RIGHTLY or wrongly, there is a perception on Bute that in recent years the main priority of Highlands and Islands Enterprise has been on encouraging large, strategic inward investment, rather than giving help to smaller-scale local projects.
If that is an inaccurate view, then Ciara Wilson’s recent arrival on the island may just do something to change it. As one of nine new local development officers appointed to help some of the Highlands’ most fragile communities, Ciara wants to find out what local people think should be the island’s top priorities for future development.
To that end she has already begun talking to local community groups, as well as to individual islanders.
A community survey is also ready to go, and will be sent out to householders from the start of next week (though if you don’t receive a hard copy, you can also collect one at the Brandish Bute shop in East Princes Street or fill one in online at http:// tinyurl.com/6lxldtu).
“The consultation is an ongoing process, however I hope to have a good picture of the community’s key concerns by the end of March,” Ciara says.
“The results will be used to produce a community growth plan for Bute, hopefully ready by early June, which will lay a base line for the situation on Bute now, where we want to be in the future, and how we are going to get there.
“The main aims of this project are community engagement, economic regeneration and creating training and employment opportunities.
“We want to identify what people want, where there are opportunities for development and what are the challenges facing the island.
“The consultation so far has brought to light the diverse skills and talent that exists in Bute’s community. I want to harness these skills and incorporate them in the development projects where possible.
“But actions will speak louder than words, and I know that talking a good game isn’t good enough.”
Ciara’s work on Bute is part of HIE’s Growth at the Edge initiative, in which the enterprise company engages with a local ‘anchor organisation’ to employ, support and manage the post of a local development officer, develop new opportunities for creating revenue, and to plan the future development of the area.
Ciara’s ‘anchor organisation’ is the Bute Community Land Company, which is providing a support network for the development of the project.
Aged 27, Ciara has previously worked in journalism, advertising and PR, although she is not new to Bute, having spent several happy childhood summers at a holiday cottage in Kilchattan Bay owned by a friend’s parents.
While the intention is that the new plan for Bute will feature a number of actual developments, rather than just general goals or optimistic ambitions, Ciara also knows as well as anyone that money is short, and that the journey from ideas to reality may not be an easy one.
“Any projects in the final development plan have to be financially sustainable,” she continues.
“Being self-sufficient used to be what living on an island was all about, and there seems to be a trend towards getting that back, for example the community’s ownership of Gigha. I think the time is right for Bute to move in that direction too.
“However, people have been let down in the past and I completely understand the fear of unreasonable expectation. I’m not coming in with a magic wand - I just want to come in and try to make a difference.”