the central mall.

This isn't fiction

If this sounds like the latest Avatar movie, you aren’t far wrong. In fact, this scenario describes the “wood-wide web” — or how forests and trees communicate with each other.

Canadian scientist, Suzanne Simard, first floated this theory back in 1997. Her initial research headlined in Nature magazine. A fourth-generation forester from British Columbia, Simard had grown up hearing stories of how her grandparents had clear-felled ancient western red cedar forests by hand. The massive logs were hauled out by horses, and then launched down river to be milled as timber. “Grandpa taught me about the quiet and cohesive ways of the woods, and how my family was knit into it,” she says.

The giant stumps of these trees are still visible today in Canada, just like they are in old-growth forests in Australia. When I’m walking in places like Dorrigo National Park, I often think the cuts in the base of the stump are like two haunting eyes. These marks show where two men would stand on a plank of wood as they used axes to manually cut the tree down. It was a painstaking, slow and dangerous process for the men involved (we don’t know, of course, how it was for the trees…) Now, however, an entire forest can be bulldozed in a matter of hours.

Photos below: From Old Treasury Building, Reproduced courtesy of Museums Victoria.

like us - Trees are social and cooperative

I read Simard’s book, Finding the Mother Tree, over Christmas. Even if some of the science went over my head, her story is compelling. But what she shares is even more instructive.

When Simard started work as a forestry ecologist she became fascinated (to the point of obsession) about why some reforested plantations thrived, and others failed. Over decades, through hundreds of painstaking experiments, she helped uncover the existence of the mycorrhizal (fungi) network that connects forests. She also proved that the oldest “mother trees” are like “hubs” that share their excess carbon and nitrogen with understory seedlings. Trees, she says, are “social and cooperative”. They’re connected through underground networks… “with communal lives not that different from our own.”


For decades, Simard was excluded and dismissed by the male-dominated forestry industry. Her research contradicted their exterminate-all-weeds clear-cutting policy. Over time, Simard proved that different species of tree actually support each other – rather than compete. Her work, like that of other scientists, questions the Darwinian theory of evolution and survival of the fittest: which is what capitalism and modern economics is built around. (In an interesting aside she also mentions that Darwin developed his theories at the same time as Adam Smith penned The Wealth of Nations which is still the basis of liberal economics today.)

Inevitably, she does have her detractors. Kathryn Flinn in Scientific American, questions Simard’s anthropomorphism and use of “culturally weighted words” like ‘mother’ to describe the older trees. Flinn also makes the good point that “plants are fundamentally unlike us” and we need to respect those differences.


But, ultimately Simard is working to change centuries of Western colonial thinking that views forests (and everything in them) as resources to plunder. She flips the script. Instead of us saving the forests, she suggests that the forests can save us.

Simply put, she wants us to care. And that’s what regenerative businesses do – in fact, that’s the principle that regeneration is based upon – CARE.

Thoughts? Can you imagine your workplace or industry transforming like this over time?

Photos below: Dorrigo National Park – my arms are stretched around a 1000-year old eucalypt tree.

The wood-wide web: How forests can teach us about regeneration
The wood-wide web: How forests can teach us about regeneration