Sustainable Development and Community Empowerment

While many of us may yearn after the idea of traditional communities, communally working the land and taking care of each other as we do so, with neighbours as much part of our daily lives as family and friends - few of us can deny that the world is not what it used to be. Whether we are in the urban depths of Glasgow or Edinburgh or the remote regions of the Outer Hebrides, change and rapid change is taking place.

Unfortunately, for a place like the Isle of Lewis, our old communal habits have given way to more individualised and urbanised lifestyles. Most of us now work indoors with desks and computers, not out on the croft shifting hay and tilling soil. Some people might point to the influx of incomers as the cause of this change, but that fails to appreciate the whole story and leads to a negative appreciation of what incomers can bring to our depopulating island. The reality is that the economic structure of our communities creates these conditions. Mass production, austerity economics, and economic leakages to corporate providers can drain our communities of their social vitality. While we might all have bigger houses, more clothes, bigger tellies and faster cars – what we lose in the process is unrushed time spent with family, friends and neighbours.

The Scottish Government is keenly aware of the value of this “social capital” that has declined in our communities. We share less stuff and have less time to spare to look after each other, which is keenly felt by the pressures being placed on the land through our ‘waste habits’ as well as the NHS and other Health and Social Care Partnerships.

The Scottish Government has introduced the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act with its emphasis on National Outcomes, Community Planning, Participation Requests and Asset Transfers as a way to get communities to participate more in their communities, sharing more resources, and in the process, revitalising our social cohesion. This is not to “sugar coat” community empowerment and austerity economics with images of the ‘good life’, but to spell out even more clearly the necessity of “working together” to create positive change.

The BSc (Honours) Sustainable Development degree delivered from Lews Castle College is the longest standing programme of Scotland’s University of the Highlands and Islands. This degree programme has pioneered the ability for students to study Sustainable Development from anywhere in world. The degree is fully online, and can be studied from anywhere, as long as there is access to a working pc and a mostly reliable broadband connection.

Recently revalidated for the next 5 years (2017-2022), the Sustainable Development team, based at Lews Castle College, have worked to incorporate more community-based modules into their offerings including Community Energy, Working with Communities, and Planning for Community Projects with a more specific local and rural focus. The programme offers a wide range of modules that would be of great interest for those concerned with land and development.

Whether you want to pursue further undergraduate study or work towards a 60 credit Rural Community Development Award, the Sustainable Development team welcome you to explore their programme offerings :

Email us  leadmissions@uhi.ac.uk or phone us +44 (0)1851 770000.