Artists and Community Landowners
Telling the stories of Scotland’s land in the hands of local people
Artists and Community Landowners is a collaborative project digging down into the stories of community landownership across Scotland and the impact it has for communities. The Stove has worked with Community Land Scotland and 6 collaborating Community Trusts to explore stories of “ownership” and the effect it has had for local people, their identity, decision-making and the economic and social benefits for their community.
The project saw four artists, Richard Bracken, Virginia Hutchison and CT Productions, featuring Dr Saskia Coulson and Colin Tennant, working directly with the trusts and local communities to explore the themes of how we manage our local environments, who decides, and how we can collectively act.
The culmination of the project includes a podcast series and publication curated by the Stove, alongside events and activities in each of the participating communities taking place in 2021.
As part of this project, a series of podcasts have been created by The Stove Network. We will be releasing one every week in July, so visit back regularly to listen to the next episode.
Episode One: Abriachan Forest Trust and Richard Bracken
Available via The Stove Network podcast on Spotify & Apple Podcasts.
In this episode, we visit Abriachan Forest Trust near Inverness.
A scattered rural community of about 130 people set high above the shores of Loch Ness in the Highlands of Scotland. In 1998 the community purchased 540 hectares of forest and open hill ground from Forest Enterprise. Since then, as a social enterprise, the Abriachan Forest Trust has managed this land to create local employment, improve the environment and encourage it’s enjoyment by the public through a network of spectacular paths, family suited mountain bike trails, innovative outdoor learning as well as health and well-being opportunities.
We speak with Suzanne, a community member and manager of the forest trust, alongside artist Richard Bracken, who has been in residence with the trust since mid 2020. During this time, Richard has worked closely with the local community in the design and build of several hand-crafted walking sticks, each bearing a poetic inscription, in which scenery, skies and people intertwine with purpose, responsibility and invitation.
Episode Two: Galson Estate and Virginia Hutchison
Available via The Stove Network podcast on Spotify & Apple Podcasts.
In this episode, we visit Galson Estate on the Isle of Lewis. The Galson Estate is a community-owned estate of 56,000 acres of coast, agricultural land and moor in the North West of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The estate comprises 22 villages running from Upper Barvas to Port of Ness with a population of nearly 2,000 people. The estate passed into community ownership on 12 January 2007 to be managed on their behalf by the Trust. We speak with artist-in-residence Virginia Hutchison alongside Lisa MacLean of Galson Estate and Fiona Rennie, a fellow artist who has supported Ginny throughout the commission, connecting her with local residents as well as featuring in the artworks herself.
Episode Three: Colin Tennant and Saskia Coulson
Available via The Stove Network podcast on Spotify & Apple Podcasts.
In this final episode of our 3 part series, we speak with artist and filmmaker duo Colin Tennent and Saskia Coulson of CT Productions.
Throughout their project entitled Stories of Radical Landownership, the duo sought to co-create visual stories with the community landowners through a mixture of multimedia works, including photographs, audio recordings, and moving images. The pair wanted the communities to use the process as a way to reflect on their achievements, but also to consider the future challenges they might face. Working alongside Bridgend Farmhouse in Edinburgh, South West Mull & Iona Development, North Harris Trust and Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, the final works are a series of photographs and a short film in Gaelic and English. The work represents their brief dive into the deep, rich world of community land ownership. The works are testimony to this moment in time and the ambition of community landowners during a very remarkable year.
View the Radical Land Publication
About the Projects
Virginia Hutchison and Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (Galson Estate Trust)
Produced in collaboration with artist Virginia Hutchison this project brings together narratives surrounding the community land buyout of the Galson Estate in 2007. Created during the COVID pandemic in 2020/2021 the project weaves together local audio archives and interviews and brings them into contemporary conversations surrounding community land ownership. With access and social distancing measures in mind the project has taken the form of a series of cast bronze artefacts temporarily sited in the landscape of North Lewis. Embedded with digital QR codes the artefacts link visitors directly to the audio works via mobile phone.
“If you didn’t know the names of these places you couldn’t talk about them..”
Richard Bracken and Abriachan Forest Trust
“The collection of 16 engraved walking-sticks created as part of the Artists and Community Landowners commission is the endpoint in a process of research, engagement and making. It is also a beginning; an invitation for the hand and the land to connect, and a prompt for new journeys, stories and conversations.
In working with Abriachan Forest Trust, my aim has been to understand how the different generations see their place in their land, and to explore themes of journeying, custodianship and growth.
