Category Archives: Scotland

Smaller charities which genuinely help the poorest in Uganda, Cambodia, Ladakh and India


In his seminal book, Lords of Poverty, Graham Hancock presented a chilling exposé of the mainstream ‘aid game’ and the ‘well-heeled czars who control this multi-billion-dollar industry’.

He gave a brutally frank account of the strings attached to aid and questioned the criteria and agendas set by western aid agencies in disbursing aid. The Times of India comments, “As we have seen in our own part of the world, a plethora of middlemen has come up in the aid business. It is they who negotiate on behalf of the voiceless dispossessed and it is into their pockets that the bulk of the aid resources goes. (TOI: 8.2.03)

        Brief accounts of four projects which have in common:

  • they have voluntary organisers or co-ordinators,
  • they are supported by voluntary fund raisers in the UK,
  • centred on service to the young
  • and staffed by well-motivated and capable local people.

Ben Parkinson and the Butterfly Project in Uganda

The Butterfly Project was founded in 2009, recruiting able and socially concerned children from rural Lyantonde and slum areas in Kampala.

The initial recruits are now young changemakers, winning awards, and establishing social projects, attracting international funding for their work. They are creative thinkers, working to solve some of Uganda’s social problems, forming a team used to working with others on projects, most recently the Slum Run for children working in quarries, the Active Youths magazine and the Changemaker Band.

There are now almost 40 young changemakers who are in or have completed their training, which starts with a one-year intensive programme in Kampala, then continues with support and guidance, through giving opportunities to deliver and participate in youth programmes, as they go through school.

In Year 1, tuition is paid for Butterfly members in a school in Kampala, but the plan, for all subsequent years, is to teach members in a specially empowering school, to be called the Chrysalis Secondary School, which will encourage its students, whether they are a member of the core project or not, to see themselves as architects of change in Uganda, just as Butterfly Project members already do.

During term-time, the school will offer regular ICT training to its pupils, both during the school day and after, helping some to become programmers and games designers.  Regular sports, athletics, netball, volleyball and football, will be provided. Children are encouraged to expand their vision, by engaging other leisure pursuits, to discover their passion and how they might focus this passion by becoming a changemaker.  The Butterfly Project believes in play for young people and will include games (sports, boardgames and computer games) in both teaching and leisure time.

Christine Parkinson and others raise funds in UK via CYEN.


The Sacred New Era (SNE) School in Ladakh

The Sacred New Era (SNE) School provides holistic education to those in need. Founded by Shabir Banday, with the help of his parents, friends and supporters, the school opened in 2001 with 5 pupils aged 2½ & 3 years of different faiths and ethnic groups, from villages around Leh, and even further away.

Progressive knowledge is offered. This does not mean abandoning the age-old culture but upholding the rich heritage and promoting it along with modern concepts.

A Montessori approach encourages children from an early age to think for themselves and become aware. This school is different from general Ladakhi Schools and is growing because parents are realizing its beneficial qualities. It offers a unique education and is an example of diverse communities within Ladakh working together.

The main difference between SNE and other private schools in Leh is that children and teachers are from Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu backgrounds. In addition to their general studies/subjects, they are also taught their own basic religious studies. They work and play alongside those of other Faiths, where friendship and knowledge can contribute to tolerance and understanding between faith cultures—so vital for our troubled world today.

On 2nd July 2011, Denise Moll, Rachel Tolmie, Phillida Ball and Shabir Banday got together and founded SESOL Charity (SC041237) in Scotland. The primary aim of the charity is to help SNE School in India, and also to help disadvantaged communities in Scotland.

