Community projects across the Highlands have benefited from millions of pounds worth of funding from SSE Renewables and the contribution from the energy giant has made a huge impact.
SSE Renewables, which is one of the largest energy companies in the UK, wants to help communities facing the unprecedented challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. It invests in the areas in which it operates – particularly where its onshore windfarms are located – and, as the organisation is very active in the Highlands, it has channelled much of its funding from its Community Investment scheme to the area.
In fact, it has already ploughed £22million into more than 1,000 projects here, and has recently awarded more grants to assist projects where funding is needed. Its aim is to “make sure every single penny of that money is spent wisely; it makes a difference and reflects the priorities of local people”.
Here we hear from four projects about the impact the SSE Renewables’ funding has had, particularly during a challenging year for good causes and community initiatives…
Armadale Village Hall Committee
Total awarded: £326,000
The grant from SSE Renewables was a lifeline for Armadale Village Hall Committee in Sutherland as it meant that this valuable community resource could be rebuilt from the ground up.
Initially, it was hoped that the run-down and seldom-used Armadale Village Hall could be renovated and returned to its former glory as it had fallen into a state of disrepair. However, investigations into the foundations discovered it was built on stones and would not be safe so the building needed to be pulled down.
The Committee launched a fundraising drive in a bid to secure the half-a-million pounds required, then SSE Renewables stepped in and now, after construction began in March 2020 and continued throughout lockdown, the village hall is almost ready to launch.
Joyce Campbell, of Armadale Farm, is chair of the village hall committee and said: “The hall was used very seldomly, but used to host great ceilidhs. Our aim was to return it to a warm and welcoming hall – and we have done that.
“When we looked at building a new hall we wanted it to look similar to the original building with open beams and an oak floor but with a good-sized kitchen and toilets and showers for public use.
“Now the local builders, Norbloc Construction, are in the final stages of completion. They have kept going through lockdown.”
Inside, old chairs and benches from the original building will be restored and painted in yellows and blues, while outside, fencing will be erected and shrubs will be planted. In addition to this, the grounds of the hall will also benefit from an electric car charging point. Joyce admits it hasn’t all been plain sailing as the committee discovered they didn’t own the land that the hall was built on.
She added: “It hasn’t been an easy journey – but it would not have happened without the funding, support and belief from SSE Renewables. They have been fantastic and, once they came on board, their contribution of £326,000 made it a better proposition for other funders.”
Before it can return to holding ceilidhs and other community events, the first role for the soon-to-be-open village hall is to be a hub for Covid vaccinations.
“Without that support, we couldn’t have done this – it’s as simple as that,” says Strathdearn Community Developments CEO
Total award: £267,000
In 2019, Strathdearn Community Developments (SCD) finished developing The Strathdearn, a multifunctional community space designed to benefit both current and future generations. It provides a hall facility, café, events space and new home for the community shop (originally located across the road) which offers basic essentials, including chilled, frozen, ambient and freshly baked goods.
In short, The Strathdearn is there for all to enjoy, including a range of community groups. Charles Morgan, Chief Operating Officer at SCD, says: “The reaction from the community has been very good and more people have been using it – we’re trying to be a first call place to go to rather than a last resort. It’s viewed as a community lifeline.”
During development, SCD received an essential investment of £197k from the Dunmaglass fund, which is operated by SSE Renewables on behalf of Dunmaglass Wind Farm Ltd.
“Without that support, we couldn’t have done this – it’s as simple as that,” says Charles.
But the support didn’t stop there – with the pandemic having an impact, the Dunmaglass fund was able to offer a further £70,107.64 in additional funding to help this “community lifeline”.
Charles explains: “In the hub itself, the community haven’t been able to meet for user groups. The church is now back meeting, but basically lots of community events have been cancelled, as well as events and weddings which were doing really well before lockdown. The additional funding from SSE Renewables has helped with retaining jobs and covering our overheads. The board at Strathdearn and the community are both very grateful to SSE for their continued support.”
Windfarm gives community a much-needed boost to Caithness Community Connections
Total awarded: £105,000
In the fractured community of Lybster, there is an ever increasing need for a space in which children and adults can feel safe and supported. And thanks to funding from the Beatrice Partnership Fund, administered by SSE Renewables, Caithness Community Connections (CCC) is in the process of developing just that.
Heather Urquhart, Project Co-ordinator for CCC, explained: “We received £50,000 from SSE Renewables, funding which has given us a huge boost in our ability to provide for both the children and adults in our community, and which will allow us to transform our base into a warm and welcoming space.”
The Highland Council provided CCC with a house to use as a community base after recognising the complex issues within the community. Children and young people deal with food poverty on a regular basis, and life can be chaotic – highlighting the need for a permanent support presence in the area. The property is in dire need of development, in terms of redecoration and the implementation of a kitchen that meets environmental health standards, which is where the support from SSE Renewables comes in.
“Once the base is fully renovated, we will have a hub from which to carry out admin tasks, store equipment, cook food for those in need and offer a drop in service, offering coaching for useful life skills,” Heather said.
With the financial support from SSE Renewables and Beatrice, the community of Lybster now has the potential to provide activities and training to people of all ages, helping both individuals and families to transform their lives.
“Funding was our project’s anchor,” says Glen Urquhart Community Association chair
Total awarded: £80,000
For the Glen Urquhart Rural Community Association SSE Renewables’ funding was vital to the success of their project.
“SSE Renewables committing money for our tourism and transport hub really was the anchor for other funding bodies to approve our requests,” chair of GURCA Susan Clark explained. GURCA received £80,000 for their redevelopment of the former Drumnadrochit tourist centre, which will be transformed into a tourism and transport hub, as well as the home of a social enterprise that will bring in the money to sustain the hub.
“The SSE Renewables grant will be used to buy a local baggage transfer business to support our other activities.”
Along with funding from grant-giving bodies, GURCA also ran a community offering in September, which raised a massive £110,000 for the project. The group now has the money in place to complete the transfer of the building (currently owned by Highland Council), renovate it and make it more environmentally sustainable and buy the business. And they are already in the process of hiring staff. With much of the economy reliant on tourism, GURCA knows that getting the word out about the area post-Covid will be vital and they are aiming to have the hub open to the public by March 2021, something made possible by the money from SSE Renewables.
Reasons why SSE Renewables chose to pledge £94m to help in 2020
Morven Smith, Head o f Community Investment at SSE Renewables said: “ The Highland communities in which we work and operate are so important to SSE Renewables as so many of our colleagues live and work close to our renewable energy sites.
“As a responsible developer we have a duty to support the communities in which we operate. We’ve already invested £22m in over 1,000 Highland community projects and our current funds have a total lifetime value of £94m. Our research has shown that every £1 we invest encourages £4 of investment from other sources. “Our community investment has the vast benefit of connecting people. This has never been more important than during this past year, when restrictions had the unfortunate effect of making people feel more disconnected than ever.
“When the full extent of the coronavirus pandemic became apparent, we had the flexibility to release additional funding helping many of the organisations we support provide invaluable services in this unprecedented time of need.
“However, funding alone is not what communities need to survive and thrive and like so many other things in life, it comes down to people. The dedication, care and commitment of the volunteers involved in the projects that we support should never be underestimated. Their sense of community is an inspiration to us all in everything we do.”