A view on Fishing,Community and Life on the NW coast of Scotland

Archive for the ‘Social Enterprise’ Category

Broadband with a Sigh.

To say that providing a geographically scattered community with broadband is difficult, we are finding is one of the understatements of the year. My optimism of a couple of years ago has long since vanished as the problems emerge as to how tricky everything is becoming. The latest little piece of knowledge we came across is that there is going to be a world shortage of IP addresses. These are only available in batches of 256, why that number I have no idea, and cost a fair bit to rent and even more to buy. As our new system has meant that we are now all on individual IP addresses and we are close to using that number then those on the waiting list have a further problem to overcome. I suppose that our problems are taking place in a background of poor broadband over our whole area. In fact the NW Highlands and Islands have among the poorest service of the whole country. We also hear that BT have “negotiated” a deal that is to give them the monopoly to roll out next generation to 99% of the country. The rather big caveat is that they are do not need to service around 650000 people, the 1%, and I wonder where they will be living. Locally rumours are rife about BT actually providing fibre optic in Applecross with workmen looking for six months accommodation for bringing it in over the Bealach. Our contacts say that this is not going to happen but already there are two cabinets built at the exchange and Milton. Of corse this means that those outlying areas will be in the same boat as before with BT taking the core of the customers away from AppleNet. This appears to be coming over from Skye and, assuming the copper lines in Applecross are in good nick, will be distributed from these cabinets. Going by what one hears from Skye the source of this new system leaves a lot to be desired and also BT numbers on lines are far more than AppleNets. There is a strong rumour that the fibre cable coming over the Hill is going direct to Sand and will not be available to the community at all. The workmen say otherwise so basically everyone is in the dark. South to HUBS and there are all sorts of machinations going on as we are being connected up to the new system. Currently we have been offline for around six of the last eight weeks and in today’s world, as we are both involved in various issues that need a fair bit of communication, that is seriously hampering our volunteering and work. Also to be noted that a company providing satellite service to one of our customers has gone bankrupt, proving all is not well in rural broadband circles. It is also a problem describing our efforts not as a business to some customers but a social enterprise providing a service. Sure the bottom line has to be kept in the black but were are not in business to make money and if we do it is purely for reinvestment.

Locally we have a mast on Raasay that serves the North Coast and finally it was up and running but not unfortunately on the island itself. There were a few emails coming back and fro, getting more and more irate, phone calls increasingly less polite and not understanding our inability to remedy the fault. This needed expertise from south. This done Sean and I headed over a couple of Mondays ago on a lovely quiet day

and very quickly he had the two connections up and running although speeds could have been better. The third connection was not attended to as he had thrown his toys out of his pram. As we had a bit of time before the next ferry

we headed to Raasay House

for a coffee with Lyn and Freya,

after a tour of a very smartly done up accommodation post fire. Prices range from £250 to £25 so all tastes accounted for. Views from the cafe and rooms at the front almost match Applecross.

A good catchup as usual, Lyn being my PE teacher at school back in the day. Lovely day and would have been better spent out on the water catching langoustines but needs must sometimes and the trip and company meant a good day out. variety keeps one fresh after all.

Who knows where broadband is heading in the near future. We are “expected” to now apply for next generation speeds. Bit ironic as we are barely up to first generation speeds. The forms and work, coupled with the technical expertise and lack of time all works against us having much of a chance of going onto the next stage. As the switch over continues Sean, who is a pretty fast learner, is finding so many anomalies in our set up which may go some way to explaining why some connections have stubbornly remained slow. As well as this we are having to deal with problems in the new system, ranging from radio reception to tidal. To be perfectly honest our broadband at the schoolhouse has gone back in quality since we have been trying to improve the setup, but patience is always going to be a virtue living in rural parts while still trying to improve services. I no longer predict times for improvements as the last prediction was we were going to have vastly improved speeds on 9th November 2015.

On a completely different subject and as I was tucking into some lemon drizzle cake rescued from the Best Man’s grasp the day after the wedding reminded me that several wedding photos have come up on FaceBook, a couple or three caught the eye, the boys, missing Calum,

happiness

and my emotional moment.

Beautifully shot and many more of the lovely bride are online.

Away Day to Rona.

An away day to Rona was planned and today, after forgetting my fuel key, then fuelling up we set off just after eight. Bill had reported problems with his own connection and I picked a day to get over after catching some langoustine yesterday to keep the Inn going.We were followed half way across by a solitary bonxie which I fed with some pout from yesterday.

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There were only three to keep him/her interested as they do not like the salted herring. Beautiful day

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and even the anticipated north-easterly for the trip home did not arise. Went up to the mast with Sean and Owen and an enthusiastic Bill overtaking us with the tools on the quad,

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staying to help out on a bit of the health and safety side. And we had our usual chat on land, land usage and land reform.

