New Horizons shared on the Long Island

The soft Autumn sunshine lifted the morning mist, yesterday’s downpour still swelling the burns. The last leg for forty delegates from the Social Enterprise World Forum, a vista of beauty but also of hope and inspiration.

Eight years previously the West Harris Trust purchased this land, more than 7000 hectares of crofts, hill ground, scattered communities and the most achingly beautiful beaches. Centuries of population decline, economic stagnation and a pervasive sense of powerlessness was wiped out almost overnight.

Across the Highlands & Islands, there’s been a quiet revolution over the last twenty years or so, communities owning land and other key assets, generating income from renewable energy, housing or tourism and creating opportunities for new businesses.


Recognising and valuing local cultures

That means livelihoods, and at last, the leaching of our talented young people is coming to an end. It’s now possible for young people to have a career, a home, a life in rural Scotland.

The irony in delegates from Australia, New Zealand and Canada finding solutions to their own challenges in the place from which so much of the New World was populated, was not lost. Another shared experience was the struggles of indigenous people in these countries, to have their cultures recognised, valued, celebrated and be at the heart of new economies. In the Highlands & Islands, we still have some way to go, but the use of the Gaelic language is now growing.

Gaelic is also forming the basis of a growing cultural sector embodied by An Lanntair, the Lantern of Stornoway, which hosted the Rural Symposium the previous day. Young people from Inuit, Maori and Aborigine nations shared their own stories and visions for the future and took heart from the hard-won victories of the Gaelic nation.


So where do we go from here?

Ferries and planes boarded, we left with a sense of inspiration but also of the perspiration needed to achieve such monumental feats.

There was a clear understanding that young people must not just be part of the journey, but they should be leading the way.

The role of the rest of us is to allow this to happen, to move over if necessary, and certainly to mentor, support and enable. This generation has stopped the decline, the neglect, of rural areas. The next will create their own future, beyond anything we might imagine.

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