Young Crofters 20:20 Gathering 2015 (Pt.1)

Right, I should have got my act together literally months ago and written about this after it happened, however, hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’m writing about it now so we’re all good. I’ve split this summary into three separate posts.

Back in March I, along with about 90 other people, attended the Scottish Crofting Federations YC20:20 gathering. Held at Glencanisp Lodge, near Lochinver, Sutherland, the event brought together young crofters, aspiring crofters, crofting “Elders”, MSP’s, kids from Shetland and the Western Isles, members of the Scottish Crofting Federation and the Crofting Commission, and representatives from SNH, Nourish, Permaculture Scotland, Scottish Government and various others.

Nice Location for a Conference

Day 1: I travelled across to the West Coast with two young crofters, Maddy and Rob, who have recently bought a croft just up the road from me, Maddy is a self-employed artist, you can see her work here. After dropping off our bags at Inchnadamph Lodge, where we would stay for the next few nights, we headed to Glencanisp Lodge to register and meet everyone.

After the initial registration, name badges, and cups of tea we dove straight in. We began by asking “What is the future we want for crofting?” and this very much remained the theme of the Gathering. Splitting up into groups for workshops we focused on questions such as this and the discussions were enlightening.  The main conclusions to be drawn from this initial session were that crofting is still very much a part of Highland life, and that there is growing interest in it, from a range of age-groups.

However, the kids we spoke to told us that whilst they have an interest in crofting, they see themselves moving away from the Highlands for work and education but that they hoped they would be able to return later in life. This theme of having to move away for work, was a re-occurring theme throughout the conference, and I will return to it later. It was also interesting to see people’s motivations for wanting to get involved in crofting: from self-sufficiency, to inheritance, to heritage, to a simple love of working the land and start into farming, to conservation and ecology, to getting involved in local food production and being part of a community.

Some memorable quotes to come from this first day include:

  • “How can you help the planet when the monetary and legal side of things hurts you”
  • “Crofting is a way of life”
  • “Tradition is important, but there is a need to allow for youth and innovation”

After the first session we came together in the marquee to present our initial discussions, then after lunch split up again for a second round of workshops.

This time beginning to look at how we can make steps forward in crofting. A big issue brought up at this point was access to land, and not just in the Highlands – again something I will come back to. Another was education, training and skills development, helping people who want to get into crofting but who may not have a background in it to develop the knowledge to allow them to succeed. The Scottish Crofting Federation already run courses all over the place, but we also discussed the possibility of crofting apprenticeships, mentoring and to my mind it could even tie into projects run by Imbewu Scotland. Shetland are apparently already ahead of the game here as schools there offer a crofting qualification.

Another issue that everyone felt was pressing was the policy and legislation surrounding crofting, it was fairly unanimous that folk felt the entire system needed simplifying! A final issue which was brought up in this second session, and in general throughout the event was a lack of infrastructure in the Highlands – regarding everything from mobile phone signal and broadband, to access to slaughterhouses; at present the nearest abattoir is in Dingwall, a long drive for both crofter and animals, and this issue is being lobbied separately, though it is in the benefit of crofters and small scale food producers to add their voice.

We concluded the first day with a movie night before heading back to Inchnadamph Lodge and an early-ish night, to be ready for Day 2

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