In the latest newsletter, Shabir Banday and Denise write about challenges faced by the school. The government decreed that the school could only teach pupils up to 12 years, so the older class and 2 of the teachers had to leave (all have done well since then). The building, which had enjoyed a solitary life, was now being crowded in by much building of houses all round it, and they lost a crucial playground … building in Leh has accelerated almost as much as in Europe, with hotels popping up everywhere, some roads being tarmacked and many improvements made to attract tourists. The school building also was in need of some repair and decoration. Throughout this period, the teachers have been patient and understanding. It was a real test for their commitment to the school. They showed enthusiasm and belief in the school, its teaching and place in Leh with regard to other schools. They are all owed money as, during the unsettled period, payments were deferred. After much discussion and thoughtful consideration, they decided they themselves could not find a better school in Leh and banded together to do what they could to keep SNE alive and kicking. They donated spare time to making necessary repairs to the building and painted it from top to toe. Money had been put aside for the needed materials, and they prioritised this over their own pay which has amazed and awed Shabir’s family and myself!

Whilst in Ladakh last year Shabir had meetings with a wider group outside the School about the piece of donated Government land on which it is proposed to build a new SNE School with greater facilities. First, a wall needs to be built round the land for protection, and the land levelled. He met with an architect to discuss a draft design for a new school building, and the architect, together with a small group will be seeking appropriate funding.


Grace House, Cambodia

Grace House Community Centre works in several villages between Siem Reap and Tonle Sap. Little of the tourist dollar reach the families who rely on subsistence farming and fishing. Bridget Cordory (Chair) is one of the original founders of GHCC and managed the project in Cambodia for 8 years and remains actively involved with GHCC. Her husband, Alan, remained in Cambodia as Bridget returned to work in social care and the arts in Gloucestershire.

At Grace House we strongly believe education and inclusion will improve the livelihoods of this generation and the next. Our programmes start from early years and continue through to further education. Sometimes poverty leads parents to place their children in orphanages; we support the families ensuring children remain in education in English language, health, leadership, IT, training electricians and craft and stay in the family unit.

Starting with a converted Khmer house and 70 students GHCC has grown to educating 300 + students in 8 classrooms, a library, IT suite, electrician’s training room, 2 social enterprises, special needs classroom and small group home. In providing opportunities to learn vocational, craft and language skills, families will increase their ability to earn an income or run a business, enabling them to become self-sufficient.

Grace House Community Centre intends to achieve this by –

  • Educating the children in English Language and ensuring they receive a state education.
  • Supporting families while learning new skills and setting up new business with the help of micro loans.
  • Access to health care sanitation, clean water, dry homes and safe electricity.
  • Encourage inclusion of children with special needs in Siem Reap Province by enabling them to receive specialist education and a safe, caring environment for respite and transitional care.

Learn more and see the video pictured above here:


VRI: Amarpurkashi, Uttar Pradesh : the project continues, but the volunteering scheme closes

Australian born Jyoti and Mukat Singh set up the International Task Force for the Rural Poor [INTAF] twenty years ago after seeing that most well-intentioned policies of various governments to uplift the rural poor have either failed or proved ineffective.

In addition to routine activities, connected with the school, polytechnic, eye camps and sustainable farming initiatives, VRI took part in a campaign against industrial pollution in and around the village of Amarpurkashi, covered here in 2011. Mill owners had been dumping live ash on the roadside where cyclists and pedestrians walked or rode and many suffered serious burns. Tons of ash from two paper mills were deposited on the banks of the river and by national highway 93, coating buildings and plants in a black dust, harming passersby and residents. As a result of breathing such heavily polluted air, local people developed respiratory problems – in the worst affected areas, as many as 1 in 2 people suffered from asthma.

The stench of chemical effluents polluted the air of the surrounding villages and black dust from the factory chimney blew far and wide. The water table dropped dramatically as the factories used huge amounts of water and all the roadside ponds dried up. The underground water supply was also polluted, causing a rise in the number of people suffering from jaundice and villagers were forced to pay for ever-deeper borings to ensure a clean water supply.

As part of the campaign, VRI’s co-founder, Mukat Singh, and many other local people fasted, an agreement was reached with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and decisions were made which addressed the problem.