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The views up there are spectacular on a day like today both to the west

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and south.

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The Varuna looking very peaceful alongside the pontoon.

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While the boys were working on the net I managed an oil change and a bit of a scrub down on parts of the boat the everyday hose down does not reach. The nano and tough switches changed we all headed down with Owen getting a picture of how the setup works as he is planning joining one or even two of the Boards. I don’t think things went so well at the receiving end of the system and another visit is required.

Back to the Inn with a box of bigger langoustine to keep them going. There is always variety here in Applecross, asked to check fuses, unsuccessfully, as the Shed electricity went down and then to take a photo of one of the best beer gardens in somewhere.

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Something to do with the Telegraph. All quiet now and a bit of strimming and sowing after tea. Last night’s strimming led to the disappearance of the Dougal who went on an all-nighter not coming home till eleven this morning. Seems pretty tired and remarkably unrepentant.

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Lateral North Goes to Venice.

Been asked to do a wee story of the Applecross Community Company so far for Lateral North https://www.facebook.com/lateralnorth/?fref=ts.

Applecross is a peninsula on the North West coast of Scotland with a small and spread out population of approximately 220 people. From the east you travel over the highest Pass in Scotland.

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This story all began in 2008 when our Filling Station was under threat of closure so the Community formed a Company under the 2003 Land Reform Act Scotland which then proceeded to refurbish and run the Applecross Filling Station

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on a volunteer basis, funded by the Big Lottery Fund and the Scottish Rural Development programme and the Community.

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Since then the Company has taken over, refurbished

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and run the local toilets. This was funded by LEADER, Highland Council and HIE and local contributions.

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The Community Broadband scheme was next,

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funding to set up the system was provided by Investing in Ideas, Village SOS and Community Broadband Scotland. This has proved challenging both to set up and maintain

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and we are hoping to connect via radio link to fibre optic backhaul in the near future.

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Funding from Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund enabled the Company to welcome the Internationally renowned Flensberg University into the Community,

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hold a Conference on renewable energy,

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and hold numerous workshops from wood fuel

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to showcasing electric cars.

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As result Applecross has become greener with, for example, the installation of several wood fuel stoves burning local wood supplies.

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Last year we formed a Community Benefit Society, AppleJuice, which carried out the building of a Community Hydro Scheme,

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HighlandEco, the contractors built the scheme while we ran a Share Issue to raise £803,700 to pay for it.

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The scheme is capable of producing 90 kWs from run of river. Jamie here putting the finishing touches to the soft ware programs

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and Mick showing the school children the workings of the turbine.

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And Dougal checking the Pipeline.

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This has been the most challenging of all, taking the Community Company around 7 years to plan and develop before Apple Juice funded and built it. It was completed in December 2015 and will provide a future income for the Community to invest in projects to increase capacity and sustainable growth. Working well.

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Worth celebrating as some of the team did.

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Over £100,000 Today!!

It has turned into a quite extra ordinary day. Before Dai, the postie, turned up we knew today was okay as we had confirmation of £23,000, so the pressure was off. Opening the envelopes was an experience….to be brief we have received over £100,000 investment. This may actually mean that could be in a position of closing the share issue early as we reach the £770,000. We are approaching £640,000 total with around £130,000 to go!! I am stunned by the belief so many people have in the community. We are now in the position of letting any local people who are thinking of investing to do so now and not leave it any longer. There is a local preference for investing stated in the brochure, so do not be disappointed.

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The rest of the day was mundane, took a fuel delivery

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and rowed out for some fine langoustine.

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Borrowed another outboard but could not get the cord to pull so it was a long and healthy row out to the Varuna. The need to get to Edinburgh has diminished somewhat but may go anyway as putting and keeping Applecross on the map in certain circles is important for our future. And it rained. Next month it can rain all it likes.

On the Hill with a Hydro Man.

After the trot about the Hill above the farm with a potential contractor the main thing I learnt was how much I did not know about hydro schemes. Although to be fair it was more the micro managing I was learning about today. Fascinating to see how it is seen by a contractor who visualizes the end result and works out how it will be put together, from bends in the road, to access, to putting material to where it should be and how much, accommodation and who does what to whom. Our visitor, after a chat at the Inn with Alison headed up to the turbine site

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and after viewing the new sink hole,

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a little disturbingly near to where the turbine will be situated, we went up to the Pen Stock site

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taking in all potential problems on the way. I did not help by going too near the river bed and so went up the steepest part of the slope. The pipe line being further to the north, there is far gentler inclines and peat rather than rock for the pipe.

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Reckoned I had made an error at the time so on the way down this was corrected and the slopes were modified.

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The weather was atrocious and took a few photos of the Bay to show the grey, windy and wet day.

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But still exciting that we are moving on and getting closer to creating something special.

