This is a guest post from our friends at the Applecross Community Company with an update on how they are working together as a community to bring forward positive changes for their place since we supported them in creating their first Community Land Use Plan last year.
Just imagine it – quiet single-track roads, crystal blue water and majestic views over to the Cuillin mountains of Skye. Kids playing out on the road, you know everyone who passes you by, it’s like going back in time! Applecross all to ourselves – it couldn’t get any better. Except, most of our economy relies on tourism – maybe, it couldn’t get any worse?
A’Chomraich, Applecross, is a small rural community of 250 residents in beautiful Wester Ross, accessible over the spectacular Bealach na Ba. Here there is a strong sense of community and wonderful atmosphere that comes with rural highlands. However, Applecross has its challenges. There is a lack of affordable housing, significant demographic imbalance and loss of young people, lack of diverse employment, lack of public transport and lack of access to land for community development. These challenges all contribute to the fragility of the Applecross community and influence its long-term sustainability.
The Covid pandemic showed just how fragile Applecross is, with many in our community having their livelihoods affected, or being isolated from friends and family. In response, the Applecross Community Support Group was formed which is a collaboration of the Applecross Healthcare Association, the Applecross Trust, the Applecross Community Council and Applecross Community Company (ACC). The group supported our community with financial assistance, food boxes, food and medical deliveries and seeds/compost for home growing and IT support.
But how do we make Applecross sustainable and resilient? ACC believes Applecross needs to take a holistic approach. Everything is interconnected. If we have access to land, we can build homes and business spaces. If we have affordable and suitable homes, we can increase our local population, which in turn increases our school roll and helps maintain our vital services, and in turn generates more diverse employment.
In 2019 Applecross community asked PAS to help and embarked on a collaborative process that involved local people and multiple stakeholders. This resulted in a Community Land Use Plan which now sits as supplementary guidance for the Highland Council Westplan.
At the same time ACC developed an Action Plan 2020-25. These two documents helped focus our community – identifying what is important to our community and providing a road map to help us achieve these. Lots has happened since then and it is all focused on local, sustainable living.
Over the past year ACC has been putting in the leg work – a feasibility study for land for affordable housing, a feasibility study into a community woodland and a feasibility study into an EV charge point powered by our community hydro station. Our community support has been great, including lots of active volunteers and input from the wider community at community events. In June this year, ACC submitted two funding applications to the Scottish Land Fund for land for affordable housing (Hydro field) and land for community woodlands (Torgarve woods). These community-led initiatives are a long time in the planning, and we hope funding enables our community to realise these aspirations.
Meanwhile we have launched an Ebike hire scheme (Active Applecross) to promote active travel in the community and established the Appleseed Community Garden and Allotments. Through our community-led process, we identified these needs and agreed a lease of land from the Applecross Trust. The Appleseed Allotments is funded by the Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) and aims to promote the reduction of carbon emissions by establishing a community growing space, composting facilities, and workshops on growing, cooking and composting. It is wonderful to see this project blossom(!) and to have so much community energy and enthusiasm – especially during lockdown!
ACC are also delighted to progress our community-led housing project, Camusterrach Housing, which is for three two-bedroom “all-access” homes for Applecross residents. We are in the process of acquiring the land and starting the build contract. This project helps us address the immediate housing need in Applecross.
So now as we ease out of lockdown and welcome back our visitors, we can reflect on the tests we have faced and know that we are on the path to resilience and sustainability.