We're a community group based in Strontian in the West Highlands. Faced with an inadequate Primary School building, and unhappy with our local Council's proposals to address this, we came up with our own idea: we would build a new facility ourselves, and lease it to the Council to use as a school. Fortunately the Council agreed to this, and we are now building what we believe will be the first community-owned school in Scotland.
Our model is similar to the better known and more controversial Private Finance Initiative (PFI). However in our case, the developer (us!) is constituted as a Community Benefit Society democratically controlled by our members, mostly village residents. Our goal is to provide the best facility we can for our kids, not profits for shareholders - but if once our loans are paid off we do make any profit this will be re-invested in community development. We are calling this a Community Finance Initiative (CFI), and believe it could be an exciting new model of public & community partnership for the future.
Without an adequate school building we will lose the young families we have and not be able to attract new ones. Without young families in our village, it will die. So this project is about much more than just a school for the children, it is about the sustainability of our rural community.
At the moment our Council cannot commit to leasing the building for more than 10 years (though they may do so). We have therefore designed our school building in such a way that if it is no longer needed for a school, it can be converted for another use - probably affordable housing, as this is another key priority in our community.
We have worked hard to get all necessary approvals in place, and now have funds for the main construction from grants, a commercial loan and a community share offer. However, we now need to raise funds for the 'extras' which will turn our school facility from being a good one to an even better and greener one. Currently the children have very limited outdoor space, but the new school will give them much more, and we want to landscape this with appropriate planting and equipment - to include a school polytunnel, an outdoor shelter, and other outdoor equipment. We also want to equip the new building with roof mounted PV panels, so that the children grow up with renewable electricty being a normal part of everyday life.
We estimate that these 'extras' will cost at least £25,000 and have set this as our initial target. If we can raise more, we can purchase more equipment and also start to reduce the size of our commercial loan on the main building. Please help us if you can!