More than 120 communities across the Highlands and Islands - including two on the Isle of Lewis – are among the first in Scotland to benefit from the Scottish Government’s £350 million package of support to address the social and economic impacts of COVID-19.

The £40 million Supporting Communities Fund, which forms part of the Scottish Government’s support package, is being administered by development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The fund includes an initial £10 million investment that is being distributed to communities through eligible community organisations that play an active role in providing vital local services. A further allocation of £10 million has been approved to support the second phase of the fund.

Now HIE has approved 129 grants worth £2.68 million to community anchor organisations located from Argyll to Shetland, and from the Outer Hebrides to Moray. 

Each organisation will coordinate a targeted and joined up approach to help those most in need, working alongside other third sector organisations, charities, volunteers, local authorities and statutory bodies.

One beneficiary is Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (Galson Estate Trust) which reacted to the Covid-19 emergency by going straight into action, establishing a group of volunteers from each of its 22 villages to collate a list of mobile numbers and landlines, and set up a network on the social network WhatsApp.  Serving a population of nearly 2,000 people, each resident on the estate has been contacted to ensure that if they need support, they will get it.
The Trust has secured funding from the Strengthening Communities Fund of just over £9,000. It'll help the community deliver its local COVID-19 emergency responses over the coming months.

And Urras Oighreachd Chàrlabhaigh (Carloway Estate Trust) has been awarded £10,700 from the Supporting Communities Fund. The Trust manages the community owned estate and is taking on anchor organisation co-ordinating role for a wider area, which has a population of around 825 people. Volunteers are already very active in the community and are checking on residents, delivering groceries and prescriptions. The front-line volunteer effort is being co-ordinated by four community organisations - Breasclete Community Association, Breasclete Community Council, Carloway Community Association and Tolsta Chaolais Village Association.

Douglas Cowan, director of communities and place with HIE, said: “Everyone in Scotland is being affected to some extent by the impacts COVID-19 is having on our economy and society.

“There is already an incredible support network of community organisations and development trusts across the Highlands and Islands, involving thousands of volunteers and key workers. 

“They do a range of practical things to help others, such as making hot meals, organising grocery and prescription deliveries and providing wellbeing support.

“Distributing funding through these anchor organisations gives local people the power to make the choices that are right for their communities and ensures the support goes to help those who need it the most.”

Communities and Local Government Cabinet Secretary Aileen Campbell said:“People living in rural communities across the Highlands and Islands face significant challenges in accessing basic needs such as health and social care services, food and fuel.

“That’s why the incredible community response to COVID-19 in the past weeks has been vital, and it has already made such a huge difference to so many people. This inspiring work in our neighbourhoods is proving essential to our nation’s resilience.

“This funding will be a valuable lifeline to continue the range of innovative support available for people in our communities, and we are working fast to get that support to where it is needed most.”