Families make their homes in new Skye community housing development

THE LIGHTS are now burning brightly in Staffin as six families have moved into their new homes.

The three-bedroom houses are now fully occupied by the new residents of the Taighean a’ Chaiseil development in Stenscholl.

It is the first affordable housing development in the Taobh Sear since 1999 and was led by Staffin Community Trust in response to the falling population and primary school roll and spiralling house prices, which made it difficult for families to compete.

The site, close to the Kilmartin River and a short walking distance from Bun Sgoil Stafainn, was sold by the Stenscholl crofting township and Scottish Ministers to SCT in 2020.

SCT and its partners, the Communities Housing Trust (CHT) and Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association (LSHA), delivered the £1.6 million project which includes a new health centre and business premises.

Around 12 adults and eight children have moved into the new homes. Staffin’s population had reduced by 40 people (6.6 per cent) from 610 residents to 568 people in just four years, prior to SCT starting the project feasibility back in 2014.

SCT director Donald MacDonald said: “It is great to see this project moving towards completion after many years of hard work by the trust. Unfortunately, this project does not address the underlying issues, faced by many young people and families, in relation to spiralling property costs, lack of affordable housing and general investment in rural communities. We are grateful for the help we have received from public agencies and The Scottish Government but there is a need to find easier and more effective ways to help those most in need and allow communities to control to have a stronger say in the process.

New Taighean a’ Chaiseil resident Paul Young said: “We’re happy that the children are in safe walking distance to school. It’s nice that these houses have been built together in Staffin, it's in the perfect location for families, giving the children more independence with being able to walk to school and play with their friends. The houses are very cosy and enjoy an amazing view. We are looking forward to making our house our home.”

Another new resident Karen Hutchison added: “I love the wee community feeling between all the residents. It’s so lovely seeing all the kids popping into each other’s’ houses, outside playing and walking to school together.”

Some of the new residents at Taighean a' Chaiseil.

Scottish Government grant funding was crucial with support from the Land Fund enabling the site to be transferred to community ownership, and the Rural and Islands Housing Fund a key contributor to the capital package.

Housing secretary Shona Robison MSP said: “Good quality, affordable housing is essential to help attract and retain people in our remote and rural communities. The Scottish Government provided over £650,000 through our Rural and Islands Housing Fund and mainstream Affordable Housing Supply Programme which made it possible for the community to take on this ambitious project and deliver six affordable homes.

“The Rural and Islands Housing Fund has been described as a ‘game changer’ for community-led housing development, increasing the supply of affordable housing. Taken together with our Affordable Housing Supply Programme, more than 6,000 affordable homes in rural and island communities have been delivered between 2016-17 and 2020/21.”

Skye architects Rural Design worked on the project which was constructed by island firm, James MacQueen Building Contractors Ltd.

The new community-owned health centre and business premises are due to be tenanted in March and April by NHS Highland and the local aquaculture company, Organic Sea Harvest, respectively.

Key funders also included LEADER, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the SSE Sustainable Development Fund, the Ecology Building Society, the Quaker Housing Trust and a crowdfunding campaign, plus a guarantor loan from Highland Council.

The homes are a mix of affordable rent, managed by LSHA and SCT, and discounted sale, managed by CHT, where the affordability is protected in perpetuity for the local community through the Rural Housing Burden. People with connections to the area were prioritised as a way to promote the ongoing sustainability of rural communities.

SCT will use the rental income from the properties to manage and maintain the new development. It is hoped to organise a formal opening event in early summer.

Ronnie MacRae, CHT chief executive, said: “CHT are delighted to have been able to support this community-led project from beginning to end, developing the concept of mixed use, mixed partner site including the innovative business plan and helping to acquire the land. Congratulations to SCT who have delivered this mixed development of homes and amenities that will enable a stronger more resilient Staffin and provide a template and confidence for many other similar communities to follow. Key to success was the support of Scottish Government and Highland Council amongst others who recognised the need to provide a range of affordable housing tenures, for flexibility and choice, alongside working with HIE and the NHS to provide essential amenities that will improve social and economic opportunities going forward.”

Dr Audrey Sinclair, LSHA chairwoman said: “I wish to congratulate Staffin Community Trust and all their partners involved in this unique mixed use and tenure development. SCT rose admirably to the many challenges from inception to completion of this project and the housing association is so pleased to have played a part in assisting SCT achieve their vision.”

The new development was designed to complement the landscape with Rural Design’s Alan Dickson mindful of the National Scenic Area designation which blankets Staffin. It includes significant stonework with walls and a gable end feature and the use of timber and traditional slated roofs.

Mr Dickson said: “It’s fantastic to see families moving in. It has been quite a journey for the Staffin Community Trust and their partners to achieve this, and shows what can happen when a group comes together, and doesn’t take no for an answer. We are so pleased to have been able to help and demonstrate that new housing can be part of our areas of outstanding natural beauty. Hopefully this can now encourage other rural communities to do the same.”

James MacQueen, of James MacQueen Building Contractors Ltd, said: “We are delighted to have worked on such an important local housing, health and business project in north Skye that supports and encourages community sustainability and growth. The first new affordable housing development in Staffin for 23 years, achieved through the dedication of the Staffin Community Trust supported by Communities Housing Trust, Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association and project funders - it demonstrates what can be achieved when we collaborate and work together. We are immensely proud to be involved in delivering the much-needed affordable housing, creating homes for future generations and reinvigorating the local community. We wish the new Taighean a’ Chaiseil residents all the very best in their new homes.”