2007 - 2020

Granny Crofts

I once went all the way to Switzerland to report on what I had been told was a secret  invention of an agriculture machine that would change the world.  It turned out to be  a two-metre long metal pole with several sort of wooden drum sticks attached to the rod like porcupine quills.  The whole thing on wheels. The idea was that you towed it with a tractor. The burling sticks dipped into a trough of  liquid manure and the fertiliser was flicked over the fields. My hosts, some innovative Rudolf Steinerists explained that  they thought that liquid manure hated being squeezed by modern machinery and that this machine reverted to the old manner of hand flick spreading manure using a stick instead of a squirty thing.

They assured me that the results of their tests were encouraging.

 It had taken me two days to get there. I just smiled and nodded. Quite a challenge to know what to say. True story.

Well not entirely true. I had also gone because I love these Steinerist  farms where people, often with mental handicaps, live sophisticated lives, but at a very slow pace. And quaint wee farm surrounded by lazy brown cows with real cow bells around their necks ? I couldn’t resist and booked a ticket on a tinky-tonk small gauge railway. If my story seems absurd you should understand that the farm had a linked community on Mull one of whose members had encouraged me to go with his captivating tale of the amazing new invention.

Two days later I left, delighted to have gone , not because of the stick machine, which was manifestly bonkers,  but because a system that they had developed for looking after their old people that made ours seem bonkers by comparison

At this beautiful little farm high in the Alps this group of perhaps ( this was all over twenty years ago, and my memory for detail is sketchy ) twenty scientists, Mums, Dads and kids hosted a group of perhaps six elderly people, some with dementia some just old and rickety. And they weren’t seen as being a burden, they were celebrated as treasured jewels. Every day they would be given small tasks; feed the chickens, keep an eye on the kids, help bake a cake. Or just sit and chill if that was their mood.

Now I cant remember the numbers, but for each of these elderlies the  community were given a generous  fee by the state, lets say £500, which is around half what it costs to keep an elderly person in one of our larger homes.

So there we had it. A small team of people working on imaginative and intellectually stimulating  projects  in a low carbon environment and doing good work.

Now I wouldn’t have bored you with my memories of a time waster of a week were it not  for last weeks news that Boris had agreed to give an additional £600 million to save the care home system from melt down after the deaths  of upwards of ten thousand in a single month.

Now its a lot of money £600 million and it does seem rather bizarre to invest that level of cash into a system of large care homes that has manifestly failed, in spite of the love and care that has often been put into them

And so my mind has been wandering back to that Granny Croft back on the top of that Swiss Alp.

Is it too crazy to suggest that instead of just watching as our Highland economy, deprived of tourists, E.U funding and under the madness of the new American Tariff system, collapses oh and all at the start of the worst recession in living memory, might consider the development of a new style of much smaller care home to subsidise  failing communities.

I say again. Six hundred million. And yes I know that the money is to be allocated to England, but that’s hardly a deal breaker.

It’s not as if the demand isn’t going to be there. A huge surge of baby boomers coming through, collapse in faith in the old systems, a disproportionate amount of retired people already in the highlands and a mounting fury as so much of the medical support services in the highlands are withdrawn.

Dream talk? Sure its a dream, it’s a nightmare.

But can it become a practical reality? Well if you look at the numbers of small highland Hotels that were struggling even before C19 maybe yes.

So the fabric is there, the money may be there, the market is certainly there and the highland economy is on the edge of a cliff.

Maybe Granny Crofts aren’t such a silly idea after all. Though porcupine muck spreaders certainly are.

Comments (18)

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  1. maxwell macleod. says:

    Thanks Mike.

  2. Dougie Blackwood says:

    One of my hobby horses is that everyone should be offered employment doing something that benefits the community and paid enough to live on for doing it.

    You are right about the coming collapse of us baby boomers. We are now in our 70s and, thanks to the NHS, have kept ticking over so that not all that many have fallen off our perches. Care for the elderly will become an increasing problem looking for a solution. At present all too many go into hospital and when fit for discharge there is not enough support in the community for them to go home; they end up bed blocking and a problem for everyone in society.

    Every day we hear stories of large companies making huge numbers redundant. This present crisis, working from home and increasing automation has concentrated minds and we are unlikely to find commercial employers for the many unemployed we will be left with any time soon. Time to reset the work life balance.