VRI have now decided it is time to close the volunteering scheme that had run for some 35 years and Jyoti recently visited APK to make sure that this was the right decision. She explains:

“I am glad to say that everything I saw in the project supported it. Amarpurkashi is no longer a suitable place for volunteers, although visitors will always be welcome. “There is no longer anyone in the project who can guide and help volunteers. This has always been an important part of the scheme.  Volunteers definitely need someone, preferably a woman since most of our volunteers have been women. However, that person has to be able to speak reasonable English and be able to help volunteers with the use of toilets and bathrooms, the food and various customs around eating and so on. There is no one now who can do that.

“It is also essential that there is something for a volunteer to get involved in while they are in the project.  However, the success of the project means that there is nothing now that a volunteer can do.  The project is fully staffed with local people.  Volunteers have always had difficulties because of the language barrier and significant differences in the way things are done in India”.

She ended by saying that the scheme was closed at exactly the right time and adds that “Fortunately, there are many new projects to be found on the internet where volunteers from abroad can be recruited for specific roles”.

We wish Jyoti and Mukat a peaceful and rewarding retirement. Read about their work on the VRI website.











Fair Isle’s community group gains support for extending its renewable energy supply

Fair Isle was bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1954 from George Waterston, the founder of the bird observatory. It is 24 miles south of Shetland, surrounded by rich fishing waters. Most of the islanders live in the crofts on the southern half of the island (below).

Fair Isle’s fifty-five residents hope to develop the three-mile long island’s infrastructure to sustain and attract more people to live here in the most remote place in the British Isles, inhabited since the Bronze Age. Its distinctive knitwear has a worldwide reputation – see:

As powerful winds mean that Fair Isle is often plunged into darkness, with blackouts usually striking at the most inopportune moments, a community group, the Fair Isle Electricity Company, is leading plans to install three 60kW wind turbines, a 50kW solar array and battery storage. This scheme will bring round-the-clock electricity to the island and help to bolster its dwindling population.

Existing wind-power will be extended to the north of the three-mile-long island, enabling grid connections to the water treatment works, the airstrip, North Haven harbour and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, after securing £2.6 million in funding.

  • Earlier this year the company was awarded capital funding of more than £1 million through the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP).
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) agreed to contribute £250,000 to the renewable energy project
  • There was a lottery grant of £600,000.
  • The scheme has received £250,000 from Shetland Islands Council
  • and £245,000 from the National Trust for Scotland (which owns Fair Isle).
  • Scottish Water gave £208,000.
  • The island’s bird observatory donated £100,000.
  • The Fair Isle Electricity Company is contributing £20,000.

The island houses a series of high-technology relay stations (left)  carrying vital TV, radio, telephone and military communication links between Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland.

A Fair Isle resident, David Wheeler, a former meteorologist who worked on the introduction of the original wind power system, said continuity of supply would transform domestic life on Fair Isle. “It’s the little changes to our lives that will make a difference, like the television no longer cutting off when the snooker is on or the washing machine shutting down in the middle of the cycle with the clothes still inside. They’re small issues but they do matter.”

Robert Mitchell, director of the Fair Isle Electricity Company, said the project would bring new employment opportunities to the island and sustain existing jobs. “Having a constant electricity source may help to attract more people. This ambitious project is the first step in ensuring that the community of Fair Isle continues to thrive.”

Sources include:





Community-owned solar panels for 25 Edinburgh council buildings

Following news on this site (August 2015) about the development of solar technology in Scotland, official data in December showed that renewable electricity generation in 2014 was – remarkably – equivalent to 49.7% of Scottish demand, up more than five percentage points from 2013.

ed skyline

Edinburgh Council’s news that community-owned solar panels are to be installed in 25 council buildings throughout the city was published on their website and widely reported in the media: “We are aiming to meet our target of reducing Edinburgh’s carbon emissions by 42% by 2020 and this project is an important step towards us achieving this.”