Inspired by tales of old Abriachan sticks and encouraged by the Trust’s appetite for developing and sharing skills already present in the community, the accessible, traditional craft of stick-making became a natural focus for the project. Through walks, workshops and conversations with community members of all ages, I was able to learn about the land itself and the things that resonated with its people.”
CT Productions: Stories of Radical Landownership
“We believe that capturing stories of radical land ownership is important, both in terms of social documentation, but also as a means to advocate for future practices and policy.
Throughout our project, Stories of Radical Landownership, we sought to co-create visual stories with the community landowners through a mixture of multimedia works, including photographs, audio recordings, and moving images. We wanted the communities to use the process as a way to reflect on their achievements, but also to consider the future challenges they might face.
The final works are a series of photographs and a short film in Gaelic and English. They represent our brief dive into the deep, rich world of community land ownership. The works are testimony to this moment in time and the ambition of community landowners during a very remarkable year.”
Collaborating Partners and Community Trusts
The Stove Network
The Stove Network is an arts and community organisation based in the centre of Dumfries in South West Scotland. It is a successful social enterprise, and the first artist-led Development Trust in Scotland, providing regular employment for 25 people with a turnover of £500 000+1.
Our kitchen-table style of practice and developing work is one based on the values of risk-taking, collaboration, emotional openness, empowerment, positive disruptive change, innovation and inclusion. We are committed to finding locally-led solutions as part of our place and community.
Our practice is one that engages artists and creative people to co-develop work from regular conversational activity into large-scale strategic projects. It is a process-led practice that uses creative activity to facilitate community-led development, projects and decision-making grown from a foundation in community engagement. It is a multi-disciplinary practice working with artists and other creative practitioners, individuals and groups, organisational partners, third sector organisations, local authorities and governing bodies to deliver a program of regular activity alongside large-scale participatory arts projects.
Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn
Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (Galson Estate Trust) is the charity established to manage the community-owned Galson estate; 56,000 acres of coast, crofted agriculture and moorland in the North West of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The estate passed into community ownership on 12 January 2007 and comprises 22 villages running from Upper Barvas to Port of Ness with a population of nearly 2,000 people.
Galson estate is one of the largest buyouts in Scotland with the “Urras” working with tenants and local people to manage all estate business and develop a large range of projects on behalf of the community. Current projects range from renewables and energy efficiency projects to tourism and youth projects. From the income generated by their wind turbines development at Ballantrushal they are able to provide funding for the community through a Community Investment Fund.
The Urras strives to involve the whole community in its decision-making process through ongoing consultations and communication. The overarching vision is to build a sustainable future for the communities of the Galson Estate.
Setup by a group of local volunteers in 2011, many years of community development and local campaigning led to the successful asset transfer of Bridgend Farmhouse, barns and garden, to the community from City of Edinburgh Council in 2015 for £1. This was one of the first examples of asset transfer in an urban context in Scotland.
Since then the local community has renovated the site into a thriving community hub and social enterprise where everyone can learn, work and grow together to create a flourishing community and place, which is now owned and run by its 404 members co-operatively. Hundreds of volunteers were involved in the design and the practical renovation process itself.
Bridgend Farmhouse has a community café; training kitchen, Wood workshop, Bike Hub and workshop, Arts/Crafts workshop, kitchen garden, events space and stage, mindfulness garden. They address social isolation, strengthen communities, and support local action and growth, through community education, practical skills development, environmental education and many cultural projects.
Abriachan Forest Trust
Abriachan is a scattered rural community of about 130 people set high above the shores of Loch Ness in the Highlands of Scotland about 10 miles from Inverness. There are still some active crofts but the majority of inhabitants are employed in Inverness and beyond. The local school closed in 1958 so Abriachan’s children now attend Dochgarroch Primary, Charleston Academy and Glenurquhart High School.
In 1998 the community purchased 540 hectares of forest and open hill ground from Forest Enterprise. Since then, as a social enterprise, the Abriachan Forest Trust has managed this land to create local employment, improve the environment and encourage its enjoyment by the public through a network of spectacular paths, family suited mountain bike trails, innovative outdoor learning as well as health and well-being opportunities.
They run a series of forest school and outdoor educational and support activities in partnership with local groups and organisation and have worked regularly with different artists (photographers, creative writers, textile artists, felters, spinners, weavers) on a variety of projects.
