‘Community’: the ends and means of sustainability? Exploring the position and influence of community-led initiatives in encouraging more sustainable lifestyles in remote rural Scotland
Creamer, Emily Charlotte
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This research explored the role of community-led initiatives in encouraging the uptake of more sustainable lifestyles within the social and physical context of remote rural Scotland. Participant observation with Arlen Eco Trust (AET) and Thriving Thornton (TT), two community-led sustainability initiatives funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund (CCF), led to findings which challenge the common assumption that funding for community-led initiatives will be of net benefit at the local level. In line with the requirements of the CCF, both AET and TT define community in terms of geography. However, only a small minority of the members of the geographically-defined communities of Arlen and Thornton were found to be actively involved in the groups’ activities or objectives. Both Arlen and Thornton were observed to be segmented into multiple and diverse ‘communities within communities’ and, rather than representing ‘the community’, AET and TT can more accurately be understood as an example of sub-communities in themselves. This sub-division within the communities was found to be exacerbated by the fact that both the governance and management of AET and TT were observed to be undertaken primarily by individuals regarded as ‘incomers’ to Arlen and Thornton, which resulted in an ‘incomer’ identity being passed on to the group and its activities. Historic connotations with ‘incomers’ as disruptive to traditional ways of life were found to resonate with the suspicion and scepticism expressed by some ‘locals’ wary of ‘incomer’ groups that were actively trying to change local lifestyles. The groups’ ability to engage with the wider geographic community was also observed to be further weakened in several ways by the receipt of government grant funding. The short timescales and expected outputs associated with many funding schemes were found to be discordant with the long-term sustainability goals of the community groups studied, and participation in top-down funding programmes was found to reduce the time and resources available for ‘hands on’ community participation activities. Furthermore, the need for groups to adapt their ambitions and approach to align with top-down demands from funders is incongruent with the notion of a ‘community-led’ initiative. Together, these local conditions were found to have significant implications with respect to the impact and influence of AET and TT. The funding received by the groups was found to create pockets of social capital – rather than being distributed through the geographic community – which served to strengthen the group, but segment the wider population, implying that, rather than increasing local social sustainability, schemes such as the CCF may be undermining it. Overall, this thesis concludes that, whilst the CCF was observed to facilitate community as a means by which to reduce carbon emissions, ‘community’ was not being strengthened as a policy end. As such, it questions whether current mechanisms of central government funding for isolated, self-identified community-led groups to deliver finite, output-driven projects will inherently help to empower geographic communities to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.