From short-term licences to long leases, local community and voluntary groups are seeking opportunities to take on the management or ownership of buildings and land. ‘Community Asset Transfer’ or in Scotland ‘Asset Transfer’ has enabled thousands of buildings and spaces across England, such as swimming pools, town halls, libraries and parks to be taken on and successfully managed by community organisations for the benefit of their local community.
A community buyout bid is being made for Ulva, a beautiful 12km-long island with fine heather moors and mossy woods, off Scotland’s west coast.
In 1837 more than 600 people lived on Ulva; there are now only six residents. In the four years to 1851, when potato blight and failure of the local kelp industry left the population destitute, the laird deported three-quarters of Ulva’s residents. Jamie Howard, the resident owner, puts the more recent population slump down to the “special and difficult challenges of living on a small, remote island with rough roads and limited housing stock”.
Barry George, who came to live on Ulva twenty years ago, said there were then 27 residents who would join together for Burns Night and Christmas parties: “The whole community has collapsed. There are five empty houses sitting there, empty . . . It’s quite shameful really.” Many of the buildings on the island show signs of neglect. A stepladder holds up the pulpit roof in the church. Slates are missing and wood frames rotting at the manse and other cottages. He added: “I don’t see what can possibly be wrong with right-to-buy, if the people who own the land are given a fair price.”
When Mr Howard put Ulva up for sale this year, asking for over £4m, local community organisers saw an opportunity for change.
The North West Mull Community Woodland Company, which operates forestry and related businesses on behalf of residents of the area of Mull that includes Ulva, has made a community buyout bid to bring Ulva under the control of local residents. Colin Morrison, chairperson of the Woodland Company, said : “Our drive would be to repopulate it, to bring business. There’s huge tourism potential.” (Left: director of the Woodland Company John Addy). A feasibility study commissioned by the Woodland Company for the community buyout argues that renovation of the housing stock would attract new residents and higher rents would then help the estate to cover its operating costs.
Today the Times reported that the Electoral Reform Society, which supervised the ballot, announced that out of 401 of those eligible to vote 255 had responded, with 163 in favour of the bid and 91 against. Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish government’s environment secretary, will have to approve the bid and she is expected to do this in the next few days.
- Witton Lodge Community Association piloted Birmingham’s first community asset transfer in 2010 – Perry Common Community Hall – now a thriving community hub.
- Castle Pool Community Partnership – successful transfer of local community swimming and leisure facility.
- Spitfire Services (formerly known as Castle Vale TRA) – successful transfer (licence to operate) of Tyburn Library.
- Moseley Road Baths Action Group – working with a range of partners to secure the future of Moseley Road Baths – ongoing.
- Wildside Activity Centre – working to support the board and CEO to secure the transfer of the centre and develop the business into a sustainable community asset – ongoing.
Some members of Localise West Midlands are playing a part in the Moseley venture.