Balnacra Arts by Vicky Stonebridge

Community woodlands

There is a government supported scheme whereby communities can buy and manage their own land when it goes in the market. I don’t know much about the technical ins and outs but to me, community managed land is idealistically miles ahead of the archaic feudal system we currently have in place in Scotland. Part of this community idea is community woodlands, when forestry commission land goes for sale, community groups have the option of buying it first. Some communities are stronger and more pro-active than others. I am always struck by the differences when I read the minutes of all the different community councils in our area. Some are fairly diverse councils, forward looking and keen to take the initiative with schemes which develop the villages. Others are more negative in their outlook, aging and stuck in the past.

The village I have known as home since 1976, Loch Carron, has been through many changes in those 34 years. People like my family came to live here to build Massive Oil rigs, the village was a bustling workers village, large wages, fast cars, thousands of workers passing through. Us youngsters were provided with youth, club, BBQs, discos, a film club, school outings etc from the oil money. Mid 80’s the company went bust, the money ran out, the site at Kishorn fell quiet, people left. Slowly things built up again, the fish farms employed many local people, tourists started coming, B&Bs and small tourist based business sprung up. Then The Fish farms exchanged hands ( many many times ) they became mechanised, jobs were lost. The housing boom down south saw more and more local houses get sold as holiday homes or for folks from elsewhere to retire to. Prices spiralled out of locals reach. Tourism diminished throughout the 90’s. The crafts boom was over. BY 2005 I had to close my Pottery shop. Nothing stays the same, everything changes.

At present we have a school roll which has halved in the last 5 years. The oldest average population. Our village seems to be somewhere tourists drive through rather than a destination in itself. I had virtually given up with local groups and committees as every time I hit the same brick walls of negativity, apathy, cynisism, fear of change, fear of youth, xenophobia. Incomers complaining about the ‘crafting mafia’ locals complaining about the ‘white settlers’ / Sassenachs, the community council complain about Bikers and young people.

Now the opportunity for the community to buy or lease the forest behind the village has come up. This project could only work with the community support and effort. Now  have for years followed keenly the progress of other community woodland projects, In this day and age when life seems to become a treadmill which people struggle to find joy or meaning in, when money becomes everything. When young people are alienated, everything is pre-packed regulated, designer, consumer branded, when children are afraid to play outside, when the fear of being sued, or violating health and safety keeps everyone locked indoors watching a parade of mindless sequin clad drivel- now is exactly the time we should stand up, stand together, take the lead in our own lives, o2wn communities and create the sort of villages our children and grandchildren could thrive in. A pensioner village is not sustainable, a holiday village is not sustainable. The Kirkton Woodland could be a rare opportunity to create work, amenities, recreational facilities, arts , youth , play, nature, culture activities.

There is a Kirkton Woodland and heritage Group, they run the monthly producers days in the village hall which provide delicious home cooked lunches and raise funds. This group now own the Smithy Heritage centre, where they hope to build additional craft workshops and get the heritage centre back up & running again. They have managed to get funding for a development officer who is working closely with HIE the government development agency to find ways to develop Lochcarron.

Friday 8th October there will be a public consultation meeting about the proposed community woodland development . Sadly I am away so will not be able to argue against the NIMBIs ( Not In My Back Yard ). But my artwork will be. I was tasked with sketching up some of the ideas, to help people visualise potential projects that could take plece in the woodlands if the community choose to buy it rather than allow it to go to sale to a private deveolper omn the open market.

I’ll blog up the images after the meeting. All of the above is just my opinion, just as the drawings are just some of my ideas. I have spent a lot of time over those 34 years wondering those woodlands, the trees were just 1foot tall when I arrived here, now they are a dense tangled in places impenetrable forest. Nothing stays the same, everything changes, I wonder what it will look like ten years from now ?

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This entry was posted on October 7, 2010 by in Uncategorized.

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