    1. maxwell macleod says:

      Thank you Mr Blackwood, I agree with virtually everything you say, but with respect anyone can diagnose a cold it’s those that can cure them that we need.
      What do you make of the core question of establishing new types of crofts to support the old age bubble that is coming along? I should declare an interest in that I was once asked to advise the then Crofters Union and failed to deliver new initiatives and have felt bad about it ever since. I worry about the future of the Highlands and want merciless evaluations of new ideas. Granny Crofts?

      1. Dougie Blackwood says:

        I fear that the idea of managed care in a crofting scenario is most unlikely to ever be a commercially viable option. Yes it can be done but the costs of overheads and logistics make it problematic. When my father was approaching retirement he actively sought to buy a house in the country; he then discovered that in rural Scotland things are not as easy as they are in town. Roads may be snowbound or flooded, doctors may be distant, the ambulance service may not be as prompt as we are used to,hospitals may be very distant and obtaining normal everyday supplies are much more of an epic. If those needing care have families the remoteness of crofts may be a barrier to continued family cohesion.

        Setting up communities in towns and villages is a much more realistic option but suitable accommodation then rears it’s head. Our young people in the country struggle to find somewhere affordable to live and often have to move away to find work and somewhere to live. Community care may provide employment for those that are willing to be helpers or carers and that might stem the drift of the young into towns but finding suitable premises that doesn’t cost the earth (as described in another comment) may be the stumbling block.

        We do need to address the problem of an aging population that will need care but I fear that remote crofts where there are small numbers needing care with more fit people on site providing it may not be the way forward. A better option is to provide larger facilities offering a variety of care levels where the facilities likely to be needed are close at hand, where there is a pool of people close by to staff the places.

        I wrote on another thread that we should have convalescent homes to take those fit to leave hospital but not able to look after themselves at home. These might take the strain from acute medicine by accepting those ready to leave hospital and also being another option for those that are struggling at home rather than being taken into mainstream hospital.

        Maybe my ideas are just as difficult to implement but we will have a pool of people willing to work or help with little opportunity to find work in a commercial setting.

    2. Papko says:

      ” everyone should be offered employment doing something that benefits the community and paid enough to live on for doing it.”

      Exactly not working and not been trained to work, do practical jobs, contribute etc, is a scandal and for young people who are at their peak of receptiveness eager to learn, to be put on the unemployment scrap heap and thus never get in good habits in their life is a tragedy.

  3. Papko says:

    Thanks Mike
    Its refreshing read a practical suggestion on Bella ie (something that does not transport us to Nirvana but actually seems an affordable improvement on what we have).

    1. maxwell macleod says:

      Thank you for your comments
      However I still await thoughts on whether it is a notion worth evaluating. As I say if they really are putting over half a billion into care homes in the next couple of years and the highland economy is on the point of collapse, now is surely the time to be capitalising .

  4. Roland says:

    I like the idea, indeed it’s my plan for my old age if only I can piece together the money for land and comfortable buildings for people to live in for me to live around. The 20 Scientists and families need access to homes and schools (Steiner schools? – not cheap) and a wider community and science employment and have options to come and go. Old highland hotels are a financial liability with regard to the fabric of the buildings and the heating costs- generally awful infrastructure. Still, I’m up for it and every now and then I can see a feasible scenario coming together.

    1. maxwell macleod says:

      Sure Roland interesting post , but where to now? I have a shamefully tumbled down building at Fuinary Manse and have been looking for an economically viable use for it for thirty years. It’s within four miles of a great school and whilst many great people want to go and keep hens there and maybe a few tourist pods that wont work unless you can come up with a scheme that will bring in hard dosh, say £50k a year.
      I genuinely believe that the current crazy situation and the offer of huge sums to revitalise our care homes may be the opportunity to bring a new type of business into the highlands and that we should grab it, maybe not for Fuinary, which needs a million to get it started but certainly for other failing businesses.

      1. Alison Macleod says:

        I’m a Macleod by marriage by the way; being associated with Donald Trump makes me consider going back to my own name. But I like being a Macleod and as my husband’s family came from Harris stock I’m reasonably confident that they were not related to Donald!