The Council will work in partnership with the Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative – (ECSC) supported by Energy4All – to deliver the initiative, believed to be the UK’s largest community-owned urban renewable energy project.

ECSC is organizing a large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) project on Edinburgh roofs; up to 1.5MW of solar PV will be installed on 25 public buildings that have been investigated with the Council.  The buildings have been selected to provide good income-generating capacity on buildings spread all around the city (see below) and used regularly by communities.

ed solal coop map

The directors decided that a project on Edinburgh roofs would offer the best chance of delivering a viable co-operative energy project in the city.  Edinburgh is the lowest on the UK city league tables of installed PV and it is thought that this is because many people live in tenement flats, with no access to the roof. But even so far North historical sunlight figures for Edinburgh in EDSC’s calculations show that – while not as sunny as the South East of England – it works!  South facing roofs have been selected, optimising orientation.

ed solal coop logoThe public share offer was launched on 29th September, 2015, and raised £1.4m. By offering a capped return on share interest to members of 5% per annum and returning capital as we go, the co-op generates a surplus profit for community benefit. This is a model which has proved to work successfully in other cities throughout the UK and Europe.

Two installers were bidding for the work and, as it proved difficult to choose between them,  ECSC decided to let each visit all the sites and come back with a firm price – one that wouldn’t increase during the structural design stages. Emtec was approved as the preferred supplier and ECSC will be proceeding with them subject to contract.  The Board has also approved Onsite Renewables to project manage the construction.

ECSC has offered Edinburgh residents the chance to own solar panels collectively, do something positive about climate change and benefit financially while at the same time helping Edinburgh to become a cleaner, greener city.  With Government incentives for community ownership, project scale and recent reductions in the cost of panels, roof mounted solar PV arrays are now a viable business model.  



Harlaw hydro is now generating clean energy

In an earlier post it was reported that Ribble Valley members of Transition Town Clitheroe aimed to develop greater community resilience to cope with reduced future availability of fossil fuels and to adapt to climate change. They floated a community share offer in 2013 to raise money to generate community-owned clean energy on the River Calder.

harlaw reservoir 2





The Scottish Farmer has now added news of another hydro project based at the Harlaw reservoir (above), outside Balerno, near Edinburgh, first mentioned on this site in 2013. The organisers found an upgrade of the existing micro-hydro scheme at Harlaw Reservoir a positive experience and are keen to share the benefits of such an investment, particularly as part of a community project.

The project aimed to provide an independent green energy source and income for the local community. Chairman and director of the community group, Martin Petty recalls that a village trust had been established to help the community and the hydro project was proposed. After a consultation, a co-op which offered shares in the project was set up. A feasibility study in 2010 confirmed that it was a practical and profitable proposition and after four years of planning, meetings and obtaining approvals, the group were in a position to build the project in July, 2014. Work started in September, 2014, and was completed in August, 2015, with the formal opening by the Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, taking place on September 1, 2015.

Harlaw Hydro Ltd is now known as a bona fide co-operative society (BENCOM) and it is registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965, rather than as a company under the Companies Act. The society has seven directors and 250 shareholders, who together raised nearly £400,000.The profits generated by selling power to the grid will be used to sustain the scheme in the first place, pay the shareholders a dividend, and then benefit the local community.

harlaw pump house

The 95kW system will take water from the dam’s penstocks (reservoir dam outflows), returning flow to the dam discharge channel prior to it, forming Bavelaw Burn. A new turbine house (above) is located to the north east of the discharge channel, at the foot of the reservoir dam, immediately south of the disused building.The scheme will generate approximately 260,000kWh of green electricity per year – enough for approximately 100 average houses – saving 129 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

The project was the first in Scotland of its type and Mr Petty feels it has set an example to other communities: “Communities across Scotland have been energised by this project, and they’ve come to us as a point of advice, and now a number of others are doing the same as us. It’s great to see, and it’s great to be that point of contact.”

