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.
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.’
‘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?
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.