  5. Alison Macleod says:

    Have a look at the Howard Doris Centre in Lochcarron. Not a granny croft, but excellent support for older people (both local and incomer) through excellent daycare services and a few residential and respite beds. Community owned and run, but sadly in more recent times has been struggling to make the books balance despite all their knowledge, experience and their strong community base. https://www.strathcarronproject.org/howard-doris-centre

    1. maxwell macleod says:

      Thank you indeed Alison Macleod. Given that Donald Trump’s Mother was a Macleod we seem to be running the world, though I grant you that he looks a bit suspect.
      Yes the core part of your message is that this centre is running out of cash. To make it all viable this has to be seen as being the best, and indeed in the context of the virus the wisest, system.
      I like the news that it is community owned, but it all boils down to cash. If we can create a dynamic in which volunteers become engaged with running their local Granny Croft then we have a winner. I remember that when the Laggan community Forest was established Andy Wightman looked at the appraisal of the costings and pointed out that there was no point in factoring in huge security systems as if it was community owned then the local community would be keeping an eye on it. The same might be said of these proposed centres, if they were community owned and run costs might be kept down.

      1. Alison Macleod says:

        That’s why I mentioned it here and in other places. It is the best model and the decision makers need to know that and support it. It was managing OK financially until recent times; short-sighted cutbacks have made it much more difficult.
        One of the downsides of such a good facility for older people is the impact it has on housing for younger people. Many people retire to the Lochcarron area from all over the UK. Once they are less able to manage the HD Centre makes it possible to stay when the alternative would have been to move nearer relatives in their original home area who could provide support. This means that there is a very high proportion of older people in the community and not enough of working age (particularly as the latter can’t compete in the housing market against people who have sold down south and have good pensions). So the centre really struggles to attract and retain staff.
        I am wary about too much reliance on volunteers. The burden for volunteers can be very heavy, particularly in smaller communities facing multiple challenges. In Lochcarron, where the Howard Doris Centre is based, they also have a very active community development company which owns a forest and is building affordable housing among many other projects, and a separate community organisation developing leisure facilities. Inevitably the volunteers in charge of these are from a small pool of people who have the ability, confidence and energy to get things started. The multiple challenges faced can feel overwhelming at times and it costs to be a volunteer, particularly in an area where many are self employed and time spent volunteering takes away time from earning an income. Universal Basic Income would be some help with this, as well as long term funding to pay community based development officers.

        1. maxwell macleod says:

          Thank you Alison Macleod. Yes if this concept is to be launched and succeed it has to stand alone as an economic model that offers better services than its competition, and outside any additional advantages that volunteers would bring.
          Ergo it is only if the southern powers abandon the larger care homes as being impossible to deliver the product that it will be economically viable.
          I hope that happens. I worry about the economic situation in the highlands.

          1. Alison Macleod says:

            Yes, so do I, though I live in Dumfries and Galloway now which faces some of the same problems and more of its own. Tourism brought a lot of opportunities to many areas of Highland but it had become too dominant and was affecting some communities badly in some ways. D&G would benefit from more tourism but I’d like to see this managed locally and developed sympathetically.

  6. Graeme McCormick says:

    The pandemic offers an opportunity to promote rural Scotland as a place to live and work.

    Given that there are so many people wish to enjoy it now is the time to promote rural Scotland in a meaningful way to reverse depopulation.

    Rural depopulation is not most severe in isolated places. Place like Lomond North and Loch Lomondside has witnessed a continuing depopulation over the last 20 years.

    One way would be for government to grant deemed time limited planning permission for four homesteads on part of every farm in
    Scotland.

    That would reduce the price of land and give young people, social landlords and landowners the opportunity to build home for purchase and let.

    Rural Scotland has to embrace employment beyond tourist related ones.

    The quality of life can be wonderful and given the internet, forestry, food production , art and culture, there is a wealth of challenges.

    1. Maxwell mackeod says:

      Thank you Mr Mckrmic for your response.
      As I’m sure you know Eigg has a. proactive planning arrangement similar to the one you describe.
      Seems to work.
      I am warey of proposals that aren’t driven by markets unless economies have big surpluses,my question is whether Grammy crofts have financial integrity.
      Best MM

      1. Maxwell macleod says:

        I think we have to move from theory to action on this.
        I think the perfect start is to find an hotel with low bookings and ask if they are interested in pioneering a scheme of holidays for the elderly and fit tied in with some gardening.
        If that works we can move to permanent bases within 1 hour if hospitals.
        Ideally it should be near a centre for medical services so maybe near the A9.
        I think for example the seem hotel has recently been gutted and might work.
        I love BC and particularly it’s reference to the opportunities against global warming that C,19 has brought.
        But now we need action
        I have a young traveller, Marcos, who wants to be part of all this.Its a start.

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