CGDT AGM: Chairman’s Report

For those of you who weren’t able to make the CGDT AGM, there’ll be a full report on the CGDT website in due course, but for now, below is the text of my report to the membership yesterday in Colintraive:

This year has been an extremely busy one for the trust, so I don’t intend to dwell on detail so much as outline where things now are across the full width of our activity. Sara and Eamon will be making presentations on Greener ColGlen and the forest respectively later.

First I’ll talk about our projects, then our interactions at policy level and finally the work we have done this year on governance and administration of the trust.

But before I do that I’d just like to pay tribute to Rhona Sutherland who retired this last Christmas. Rhona made a huge and indelible contribution to the trust’s development and therefore to this community. As a mark of the value on which we placed her work, the board will be naming a viewpoint in the Forest for Rhona as recognition that without her work we wouldn’t have been able to make the acquisition as well as to mark her enduring contribution across the board.

And I should also say, that Nikki Brown and Mark Chambers also left us. We’re  delighted to report that Nikki has moved onto a more senior full-time post at Kilfinan – and we wish her all the best in her new position – and of course we wish Mark the best of luck too.

We’d also like to welcome Eamon King, Margaret Shields to their first AGM – both of whom have become, or I am sure will become key to our ongoing success as a trust. 

So, this first full year of work on the forest has yielded some great progress. We now have a master plan and consequently we are now much clearer on access to the forest, and how we’ll improve this for the community and public at large. We have viable wind and hydro projects which we are pursuing. The archaeology group have developed some really key relationships with the wider academic archaeology community as well as completed some excellent survey work. We have progressed the crofting part of the project, and some intriguing and possibly ground-breaking developments have resulted. Our relationship with tenant and forest management has been consolidated, particularly in the last few weeks.

For Greener Colglen the growing project is really taking shape. We are delighted to see the polytunnels erected and the fit out of both nearly complete. This despite some difficulties with the supplier. The composting project is taking shape and the rhododendron project will be progressed over the next six months. These three elements of the project will now have three / four new personnel working on them part-time. Sara has been running the project in an exemplary fashion which we have particularly appreciated over the last year – so thank you Sara for your continuing efforts.

Still in development, with applications and paperwork being processed are the projects around the Glendaruel Hotel building, the Cowal Way, Local Community Broadband as well as a footbridge in Colintraive and other sundry initiatives. We’ve also been able to support applications and initiatives in the community, for example providing expertise for the Glendaruel Village Hall application.

While all this work on the ground and in the community has been progressing, we have continued to ensure our profile as a community has been maintained in community development circles.

As chair I have been a member of a panel on a Scottish Government Policy initiative on Community Benefit as well as reporting to the Cross Partyy Group on Scottish Power, Renewables and Energy, Environment at Holyrood. As a Board we have been most concerned at the effects of Government advice on State Aid and the de minimise regulations and therefore have applied pressure on government and the civil service to adjust their advice to benefit community organisations like ours. Margaret in particular has pursued this issue. Progress is happening, albeit at an incremental level. This year also, the Land Reform Review Group has been consulting and we have made our views known, particularly with regard to the Community Right to Buy legislation which we feel could be improved markedly. Furthermore we have interacted at regional and national level with government and agencies around climate change – in the continuing Are You Ready project – as well as around crofting, community woodlands and the Forestry Commission. Sara as project officer is also member of the Steering Group of Scottish Communities Climate Action Network which may lead into participation as a case study for research into Community-led sustainability projects.

You might ask why this work is important – well, it means that when we make applications for funding, when we approach difficulties as a community like school closures, when we have to interact with various governmental and non-governmental agencies, we have a track record, a reputation – for getting things done – for inputting at the highest levels. Given the ways the Scottish Government is presently seeking to empower communities this is highly important work for our community. Indeed, we have repeatedly benefitted from this, not least in our purchase of the forest, but also the second phase of our Climate Challenge Fund projects. We are particularly delighted to be working on a close basis with the Community Council to whom we make a report at every meeting.

In all this activity we are now employing, on full-time or part-time basis, 7 people and we have a board of 6. Given our expanding role as an employer we have this year instituted a full suite of governance and employment paperwork – much of it produced by director Sandra Wilson on a voluntary basis. This provides us with a secure basis for moving forward – and all of these documents, like everything else, are available on our website. As part of this we’re putting together a register of interest, for members of the local community to let us know what skills they have which they would be willing to contribute either voluntarily or as a contractor. There are forms available today to sign up, and when we have contracts or volunteer schemes we need to fill, this list will be our first point of contact.

We have also had to be innovative in our use of project funds to spread the employment benefit across as many positions as possible. Over the last 6 months Colin Boyd our treasurer has worked with Margaret, and also Bill Carlow, to bring about a thorough-going review of our financial systems – work which has ensured our financial position is now more that ever thoroughly documented to the highest standards. But it is in the field of finance that one of our major tasks has arisen. The Development Trust has to find core funding in order to continue delivering the benefits we’ve been so successful at securing these last 5 years.

Renewables, wind, biomass and hydro, Community Broadband, Crofts, Woodlots and other initiatives are all aimed at eventually putting together an income for the trust which will employ more than our present 7 and create real economic benefit in the local community – attracting people to live here and therefore ensuring our services are maintained. This has to be our focus. As a community we are very good at delivering individual projects – for example the play park, the shinty clubhouse, the summer activity school – but these have depended in part on Windfarm funding, and this funding will eventually cease. We need to be prepared for that, and this year, I would argue we have made significant strides in ensuring we will have sufficient levels of income within the next three years.

Of course Governance, Administration, Consultations, Employment, Staff welfare, Recruitment, Board Meetings and all the other sundry tasks associated with running a successful Development Trust take time, much of which, as you may have gathered, is contributed on a voluntary basis by the directors. There has been much negative chat this year about the trust and its standing within the community – consequently it has been difficult at times for us to maintain focus and deliver on the mandate the community gave us at our inaugural meeting. We have persisted and will continue to do so trusting that the majority of the community recognise the effort and thought which we apply to our work as an organisation. On behalf of the members of the trust I want to thank all of the directors and our staff this year for their efforts, their frankness and above all their tireless enthusiasm without which I am sure we wouldn’t have got so far, thank you.

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