North Harris Trust
North Harris is a spectacular place. A rugged landscape bounded by the sea, it supports a unique natural heritage and rich culture.
Buinidh mi do Cheann a Tuath na Hearadh literally meaning I belong to North Harris shows how the North Harris community has traditionally interpreted their relationship with the land i.e. that the people belong to the land, rather than the land belonging to people.
In that spirit The North Harris Trust manage the northern half of Harris, on behalf of the community. Their aim is focused on the regeneration and development of the North Harris community through local participation and working with other partners for the benefit of local people, community and the wider public.
Community Land Scotland
Community Land Scotland is the representative body for Scotland’s aspiring and post-purchase community landowners. They promote the sustainable development benefits of community landownership and work with communities to support and encourage community ownership of land and buildings throughout Scotland.
Their vision is of more communities reaping the benefits of community landownership and promoting a socially just Scotland through community landownership. Together their members are own some 560,000 acres of land, home to some 25,000 people.
South West Mull and Iona Development
South West Mull and the Isle of Iona are known for their dramatic coastal landscapes, iconic wildlife, and rich heritage of Gaelic language and Celtic art. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to this part of the world every summer, but there is a small, close knit community of about 675 people that lives here all year round.
Their area is one of the most deprived in Scotland in terms of geographic access to health services and other amenities, and there is not enough affordable housing or year round employment. South West Mull and Iona Development (SWMID) is a community-led organisation that was set up to tackle local issues and help make their community a more resilient and sustainable place to live for local people.
Their projects range from small scale activities, providing space for a community gym to much larger, owning and managing a 789-hectare commercial forest to generate local income.
Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust
The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust is the community organisation which owns the Isle of Eigg. The Trust manages and stewards the island’s development for current and future residents. After years of instability, neglect and lack of secure tenure, the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust was able to purchase the island on 12th June 1997, largely due to the generosity of around ten thousand members of the general public.
The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust was established to provide and create opportunity for economic development, housing and infrastructure, whilst conserving our natural and cultural heritage to ensure that development takes place in a sustainable way. The Trust has been successful in these aims, with Eigg now a vibrant and attractive place to live and work, having a growing and forward-thinking population, always with an eye on the past and one to the future, recognising the importance of Eigg’s unique identity to its continuing growth and success.
The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust are advocates for local decision-making with local people. Eigg is well known for its creative and cultural activity.
About the Artists
Colin Tennant and Saskia Coulson
The Stories of Radical Landownership commission is being undertaken by Coulson and Tennant (Dr Saskia Coulson and Colin Tennant), an award-winning artist partnership who develop projects through a lens-based practice, combining genres of documentary and fine art.
Our work is underpinned by academic research and, through visual storytelling, we create artistic, documentary and environmental work for a wide range of organisations and for our own projects. To do this, we collaborate with many different communities and individuals and draw inspiration from historical, creative and ecological references.
We aim to make works that spark conversations about the past, present and future of our man-made and natural world. We strive to create stories and produce work that can speak to various audiences; from local communities, international media, academia, art and cultural sectors. We want to reach as many people as possible because we seek to develop projects that can affect change in the real world. This ambition is at the core of our practice.
Virginia will be working directly with Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn – Galson Estate Trust – on the Isle of Lewis. As a maker with a strong conversational aspect to her work, collaborative engagement underpins Virginia’s practice.
With regards to the constantly evolving social and cultural politics that define specific, often civic spaces I work with a range of media, including text, film, performance and sculpture. How an audience or viewer becomes physically involved with what they see and how visual hooks from works of art or architecture can create a sense of involvement is central to this.
With particular reference to how memory and learning is affected by automatic emotional responses to art objects, I work in collaboration with artists, students and groups from wider communities to explore how different forms of artistic engagement influence the interaction we have with our environments.
Taking a lead from the processes involved in creative production, each project considers how shared experiences can promote conversation. Often the art object is taken as a point of departure for new work. These approaches allow us to discuss ideas surrounding authorship, or ownership, and to question the frameworks we have in place for critique and evaluation.
Richard will be working with Abriachan Forest Trust, an environmental artist and creative educator based in Drumnadrochit, with 10 years experience of engaging with communities and collaborating with multi-disciplinary teams in Scotland and abroad.
My work is a response to an ongoing, personal exploration of the land. Influenced by ecology, folklore, and natural processes, I typically create sculpture using casting and mould-making, but also produce site-specific installations and two-dimensional work using print-making methods like cyanotype (blue-prints).