- Friday, 20 January 2012 12:56 Hits: 3534
I'm so impatient for things to happen that I want to fast forward through this difficult, painfully slow part onto the good part where we're enjoying the results of our hard work. Our camping cabins are under construction and our dehydrating composting toilet will be delivered at the beginning of April. At last I feel like I've achieved something! Or will do, when I can actually see and touch them.
I can't shake the feeling that this is going to be an interesting year, and not just because things are slowly starting to move on the community development front. There will be some changes in the Trust, with two expressions of interest to fill the Directors' positions vacated by Harry & Sally, and two more of our existing Directors standing down in May. I've been busy sowing seeds in the minds of a few people who would be particularly good at the job, with their ability to see the wider picture and a cool-headed approach to difficult issues. Everyone's a novice at this, including me, and some people just need a little encouragement to achieve their potential.
This month the community has been trying to resolve the thorny issue of how to pay for the maintenance of our road. It's a grade above a dirt track and has not been adopted by Highland Council – nor are they interested in taking it on. Before the asset transfer, Scottish Natural Heritage was responsible for keeping the potholes under control, resurfacing, and keeping drains clear. Now that responsibility falls to the Community Trust, with its limited income from affordable rents and a lot of outgoings on its elderly hard-to-treat properties. A long period of consultation with the community was entered into, culminating in a proposal to levy a flat annual fee to residents: £24 on each household, since everyone benefits from having a nice road, plus an additional £20 per year for each vehicle using the road. Even households with two vehicles (one for on-island, one for off-island) would pay no more than £64 per year. If it seems eminently reasonable, that's because a lot of thought and debate went into it. However, not everyone on the island agrees, and those who disagree declined to participate in the consultation process. At a recent community meeting two residents announced they would refuse to pay. If two people refuse to pay, will anyone agree to?
It brings to mind half-forgotten psychology lectures from the distant past; free rider effects and the dilemmas of living in social groups. If everybody pays then everybody benefits, but if one person doesn't pay does the rest of the group carry them or does everyone suffer? It's particularly frustrating because it feels as if people don't realise that this is not about a faceless organisation squeezing money out of people who can't afford it; it's about their friends and colleagues striving to find a collective solution to a problem which affects them all. The money given would go directly into producing a tangible benefit to the whole community.
I like Lesley Riddoch's suggestion that a portion of council tax revenue could be returned to communities who are providing services for themselves. I wonder if it's worth asking Highland Council for a contribution. Are there other communities out there in a similar position who can offer us advice?
In other news; I've noticed a curious kind of detachment forming, where although I care deeply about this community and what happens to and within it, I no longer feel that it's my responsibility to make things happen, or to make them happen in a certain way. I'm living within a group of very thoughtful people who - for the most part - genuinely want to contribute to creating an integrated, thriving community. I've been asking myself what I came here for, because it wasn't just for the job, but I haven't come up with an answer yet. Perhaps it will only become obvious with hindsight. I've been keeping myself apart from the community to some extent (I can't really help them work through their issues if I am caught up in those issues, and I don't want to know about people's house maintenance problems on a Friday night in the pub or a Sunday afternoon when I'm out for a stroll), yet I'm finding it impossible to live here and not care about where we're going. It's all very zen; watching myself watching a flower unfold.