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Nerve wracking as well because after a day like today we know how much work will be involved. Today I could visualise the finished article, it still may not happen who knows, but it will not be through lack of effort. The figures quoted off the top of the contractors head was similar to expected costs and a lot will depend on funding for the private wire scheme as that is essential for the go ahead to qualify for the FITs. Also how successful the share issue will be to raise finance to cut back on the proposed IPS loan. Dougal and Eilidh are going to be keen observers of the project although I suspect the weather got to himself a little as he has not left the fire since.

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So a scalding hot shower after stopping for a bowl of soup for lunch and a Filling Station dip and finally got some warmth back into the limbs. Little bit of paperwork as that has to be maintained and back on the bike for the Inn. Did not last long and asked off as the staff were out numbering the customers. Started tidying up the world map so you can see Europe and intend to put a European inset as they keep complaining they could not see their own countries being represented as visiting the Inn. But you can only do that for so long and it was home to do more constructive work on the VAT front and get the last papers ready for Thursday Inverness trip, oh and a couple of episodes of House.

The world still turns and it affects you, what can one say that makes any sense of wanton acts of violence. At what point do you lose your sense of humanity and carry out acts that have been perpetrated in Paris. Politicians seem to use the “Thin Red Line” to distance themselves from the actual brutality of war and use arguments that we need to defend concepts so have others to kill in their name but to actually carry them out…. Even living in the remote north-west without a telly and a disdain for media presentation you can only wonder about how far one can sink and try to justify it as well. A disturbing potential reaction is the growing support for the far right/anti-immigration/anti integration guys who will now be jumping up and down saying I told you so. Sometimes you feel like jumping off.

Just got the power back on after almost two days in the dark and storm force winds. So that and the Inverness trip next.

Last Applecross Calendars For Sale.

First of all I would like to thank every one who has bought the calendars, the profits going to the Applecross Community Company. Those sold in the local shop have been raising money for the Primary School as well. The Company has been quietly getting on with connecting around 100 people to AppleNet, Toilets going well, and the newly refurbished Filling Station performing as it should now, with prices only 10p more than TESCO’s, this coupled with the ongoing Energy Efficiency project that is trying to reduce the fuel bills in the community. All these project have business plans and are viable but only just and I have the impression that some do not understand that the Company still needs a stronger financial base which is the main thrust towards establishing the Hydro Project. These services have now become an integral part of the Community and the Company is always looking to improve services within the area, mobile services may be the next step along with wood fuel training and processing. Much more is needed for our future survival and the £1500+ that has been raised through calendar sales has been welcome. Judith at the Inn has kindly offered her card facilities for anyone wanting to pay and have calendars sent out by post. Either ring the Inn or the Schoolhouse for details. Post Office doing a special offer second class postage running into January. Monthly photos have been taken from the Applecrosslife Blog and I would like to thank every one who has read, shared, retweeted and commented on the Blog. It has been a little more political this year for obvious reasons but the intention is never to offend, differing views yes, but hopefully with respect. I would also like to thank Stewart Wright who has very kindly given us a special deal in printing as he is a strong believer in community ideals. A sample of months in the calendar.

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July,

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October,

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and April.

Changin’ Scotland and It Is.

That was some three days, even for here the variety was something. Had made it to bed after a shift on Thursday coming back from Contin and was shattered but in a good way. Friday was taken at a run although part of that was making sure I had finished a post for putting out on Saturday. Contin did look good and it was thanks to the pooches that I made time to see above and over the mists. Lovely weather  on Friday morning

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and managed everything, all the menial stuff, the washing, dishes etc, in time for making it up to the Bealach summit

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to watch the sun dip behind the Cuillin.

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One of the jobs I had earmarked for the day was to feed the bees but when I went over to see how they were doing they were busy flying and saw some pollen coming in as well.

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Extra ordinary in the last days of November how pleasant and warm it is. So although I had forgotten a couple of things in the rush it was worth it for the scenes taking place out west. After catching up with Alison at Garve we all made our way to Leckmelm to get the nest ready for later and then off into Ullapool to grab something to eat and get into another Changin’ Scotland. Calling in at the Ceilidh Place we were immediately chatting to all sorts of revolutionaries and as a result missed the start of the evening. Finding the right venue and not reading the programme did not help.

