More than 1,000 Highlanders have now joined forces to try to deliver Scotland’s largest ever community buy-out.
In just a few weeks, almost one-in-10 eligible Lochaber residents have signed-up to the group trying to take over the local assets owned by the Rio Tinto conglomerate.
East Lochaber and Laggan Community Trust was set up to buy the 125,000-acre estate after the mining giant revealed it was carrying out a “strategic review” of its presence in the area earlier this year.
The move sparked major fears for the future of the plant, which is the last aluminium smelter in the UK and employs about 150 people directly and 400 workers in supply chains.
The trust is keen to safeguard these jobs in Fort William, but does not intend to bid for the smelter and the main hydro power stations.
Instead, it wants to work with partners which have that aim.
The group only started recruiting local supporters in mid-July, but the 1,000th member signed-up to the cause yesterday.
It was Dougie Pryce, of Inverlochy, who works at Nevis Cycles in the village.
To mark the occasion, he was presented with a bottle of Ben Nevis Distillery whisky by trust chairman John Hutchison at the Braxi Hall in Inverlochy, which was one of the first community buildings Rio Tinto’s predecessor, British Alcan Aluminium, built for smelter workers.
Mr Pryce said: “My family has lived here for generations and some have worked at the factory and in Glen Nevis.
“I know most corners of the estate really well and for it to be owned by the community is the right way to go for the future.
“I urge everyone to get behind what the trust is trying to do.”
The trust was delighted to reach the milestone.
Trust director Flora McKee, of Inverlochy, said: “People are clearly supporting the trust and its vision of the community owning the land to let those who live here shape the management and development of the estate for future generations.
“It’s great to see a young local man getting behind us.”
The group is now encouraging more locals to sign up to show their support for the ambitious scheme.
Fort William and Ardnamurchan councillor Brian Murphy, who worked at the Alcan power station for 21 years, described reaching the 1,000 mark as very good news.
He said: “No one knows what is going to happen with Rio Tinto itself as far as the ongoing smelter situation is concerned, but I think the community has a legitimate right to register an interest in the land.
“Obviously I want to see aluminium smeltering carry on in Lochaber, but I believe the land should be a community asset and I would like to see the buyout come to fruition.”
Mr Murphy added that he thought the trust had done well to attract so many members in such a short time.
“More and more people are talking about it and I’m sure plenty more people will sign up yet,” said the councillor.
Suggestions for possible uses of the land include outdoor sporting activities, affordable housing, improved tourist accommodation, crofting, tenant farming and a small hydro scheme.
In July, Rio Tinto said it had drawn up a shortlist of “prospective partners, investors and buyers” and was about to enter into more detailed discussions with them.
A spokesman for the company last night said there was no update.
He said: “Things are clearly moving on, but the review is still ongoing.”
He added that he was unable to say when it would be completed.