On 2 February 2022, the last meeting took place of the Outer Hebrides LEADER Local Action Group (LAG). In its 30 years the LAG has overseen the allocation of £11.6 million LEADER European grant funding to innovative projects throughout the Outer Hebrides and additionally levered in nearly £23 million of match funding. However, due to Brexit, the group have now signed off and the team undertaking the administration are closing the programme.
Since the islands-based group were formed in 1991 this funding stream has directly helped improve nearly 800 island businesses and community groups from Vatersay to Ness. The LAGs included public and private representatives from throughout the islands communities and agencies to ensure that it was local people that decided where the funding should be targeted. Committee members have been working in the background ever since to ensure the funds have been fully allocated and spent efficiently. A number of volunteer members have been involved since its inception showing the local commitment to sustainable community-led development over the decades.
Councillor Donald Crichton, Chair of the Sustainable Development Committee, said ‘This has been a great funding source for the Outer Hebrides, securing jobs and improving our lives. LEADER has supported many innovative community projects and businesses to develop and thrive and these can be found throughout the islands. We are hopeful that any replacement scheme will leave such a legacy as this has.’
Many projects have benefited since 1991 including the Grimsay Boat Shed to support training in their craftmanship in the early programme, to funding the build of the ‘Ceann na h-Àirigh’ community facility in the recent LEADER programme, and which now houses an exhibition of the boats. Other projects have included supporting the Re-Store Initiative at Cothrom, assisting the Clachan Sands Machinery Group to undertake Environmental measures, and supporting the conservation of Eaglais an H-Aoidhe and Teampull na Trionaid. The build of the new Garadh a Bhagh a Tuath facility, the Huisinis Gateway, Uig Lodge Restaurant and Black Bay Studio all support a variety of communities and users. Furthermore, projects aimed at supporting young people ensured they also benefitted from LEADER including the Crofting Connections educational programme and the Bragar and Arnol Community Trusts ‘Skiff Young Leader project’ which enabled the group to purchase a specially adapted skiff, ‘Eala’, for use by young people of any ability.
One unique feature of LEADER was that it also supported and encouraged groups to learn from each other and this comprised of enabling travel to other European countries including Hungary, Finland, France, and Italy to name several. Both Ceolas in Uist and Outer Hebrides Tourism are benefactors of this funding and it assisted them to develop new partnerships and links with groups to learn new skills and ideas which were adapted and translated into use in the islands.
Outgoing chair of the local group, Matt Bruce of the Lewis and Harris Horticultural Producers, said ‘The Local Action Group has benefitted from a wide range of business and community expertise over the last three decades and much work has been quietly done to maximise the results and benefits to the islands from this funding stream.
I pay tribute to all the former members of the group who have given their time reviewing funding systems and approving projects. It is great to see all the end results of our approval at meetings via the videos now made to publicise the great projects across the islands. Other former chairs of the LEADER Local Action Group include Agnes Rennie, Colin Gilmour, Neil Campbell, Archie Campbell, and Carola Bell to name but a few.
Mr Bruce adds that ‘the funding the LAG have been allocating has increased significantly by the additional match funding from other public and private sources to the benefit of all. We now await details of future funding to replace the European funds and a steering group will try to ensure that a new team can be put together to maximise its benefits, whether it is the Shared Prosperity Fund or other funding sources. I hope that the new team will be as successful as the outgoing LEADER group at working collaboratively across islands and organisations to enhance our islands and improve our facilities into the future.’
Kathlene Morrison, Outer Hebrides LEADER Co-Ordinator added ‘that it has been a privilege to support both the LAG and communities to deliver projects throughout the islands and through to fruition. Seeing the benefits and developments that the projects have delivered to communities, and continue to do so, made the navigating the bureaucracy of European funding programmes worthwhile.’
Further information on the previous LEADER programmes, including to watch the films showcasing projects, can be found on the Outer Hebrides LEADER website. (Opens in a new window or downloads a file)