Back to Leckmelm and a night spent trying to keep Dougal off the bed. It was at floor level due to a big relative’s recent visit and Dougal thinking he was still on his Contin holidays made the most of it. Another late arrival at the Village Hall, this time due to fishing, bee and wood chat at the lodgings. Missed the start of Matt Qvortrup’s talk on Referendums. Really interesting and then it was Prof Adam Tomkins, some one who I had followed on twitter to see and read about another view. Had to stop after the Vote as I found him just a bit too harsh. Fair play for him coming up this way as he was in a definite minority view. There really was some good behind the scenes descriptions of how the Smith Commission has worked to get its proposals out but he did appear to lose it somewhat when he described all Glasgow’s secondary state schools as not fit for purpose and dipped even deeper into tribal party politics saying the English education system was wonderful alongside his eulogy of Mr Gove. Got a brilliant rant from a retired Glasgow teacher at the coffee break. Sent by his wife to apologise for his language later in the morning, unnecessary but great to chat with people from around the country. Although the afternoon was absorbing and thought-provoking, listening to the likes of Jeane Freeman, David Greig and Kathy Galloway among others, the evening was beckoning with Tom Smith, Lateral North, Andy Wightman and Dr Jim Hunter.

Kathy Galloway began her talk with an extra ordinary tale. Bill going through Parliament on Friday with cross party support to prevent revenge evictions. That is, tenants, who complain to their landlords about housing conditions being evicted for their troubles. the Bill failed to go onto the books because it was talked out of time…..by two Tory MPs ……and you felt the room already knew what she was going to say next…..two Tory MPs who were landlords. If I did not declare an interest at a CC meeting and did not leave the room I would be out on my ear. The point I take from this they are now so arrogant they do not seem to care who sees or knows what they do now.

Tom Smith showed a power point full of imagination of what could happen in Scotland in the future…..nothing was deemed impossible, an example being that Scapa Flow could be the maritime hub for the whole of western Europe. A cracking example put forward by Tom was of a Danish architect who decided it would be a good idea to build a swimming pool above a supermarket using the wasted heat to warm the pool. Not only that he put in a diving board that allowed the divers into the supermarket. So shoppers in the fruit and veg aisle were passed by divers inside the glass enclosed pool. Got me thinking about lots of seagoing ventures that could be feasible in the scheme of things. It is not long since the western seaboard was connected by sea routes and that brought to mind an earlier discussion about remoteness. Remote is a relative term and where you are determines how remote you are. London is remote from Applecross. The world map on the wall of the Inn shows Applecross as the centre and threads from all across the world coming to Applecross. Millennium ago the first settlers inhabited the centres of “civilisation” and these were the coastal fringes of an impenetrable and wild hinterland. Stopped for dinner at the Ceilidh Place where we had the good fortune to sit with Jim Hunter and as the meal went on great exchanges of stories took place.

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He is now working on a book about the Sutherland Clearances and was telling us about the bounties paid out to “hunters” for eagles heads etc. Showing how the people lived on the land alongside the natural inhabitants and the diversity of wildlife that existed then. Not rosy by any means for the people but far better the denuding and degradation of the Highlands that took place over the last 200 years. The Scottish Govt’s programme has poor landlords in its sights and rightly so. Why should so few people hold sway over so many in a modern democracy? Why should the amount of land any one person can hold not be capped? Why can individual wealth not be kept under control. All these accumulations of power, wealth and property are ultimately detrimental to the surrounding environment. I equate these actions to my own life style, the constant striving for growth in the fishing industry inevitably leads to stock extinctions and a degraded eco system and as such should be controlled for the benefit for everyone. At Leckmelm the right of fishermen to fish to extinction was decried as it affects the non fishing community. As regards the degrading of the land and sea we are all in it together. Feels good to be amongst the revolutionaries. Meanwhile Dougal and Eilidh were given frequent walks and he, in particular had his moments meeting Douglas Fraser’s Sam and had a great wee mess about. One not so good moment nipping off in the dark to roll in the foulest rotten fish he could find. Result of that was a swim in Loch Broom. The end of the evening was interspersed with lots of chat about potential future opportunities for people and communities across the Highlands, but there was a wee stop for a snap.

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We decide to head down the road as work commitments meant a full on day for Sunday for both of us. On the way down the road Jim Hunter’s mention of Angus Macrae of North Strome reminded me of hearing him in Assynt. I had the good fortune to have been invited up to take part in a Radio programme by Lesley Riddoch and towards the end of the recording Angus stood up to say how proud he was of the Assynt crofters in their buying of the Estate and he hoped this would be the start of a repopulating of the Highlands. He then went on to describe such an evocative picture of driving home in the dark from Inverness across the northern Highlands and seeing the lights back on in the Glens, keeping him company on the way home. So different from now when you can travel for miles in total darkness. Maybe the new reforms that are proposed may help Angus’s vision to be fulfilled.

I can only end by saying it was a privilege to have been in such company and that includes the whole week, ranging from the community leaders in Contin to the politicos, journalists, activists and the good people in Ullapool. One can only hope that the efforts of Gerry Hassan and Jean Urquhart can be rewarded in the continuing of this great weekend. Today was hard graft, a 10/11 hour stint, but rewarding at the Inn but rest now for a day’s fishing may be on the cards for tomorrow.

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