Imagine Stratherrick and Foyers in 20 years’ time….

How do you want it to be to live here then?

It’s a big question.  Over the next couple of decades, millions of pounds will come to the community as a result of “community benefit” money from windfarms and hydro power.  Stratherrick and Foyers Community Trust believes it is vital that, as a community, we continuously discuss and agree how to spend the money wisely.

To do that, we are about to ask everyone in Stratherrick and Foyers: what do you want your community to be like in the future?  What should the priorities be? And how are we going to work together to make it happen?

Over the next few months, we’ll be asking you those questions and helping you to answer them.  By late Spring 2021, together, we will have worked out answers and produce a “community action plan” – our priorities and plans to guide how we as a community will take control of our future.

To make sure that the plan is impartial and well-prepared, we’ve engaged an experienced team from outside the area to work with us all.  The team includes Scottish Community Development Centre, Icecream Architecture, Willie Miller Urban Design and Nick Wright Planning. They will be starting with a blank sheet of paper, but obviously the plan will build on all the good things and people that we have here in Stratherrick and Foyers. 

We asked team leader Nick Wright a few questions about what’s coming our way in the coming months.

Q.  Hi Nick. What’s special about the situation we have in Stratherrick and Foyers?

As someone from outside the area, what I see is a rural community, close enough to Inverness for commuting but far enough away to feel forgotten by the powers that be, and off the main tourist routes. 

I guess some folk will love that, but for others it will be a challenging place to live… we’re looking forward to finding out more about that over the next few months: the special things that people want to keep or make even better, and the challenges that they’d like to fix – whether that’s opportunities for young people, better public services or any number of other things.  That’s what we enjoy so much about this work: understanding what local people love about their place, what’s not so good, and – with you – working out how to tackle those things.

What’s really special Stratherrick and Foyers from my point of view is that your community has two ingredients to make things happen. Firstly, willing and active people, such as those in the Trust and other organisations, who want to see the community thrive in the future.  And secondly, money – those millions of pounds that will flow from renewable energy firms for years to come.  Not many communities in Scotland have that combination.  It’s a great opportunity.

Q.  What is a “community action plan”?

It’s a bit of jargon really.  The plan is basically a description of a community’s priorities for the next 10 or 20 years, the priorities that it will focus on as a community, and how it will make them come to fruition.  It can contain anything that has positive long term impacts for the future of the whole community – that might be new sports facilities (although you’re already getting those), more affordable energy-efficient homes, more youth activities, new space for businesses to set up… the actual projects will be worked up in response to people’s aspirations, working with local folk every step of the way.

The process of preparing the plan – with lots of community involvement – is as important as the plan itself.  That’s because the plan is only worth anything if it genuinely reflects local aspirations, is ‘owned’ by the whole community, and people and organisations across the whole community want to help make it happen – from voluntary groups like the Trust and others to local businesses, estates and even the local authority. 

Q. Why do we need a plan? 

There are two answers to this.  The first is: how does a community know what it needs to focus on for the future if it hasn’t discussed it and explored the options?  That’s because a really important part of Community Action Planning is asking the local community what’s important for them.  Without asking people, the community won’t know what’s dearest to people and what could have most impact on their community.  It’s back to that point of the process being as important as the plan.

For example, some folk might say that improving the local play area should be the number one priority.  Others might say build a swimming pool – or better health care, homes and jobs.  The truth is that there’s no way of knowing without some kind of survey or research – like a Facebook survey, online interactive map or door-to-door questionnaire for example, which we’ll be doing.

The second point of doing a plan is because it helps to unlock money and support.   Including a particular project in the plan – like a path network, a men’s shed or a soft play centre – demonstrates its contribution to the wider community, and makes it more likely to get the support it needs.

You can read more about what community plans can unlock in this recent post on my website.

Q. Thanks Nick.  But why do we need your help to produce a plan?

The half a dozen of us in the team have a range of skills and experience covering community development, working with young people, planning and community engagement.  We are definitely not here to tell you what should be in your plan – our role is to help you identify what’s important for your community and what you will do about it in the future, with help from others. 

So, our role is to:

  • Be independent.  We might be commissioned by the Trust, but we are independent and impartial, and bring an outside perspective with experience from other places.  We will make sure it is the community’s plan, for everyone.  The Trust is very clear on that!
  • Do the legwork.  The Trust, like every other local organisation, has a limit to what it can do:  Directors are all volunteers, and there is limited paid staff time.  So, even if the Trust wanted to do this work itself, it doesn’t have the capacity.  We’re like a few extra pairs of hands.
  • Bring an outside perspective.  Having worked with communities from Stranraer to Shetland, we can share useful ideas and knowledge of what works (and what doesn’t) from other places.
  • Bring specific experience and expertise.  We have the experience to organise a full community consultation, to contact all the relevant ‘stakeholders’ – from local schoolchildren to the powers that be in Inverness or Edinburgh.  As we have with other communities across Scotland, we will produce a community action plan that will provide a strong basis for future decisions on community projects and funding.  As a team, we are also quite good at finding out what local people do not want, or what ideas are likely to end up as ‘White Elephants’! 

Q.  Who do you think should participate in this planning exercise?

Everybody and anybody!  Young people are really important as they are the future, and have great positive ideas of what they want for years ahead.  Older people have all their experience and knowledge to share. People who have disabilities, people who worked the land all their lives, people who have gained knowledge from working abroad – each and every one of you has something to contribute to the future of Stratherrick and Foyers.

We will make it easy for folk simply to get involved, whether they’ve only got a couple of minutes on the phone or Facebook, or maybe want to get more involved in a discussion.  It’s not every day that people have the chance to explore the future of their community, so often folk get quite enthusiastic! 

For some inspiration, check out this video below from similar work in Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston a couple of years ago:

Q.  Are you using any special techniques to allow folk to participate, given the COVID-19 situation?

We’ll be getting out and about from January onwards in lots of different ways to contact as many people as we possibly can – through local schools, community groups, existing Facebook groups, surveys and lots more besides.  COVID means that we’ll be doing more online, but we’ll make sure that people don’t need to have internet access to contribute. 

In February will be asking folk what’s good and less good about living in Stratherrick and Foyers, and what they’d like to see change in the future.  We’re setting up a dedicated website, which will become an even more important to reach people since lockdown has increased.  We’re planning to work with local schools too, and have adapted how we’ve done that elsewhere in the last few months in response to COVID restrictions.

Then in March and April, we’ll bring folk together to explore and agree priorities, plans and action: exactly how we organise it will evolve in response to the COVID situation, but we’re quite excited – it should be quite an occasion!

Meanwhile, if anyone wants to get in touch with me – please do.  I am the main contact and available on the phone or by email.  COVID rules permitting, I will be around the area looking at the geography, opportunities and logistics, and checking out the scope for new projects suggested.  I’ll speak to as many people as circumstances permit.  Remember too that I am not here to sell you anything, either individually or as a community, so please feel free to speak your mind about how your community can derive maximum benefit from the windfarm and hydro cash that flows your way for the coming decades.

If you want to get in touch with Nick, his contact details are below.  Preparation of the plan will start in January 2021 and the Trust’s new manager, Tony Foster, will complete the process after he joins the Trust in March.

Nick Wright
276 Main Road

t: 07900 334110 | 01505 352147