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WATCH: Trailblazing Achtercairn development in Wester Ross village of Gairloch scoops international accolade from European Responsible Housing Awards in Helsinki as scheme to halt depopulation and create affordable homes hailed an example for others

By Hector MacKenzie

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The Achtercairn project has been hailed one others could be inspired by. Picture: Rupert Shanks
The Achtercairn project has been hailed one others could be inspired by. Picture: Rupert Shanks

A TRAILBLAZING Wester Ross regeneration project has won international recognition and been hailed a template others can follow.

The success of the Achtercairn site in Gairloch – aiming to tackle depopulation, declining services and lack of affordable homes and business premises – has won international recognition at the European Responsible Housing Awards, part of the International Social Housing Festival in Helsinki.

The annual awards are organised by Housing Europe to showcase outstanding examples from social and affordable housing providers across Europe.

The community-led project won the ‘More Than A Roof’ category and is seen as a solution for people priced out of the market by soaring demand for second homes and holiday lets as well as a way to rejuvenate communities.

Ronnie MacRae, chief executive of the Communities Housing Trust, the charity which led the project, accepted the award for a project which impressed judges as "a good model and inspiration for other villages" already being adapted elsewhere.

Local residents and 50 partner organisations turned a derelict site into a thriving new geographic centre for the village.

Achtercairn now includes 25 homes with five different affordable tenures; Gairloch Farm Shop, which also houses a vet clinic; an Air Training Corps facility; and the GALE Centre, Scotland’s first public building to be awarded Passivhaus status.

GALE volunteers.
GALE volunteers.

The centre includes a tourist information hub, a community-run shop and café, rooms to rent and a veg-growing and composting area. A University of the Highlands & Islands classroom, enabling people of all ages to access new education opportunities, has since moved to larger premises.

The project tackled fuel poverty and limited access to affordable housing, education, shops and services. The homes are highly energy efficient.

The wider range of shops and services available locally reduces the need to travel and helps to keep spending power local. The GALE Centre receives over 40,000 visitors a year and supports 100 people locally by selling their crafts and produce.

The project was funded by the Scottish Government and Highland Council with key partners including Albyn Housing Society, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Gairloch Estate, the Ministry of Defence and the Gairloch & Loch Ewe Action Forum.

Ronnie MacRae: Template for others.
Ronnie MacRae: Template for others.

Ronnie MacRae hailed it an example of rural communities leading the way in creating sustainable futures for themselves with international recognition "a great tribute to the power of community-led development".

He said: “The community wanted to make sure the village is a ‘living’ village, and look at the reasons people were being forced to leave." They have managed to help diversify and stabilise the local economy and provide a range of "genuinely affordable homes which are protected for use by the local community".

He says many more communities could follow Gairloch’s example and urged the Scottish Government to support and fund community-led development.

Janet Miles: Benefits for years.
Janet Miles: Benefits for years.

Janet Miles, managing director of GALE said the development has brought new prosperity: "Jobs and housing go hand in hand here and this development has enabled our tiny development trust to create 20 year-round jobs and new income-generating opportunities for over 5 per cent of the Gairloch and Loch Ewe population." It "will yield social, economic and environmental benefits for our community for many years to come".

Ross MP Ian Blackford said demand for second homes/holiday lets is a factor in the rising cost of properties, often barring local young people to compete. He said genuinely affordable housing, protected for use by the local community, coupled with the jobs created has ensured a vibrant future for locals "and is something I’d very much like to see replicated throughout Scotland".

Related: Project commended in Scottish Civic Trust awards

Regeneration project accolade for Gairloch site

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