More Power to Fragile Communities
10 December 2001

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New steps have been taken to boost community confidence and empowerment in Scotland's Initiative at the Edge areas by offering local groups the funding and decision-making ability to take forward their own projects.

Each of the eight Initiative at the Edge groups have been offered 10,000 which they can hold and use for the benefit of their communities, addressing one of their most common frustrations - that access to even small amounts of cash for projects can be hugely time-consuming.

The eight areas: the Ardnamurchan peninsula; the Bays of Harris; Colonsay; Eriskay; Lochboisdale; North Sutherland; Uig and Bernera; Westray and Papa Westray,  have been identified as some of the most fragile communities in Scotland. Much of the progress that has been made since the Initiative began in 1997 has depended substantially on the voluntary commitment and dedication of the local steering groups.

Until now, because they had no direct funding of their own they have had to approach a whole range of bodies when trying to push forward any projects, and go through their various application process.  This lack of proper decision-making power has been an obstacle to the development of real community confidence one of the key objectives and principles behind the whole Initiative at the Edge programme.

This new allocation of funds will help the local steering groups prioritise and implement their own development plans. To get the funding the local groups will need to meet certain conditions. They will need to be formally constituted with an open, community-wide membership; they need to have an area development plan, and the money should be used for its implementation; and they will need to provide reports detailing where the money has been spent and what has been achieved.

Across all eight areas in the initiative this funding could achieve16 new projects - 2 in each location. It should also result in more effective and confident local groups - an outcome which would pay further dividends in the years ahead.  Head of community regeneration at Highlands and Islands Enterprise Nicholas Gubbins said: "In the grand scheme of things these are fairly small sums of money - but giving community groups some resources of their own, to push forward their own key projects, could be invigorating for those who are already making a substantial commitment of time and energy to achieving developments in each of the eight Initiative areas.

"A recent review of the Initiative at the Edge highlighted the emergence of effective community groups as one of its success stories - helping these groups develop still further will build on this existing foundation."  The Bays of Harris Association was established to bring forward projects under the Initiative at the Edge. Development officer Jane Macintosh, said: "This transfer of funds directly to the community comes at an ideal time for the Association.  Our development plan is now reaching production stage and so we have a clear agenda for the next phase of the initiative.  "Having a ready pot of cash helps solve three major problems we have when trying to start projects: finding funding for the preparatory work on a project, such as drawing up plans or acquiring land or planning permission; covering unexpected costs relating to projects; and helping ease the cash flow problems caused by most funders only paying out once the work is done and receipts submitted."

Chairman of the North Sutherland Community Development Forum, James Mather, said: "We're very excited at the prospect of having some meaningful funding of our own - because of the power it gives us to really push forward the projects the community feels are priorities. It opens all sorts of doors and there is a great deal of positive debate going on now about how this money could be used - whether it can act as a lever for further funds, or whether it can be used for key projects. The bottom line is we're delighted to be given this responsibility and opportunity."

The Initiative at the Edge (Iomairt aig an Oir) is a partnership project involving: the HIE Network; The Scottish Executive; Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; The Highland Council; Communities Scotland; Crofters Commission; and Scottish Natural Heritage.  A management group of the Initiative partners is chaired by HIE.