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Community hub space planned for Thurso

By Jean Gunn

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Thurso Community Benefit Board members (from left to right) Karon Jappy, Derek Manson, Iain Carlisle, Emma Bremner, Marion O’Brien and Helen Allan outside the Thurso greenhouses complex.
Thurso Community Benefit Board members (from left to right) Karon Jappy, Derek Manson, Iain Carlisle, Emma Bremner, Marion O’Brien and Helen Allan outside the Thurso greenhouses complex.

Projects in Thurso are set to benefit from a new group which plans to bring opportunities to local young people in the wake of the current pandemic.

The Thurso Community Benefit Society (TCBS) has been established by the hard working members of the town's community development trust.

In the background of offering support to residents, Thurso Community Development Trust (TCDT) had also been working quietly on plans for the future, post Covid-19, which will contribute to recovery in the area.

Projects have already been identified which will earn income to support activities in the community and provide opportunities for young people however, as a charity the trust needed to form a new type of organisation to enable it to pursue more business-related activities. At a meeting in February, trust members voted unanimously to form the new benefit society.

Trust development manager Joan Lawrie explained: “There are certain rules that are placed on charities for good reasons but a charity is still allowed to trade they just need to do this through a linked organisation, we could have simply formed a company but we felt that forming a community benefit society meant there was greater transparency over activities.

"The company is community owned and all and any profits go towards supporting the community, that is the best fit for the trust and for our community.”

A new board of trustees has been formed for the TCBS, and as linked to the trust has a mix of members with representatives from the TCDT board.

Helen Allan, chair of TCDT and a board member of the benefit society said: “There are two main projects we are currently developing, the first is a

community asset transfer of the Highland Council greenhouses complex in Thurso where we are looking to extend our growing activity into a commercial operation which also gives youth training opportunities.

"The second is having a Thurso town centre presence for our activities and office so our staff can be more accessible and have more space due to an expansion in staff and we are looking to support this with a Zero Waste Refill Shop.”

Commenting further on the plans, Ms Lawrie said: “In the background we are also working on the feasibility of the Drill Hall as a possible community hub space – the work over the past year has demonstrated that a community hub for Thurso has never been more needed.

"One of the main functions of a community benefit society is that in the future it is the legal structure that would enable us to hold a share option, that means the community would own any future hub. That was a deciding factor in going for this type of organisation.

"We feel really strongly due to the loss of community buildings in Thurso in the past that any community hub is owned, run and managed by the community.”

The TCBS board is made up of chairperson Emma Bremner, Derek Manson, Donna Stewart, Karon Jappy, Iain Carlisle and complemented by trust representatives Helen Allan, Marion O’Brien, Carol Paterson and Karl Rosie.

The newly elected chairperson said: “The projects we will be working on stand to make a real difference to Thurso and to the wider work of the

trust in the community. We’re busy working away on paperwork and our registration with the Financial Conduct Authority and we have received amazing support from Community Shares Scotland and Development Trust Association Scotland in doing so.

"We hope that things will move very quickly over the next few months as the community emerges from lockdown and into recovery. Being able to give opportunities to young people who will have been badly hit by the downturn economically due to Covid-19 is very fulfilling and we can’t wait to get plans into action.”

More information can be found at https://www.thursocdt.co.uk/community-benefit-society

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