How our Community Interest Company brings our remote communities together

SunsetIsle of Skye Ferry Community Interest Company was set up in Glenelg in Scotland in 2006 to run the Isle of Skye ferry for the good of the community. The business now turns over £120,000 a year and employs five staff members, two skippers, two ropemen and one chief executive. As founding director Dr Jennifer Frances explains, the company connects people near and far in many ways

The village of Glenelg, tucked away in the northwest reaches of the Scottish mainland, enjoys a beautiful but incredibly remote coastal setting. “It’s a 30-mile round trip just to get petrol out here,” says Dr Jennifer Frances, founding director of Isle of Skye Ferry Community Interest Company. “Without the ferry, we would be a dead end.”

Skye’s the limit

This boat crossing from Glenelg to Kylerhea on the Isle of Skye has run for almost four centuries. It has long been an economic lifeline for communities on both sides of the water. But in recent years, its future has looked far from certain.

The long-time owner of the Isle of Skye ferry was looking to sell the boat and retire. Without a new buyer, the remote communities of Glenelg and Kylerhea would be in jeopardy.

Community Interest Company

In early 2006, a steering group made up of residents created the Isle of Skye Ferry Community Interest Company. The Community Interest Company (CIC) structure was chosen because of its flexibility. “We see ourselves as a social enterprise and felt that a CIC would allow us to be entrepreneurial and move quickly,” says Dr Frances. “But it would still allow us to apply for funding.”

This was crucial to get the project off the ground. The ferry is the world’s last manually operated turntable ferry – the deck rotates to enable cars to drive on and off. It also costs a minimum of £15,000 a year to maintain.

After initially leasing the ferry from the owner, a £60,000 grant secured from the Big Lottery Fund’s Growing Community Assets scheme, and another £60,000 from Highlands & Islands Enterprise, allowed the CIC to buy the boat outright.

Reinvesting profits

Much of the company’s income today comes from ticket sales. Travellers are only charged for a single journey. But there are reductions for local residents, and bigger discounts for local pensioners. Any profits are put back into the business. Dr Frances says the CIC needs approximately £30,000 annual surplus to cover costs. Last year, it finished £30,000 in credit.