Achtercairn regeneration, Gairloch


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:


Architect or lead designer:


Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

Communities Housing Trust

Project Description

The coastal village of Gairloch is a small village in the north-west Highlands, with a permanent population of around 750, but is the main hub for the region, with shops, services, and high school.

The primary school roll had declined, as families were unable to find suitable or affordable homes in the area. Outward migration by young people, also struggling to find homes, and dependent on a low-wage, seasonal tourist economy, was affecting the long-term sustainability of the village.

Gairloch is geographically long and thin, spread over three townships with no focal point on the main road. The central area used to house a large hotel but had been derelict for many years following a fire. This brownfield site represented a significant blight and challenge in the heart of the village.

There was strong community support for regenerating the site, while simultaneously addressing the fundamental issues of:
• Depopulation and loss of housing stock for the local community
• Consequent decline in use of services with potential threat of closure
• Decreased ability to take advantage of new business opportunities for diversifying economy due to increased costs and fewer resources.

With the community and key stakeholders, Communities Housing Trust (CHT) formed and chaired the Achtercairn Development Group (ADG).

Jointly we developed a detailed Masterplan for the site with over 50 partners, including:
• Air Training Corps (MOD)
• Albyn Housing Society
• All interested local groups and residents
• Big Lottery Fund
• Gairloch and Loch Ewe Action forum (GALE)
• Highland Council
• Highlands & Islands Enterprise
• Landowners
• Local museum
• NatureScot
• Private businesses
• Scottish Government
• University of Highlands and Islands
• Visit Scotland

The project grew into a community-led development tailored to local and long-term need which tackles the social and economic inequality of this rural area, as well as the climate crisis.

The resulting development, built in 3 phases over 10 years, included:

• 19 affordable rental homes, with 5 tenures by 3 providers: Communities Housing Trust, Albyn Housing Society and Highland Council
• 6 Low-Cost Home Ownership (LCHO) homes, including Rent To Buy
• Gairloch Farm Shop, including:
o Vet surgery
• GALE Centre, run by social enterprise Gairloch and Loch Ewe Action forum (GALE). A flagship building in the village and the first public building in Scotland to be awarded Passivhaus status. It included:
o Tourist Information hub
o Community shop
o Community café
o Growing and composting space for café
o University of Highlands & Islands learning hub
o Office space for GALE and rooms for community use
• Air Training Corps facility (MOD)
• Access to two further development sites

To achieve this, CHT negotiated the purchase of four areas of land to form one cohesive site.

CHT’s LCHO homes have a Rural Housing Burden title condition attached. The Burden was developed by CHT to protect housing stock for rural communities and ensures affordability in perpetuity. The purchaser has 100% ownership, and the home must be used as a primary residence and not let, protecting against holiday- and second-home ownership.

The final residents moved into their new homes in October 2020.

Supporting Statement

Community involvement, benefit, and impact

The ADG ensured everyone in the community had the opportunity to be involved from the outset, and throughout project development.

CHT also undertook community events and consultation exercises, including surveys to identify specific need, and demand for residential, social and business opportunities both within and outwith the area. Community open days enabled residents to learn first-hand the ideas being explored and help shape the outcomes. These events and surveys received a high degree of participation from individuals and organisations alike.

The development’s main impacts so far:
• 25 families retained within village, in lifetime homes which are affordable to run
• School roll has increased
• Flagship GALE Centre attracts over 40,000 visitors a year. The building has enabled GALE to increase their staff, and employ them year-round, creating a more stable community
• Community shop and café sell produce from 40 local makers/producers, further supporting the economy of the wider area to the tune of £75,000 annually
• University of the Highlands and Islands learning hub, providing education opportunities for people of all ages, reducing long and environmentally harmful journeys to central facilities. The hub has since moved to larger premises nearby – a positive sign!
• Air Training Corps facility giving young people the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills
• Raising confidence for local groups to undertake further projects, such as Gairloch Heritage Museum relocating and regenerating their facilities next door. (They won Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020, the world’s largest museum prize)
• Exemplar development for what’s possible in other rural places across Scotland, as a replicable model.

Build design and quality

Six architect firms were involved in designing various parts of the site, but an overall cohesion has been achieved, nestling beneath the hill.

Homes were built with sustainable materials where possible, with air source heat pumps and underfloor heating.

The GALE Centre in particular achieved Passivhaus status, has a living roof, and used Scottish-grown Douglas fir and larch for the main timbers and cladding, respectively.

Proximity to shops and services also supports the ‘20-minute neighbourhood’ in practice, further tackling the climate crisis by reducing travel and supporting the local economy.

Enhancing local built environment

The development has transformed a derelict eyesore into a geographic, thriving new centre for the village.

Project achievements

• ADG changed the Local Development Plan, repositioning commercial facilities prominently on road, with homes behind
• Increased diversity of housing tenures, giving greater choice and flexibility for differing financial capabilities or circumstances, crucial in small communities
• Ensured affordability of new homes in perpetuity, specifically for the local community
• Increased business, social and cultural opportunities, supporting tourism but also diversifying the local economy
• Helped address rural inequalities e.g., access to services and education; fuel poverty
• Regenerated a derelict site in the village which was negatively affecting morale and the local economy by creating a new centre and focal point, encouraging visitors to stop
• Helped build community wealth for the long-term – financially, but also in services, resources, and skills
• Encouraged repopulation and regeneration of wider area