Collaborative Stornoway

What struck me about our initial conversations with people at Stornoway, (Outer Hebrides, Scotland) was the goodwill between people tackling the climate crisis. Several people are collaborating to make their community, and that of the whole Outer Hebrides, climate safe. And Brian Whittington from Climate Hebrides has a central role in bringing together the groups, agencies and governance people who’re doing their bit on climate change. He’s the ultimate connector of people and negotiator of next steps.

When we contacted him, he suggested that the best way Novara could contribute was to promote a community mapping app being launched for the Outer Hebrides. Luckily for us, this gave us an opportunity to meet the people who’re working on climate change action and talk to them about what they’re doing.

Brian organised key players in climate change action to come on board, including representatives from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) and  Nature Scot. Climate Hebrides is made up of statutory and community-based organisations from across the 14 inhabited islands of the Outer Hebrides. It was formed as a Community Interest Company to hold money, deliver projects, and act as a ‘doing’ body for the Climate Change Working Group of the community planning partnership.

One of their key initiatives is a community mapping programme where individuals can take photos of areas of concern related to climate change. For example, if someone knows their house is going to be cut off because of flooding or sea level rising, they can take a picture and pin it on the map, then explain what that image means. ‘Together we can build up a picture across the Outer Hebrides that will need adaptation in the coming years’, says Brian. ‘Importantly it gives individuals a chance to say they’re concerned about an area and map that.’ The mapping will also highlight who, or which agency, needs to take action. ‘We can hold their feet to the fire and say, listen, the people are telling you this, what’s your plan to do something about it?’

And one of those agencies is Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) where Dr Anna Hulme is the Senior Researcher working on policy and strategy, particularly climate change. She says the council has already identified many of the hazards they are facing, and there are potential opportunities as well. ’There could be jobs in climate change, adaptation, and nature-based solutions, as well as potential impacts for health, well-being and businesses’.

For the council, collaboration is vital to get a full picture of needs of the community and hear different perspectives. ‘In the council we have one perspective or we have a number of perspectives across services, but then when you’re expanding that out to other agencies and organisations, you are able to capture more than we could have done alone’, says Anna.

For the head of Nature Scot for the West of Scotland, David MacLennan, collaboration is essential to make a practical difference. ‘It’s quite unusual in Scotland to see what we’ve done here. We’ve pulled together all of the scientific evidence to create a resource that tells you what’s happening. And we’ve shared that resource with every member of our community planning partnership that articulates what the problem is’.

‘We all own the problem. We all need to work together on what the solutions might be’.

David reinforces that the climate crisis is everyone’s issue, not just a matter for ‘others’ to deal with.

‘The only way we can find solutions to adapt to climate change is by taking account of what everybody’s concerns are, and coming up with what our priorities for the future are. Community engagement, listening to real life experience from people who’ve lived here all of their lives and have seen what’s already changed and can probably see what’s going to change, is an essential part of whatever we do in the Outer Hebrides’, he says.

‘The change is coming. Doesn’t matter what we do here to reduce emissions, and we will do a lot, but the change is coming’.

And it won’t be all plain sailing, ‘There will be hard decisions that need to be taken in the Outer Hebrides’, he says. ‘There will be challenges and difficulties finding resources to meet some of the challenges we are facing. But that’s not a reason for not trying’.

He adds that as we move from the engagement work to actual delivery plans, ‘… there are going to be some tough calls at local and national level to find the resources that are needed to meet these challenges’.

Ultimately, says Brian Whittington, what resources are available will reflect how much government values the Outer Hebrides. ‘We don’t have billions of pounds, here in the islands, to be able to pay for all these things. How does the local authority pay for roads to be raised without state intervention? The question becomes, do we as a nation value places like the Outer Hebrides, or do we only value cities? And that’s a sort of fundamental question for Scottish society’.

As a result of the collaboration the Outer Hebrides have demonstrated, they are refusing to be passive; instead these organisations are facing the impact of climate change and the adaptations that are necessary. Their collaboration means a robust body of evidence to present to any potential funders as well as solid data about the consequences of not acting and an inspiring example of best practice for others to consider.

  • Ben Page
    Posted at 08:26h, 29 July Reply

    The community mapping idea sounds great. Can anyone see. The output yet?

    • Nigel & Veronica
      Posted at 17:35h, 20 August Reply

      Hi Ben. I think it is still early days. But you’ve reminded me to get back in touch to find out how the mapping is going.

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