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Knoydart Foundation

Knoydart, West Highlands, Scotland

Founded by the community in 1999, the Knoydart Foundation owns the Knoydart estate (17,200 acres of land). Its overall aim is to preserve, enhance and develop Knoydart for the wellbeing of the environment and the people. Its activities include renting affordable housing, supporting community development and providing training to unemployed residents, land management, tourism related activities, and running a hydroelectric scheme.

If you can’t beat them… buy them out!

The Knoydart Estate was privately owned and poorly maintained. Residents of Inverie, the estate’s only village, were frustrated by the lack of control they had over their own community and the population was in decline. The Knoydart Foundation was founded as a vehicle through which the community could purchase the estate, take control and grow the community into the future.   

Getting back to basics 

Since purchasing the 17,200 acre Knoydart Estate, the foundation has completed projects ranging from provision of the most basic infrastructure such as power, water and sewage, to upgrading facilities to support the growth of tourism in the area. The foundation has also developed a considerable amount of new housing on the estate through an affordable rental program and a shared equity scheme. 

Stability promotes growth 

Having a land-owner with the best interests of the community as its primary concern has ensured long-term security. This, coupled with the creation of infrastructure improvements, housing solutions and business opportunities has provided a strong foundation on which to grow the community. Since the buyout the population of Inverie has grown from around 60/70 to 115. 

Learning by doing

The community is not the only thing that has grown! The foundation and its subsidiaries now employ 12 people in various capacities. This has created jobs for locals as well as attracting new residents. Since the outset, the community have been embarking on new challenges – with existing skills forming the basis for the development of new ones. As a result, the overall capacity of the community has grown steadily with each project. 

Steady, sustainable growth

The step-by-step approach has also been useful when it comes to resourcing.  Most of the foundation’s projects require external funds in the capital phase but, once completed, projects then generate revenue to cover ongoing operation or repay capital expenses (including the foundation’s own original contributions). This model facilitates slow growth of the foundation, with each major project increasing operations while at the same time contributing to long-term financial sustainability. The foundation’s commercial activities are handled by its subsidiaries Knoydart Renewables and Knoydart Trading.                      

Flexibility and trust key to support

Both the Highland Council and Highland and Island Enterprise have been extremely supportive throughout. Two key lessons for the public sector that can be taken from this case are: 

  1. Resources to support social innovation should be allocated in a flexible way. “How can we help?” is much more useful than “This is what we can offer”. 
  2. Striking a balance between being supportive and respecting the autonomy of the community is vital. This balance is also fluid and should be continually re-negotiated as the capacity of the community grows.

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Page last updated September 2016.