SIX families will open the doors to their new homes in Staffin in the New Year next month, after the handover date was confirmed.
The three-bedroom homes at Taighean a’ Chaisheil in Stenscholl will be completed on Monday, January 17. It comes 23 years after the last affordable housing development opened on the site of the old primary school.
James MacQueen Building Contractors Ltd will then complete the new community-owned health centre and two business premises in February.
The£1.6million housing, health and economic development was progressed by Staffin Community Trust - in partnership with the Communities Housing Trust and Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association - amid concerns about the lack of available accommodation locally for families, a falling pupil roll at Bun Sgoil Stafainn and the declining population.
Around 12 adults and eight children will call Taighean a’ Chaisheil their new home and SCT has paid tribute to the support locally received including the Kilmuir Estate, the Stenscholl township and Staffin Community Council, since the project’s inception back in 2014.
SCT director Donald MacDonald said: “The board of Urras an Taobh Sear is delighted to be nearing completion on a project that has taken seven years and has, at times, been fraught with challenges. At a time when we need more community empowerment this project has shown how far we, as a country, are from achieving that. The directors and staff of the trust must be thanked for their determination and diligence in seeing this through, when fatigue and burn out could have easily given rise to a different outcome. We wish the new residents many years of happiness within these homes which are an important step towards community sustainability and growth.”
Ronnie MacRae, CHT chief executive, said: “This project is an excellent example of what can be achieved by communities through partnership working and we are delighted to have provided 2 homes for discounted sale protected by the Rural Housing Burden. 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.
"CHT are delighted to have been able to support SCT, and key to success was the support of Scottish Government and Highland Council amongst others who recognised the need to provide a flexible range of affordable housing tenure choice, alongside working with HIE and NHS to provide essential amenities that will improve social and economic opportunities going forward.
Dr Audrey Sinclair, Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association chairwoman, said: "The completion of this project is good news on so many levels. It is proof that the tenacity of the Staffin community has paid off. It is also an example to other communities that partnership working can be successful in remote and rural areas. Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association is delighted to have been part of this project. My congratulations go to the families who will be occupying these homes and helping to sustain the Staffin community.”
SCT looks forward to developing daily use of the new health centre over the coming years with NHS Highland, the key stakeholders and the community. SCT is also delighted to confirm that local aquaculture company Organic Sea Harvest (OSH), which has two salmon farms in Culnacnoc and Tote and employs 18 people, will be renting the new business premises at Taighean a’ Chaisheil. The units will be used as an office and works base, respectively, with staff digitally able to feed their fish from the premises when the weather bars them from getting to the farms.
The income from the units, health centre and houses will be used by SCT to service a £140,000 mortgage on the project and surplus generated will be spent on managing and maintaining the new development.
SCT bought the site for £70,000 using a grant from the Scottish Land Fund.
The key project funders also included the Rural Housing Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, LEADER, the SSE Sustainable Development Fund, the Quaker Housing Trust, Ecology Building Society and a crowdfunding campaign, which raised more than £7,000, with the acclaimed Gaelic singer Alasdair Gillies personally donating £3,000.
SCT was grateful for a guarantor loan from Highland Council which allowed the contractor to be appointed and the siteworks to commence in summer 2020, after the first national Lockdown had delayed the project and made securing the capital funding significantly harder. HIE is a long-term funder of SCT’s project work through its Community Capacity Building Programme for fragile communities and its support was crucial to this project’s delivery.
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes: “Years ago, the Staffin Community Trust conducted a study which concluded that depopulation could lead to the village’s primary school having no pupils within a decade. Against this backdrop, building new homes to encourage families to stay, and new ones to settle, is vital and I am absolutely delighted these six homes have now been built.
“I understand the houses are designed for new families moving into the area, or to ensure those with existing ties are able to remain. The list of people that have expressed an interest demonstrates just how popular new, affordable housing is. In order for the Highlands to flourish, we need to encourage people into the area and for that to take place, we need affordable and sustainable housing.
“These new homes are critical for the future of this community, and I heartily congratulate the work of the Staffin Community Trust.”
Philip McCaherty, development manager at HIE’s Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross team, said: “We recognise that availability, affordability and energy efficiency of housing has been a major constraint to inclusive growth and we are delighted to help bring this ambitious project to fruition in this fragile part of Skye. This is an exciting and ambitious project that will deliver many benefits for our communities and we are very pleased to support it to help create of new business units in the area. Population retention and business growth across the region is at the heart of our mission.
James MacQueen, of James MacQueen Building Contractors Ltd, said: “We are immensely proud to be involved in delivering much-needed affordable housing, creating homes for future generations and reinvigorating the local community. We wish the new Taighean a’ Chaisheil residents all the very best in their new homes. We have been delighted to be working 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.”
Eilean a ‘Cheo Highland Councillor John Finlayson, said: “I am sure everyone is delighted that this key project is finally nearing completion and lessons will have been learnt to make sure the important partnership working that has facilitated things can run ever more smoothly in the future. At the end of the day what can be more relevant than supporting affordable housing for families, healthcare and employment in a rural area and I would like to congratulate SCT for driving this project forward over many years.”
SCT will be advertising a part-time post in the New Year seeking a candidate to manage the business premises and health centre when they open.