Commenting on the project, Mr Petty added: “We were lucky to have a great group of people on the engineer team, which was luckily made up of men who are all, or have been, engineers. The team included a mechanical, charted civil and electrical engineers, as well as a geologist and an architect, all of whom worked on a voluntary basis, so we were really lucky with that.”

Interesting article about pumped storage systems in Scotland:



Scottish government invests in less polluting shipping built in Scotland. Will it go one step further?

In September 2014, Ferguson Shipbuilders, then in administration, was bought by Jim McColl of Clyde Blowers Capital. The business, renamed Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd, rehired some of the 70 employees who had been made redundant.

The shipyard then secured a new £12 million contract with Scottish state-controlled ferry company Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMAL) to build a new diesel-electric hybrid ferry for operator CalMac. The Ferguson yard had previously built two other hybrid ferries for CalMac – the MV Hallaig (below) and MV Lochinvar.

mv hallaig

In October this year, a £97 million contract for Ferguson Marine Engineering of Port Glasgow to build two 100-metre long ferries for the government’s Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) was signed.

Mr McColl says the hybrid ferries have been criticised for their far higher cost, but there is increasing demand for less polluting shipping as the European Union tightens curbs on sulphur emissions. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon added, “This new vessel will be fuel efficient and have lower maintenance costs, whilst ensuring a quality service for passengers . . . Scotland remains at the forefront of ferry design and innovation.”

Mr McColl is hopeful of winning a bigger prize, with a CMAL tender for two 100m ferries to be decided in the next few months, but for a company only recently out of administration, collateralising the bond required for a new vessel is “quite penal”; he says: “I have mentioned it to both the Scottish government and the UK government and everybody’s very willing and keen to make sure that something’s put in place but meanwhile life is going on:

“If you’re focused on building up your engineering and your manufacturing sector . . .  you have to put in place the kind of support that the Germans and the Poles and the Turks have got for their industrial base.”

Portpatrick Harbour

portpatrick harbour

Portpatrick Harbour: news relating to this site’s three foci: the environment, heritage and beneficial innovation

In July 2015, the Portpatrick Harbour Community Benefit Society became the first “Community Benefit Society” in Scotland, registering with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and obtaining full charitable status.This was achieved with the support and guidance of Community Share Scotland, Cooperatives UK, Social Investment Scotland and Third Sector Dumfries & Galloway.

Portpatrick’s name is derived from a legend which relates that the Patron Saint of Ireland crossed the 21-mile channel in a single stride.

Between 1770, when the first proper harbour was built by John Smeaton and 1830, the harbour served as the main route for mail, passengers and cattle to Ireland, and was the terminus of a military road built across Galloway from Dumfries to secure the area in 1765. Fishing became an important feature of harbour life and, during the 1950s, the “ring netters” of the Clyde fleet would land huge catches of herring from around the Isle of Man and the North Channel. Portpatrick still has a small fleet of fishing boats. Below: its sea ‘wall’.

portpatrick sea wall

Anca Voinea in the Co-operative News, reports that the Portpatrick Harbour Community Benefit Society is launching a share offer to bring Portpatrick harbour into community ownership. The scheme aims to raise £75,000 to regenerate the harbour.

The society’s management team has eight committee members, three of whom have varied professional management experience, with four who hold professional marine qualifications.

Over the past few months, Community Shares Scotland has been working with the Portpatrick Harbour team on this offer which will allow local people to buy community shares. The Community shares offer will open on 5th September.

‘Solar Independence Day’ in Scotland

In July, Building Construction Design reports on celebrating ‘Solar Independence Day’ events in Scotland, ‘showcasing’ solar homes, solar schools, commercial solar rooftops and solar farms. People were invited to visit a local solar farm, big rooftop installation or showhome.

On two days locations across the UK opened their doors to the public to celebrate solar energy and showcase its potential. Scotland’s leading solar provider Forster Energy facilitated on-site solar viewings/talks at two venues – a farm in Perthshire and a National Trust for Scotland estate in Aberdeenshire.

solar ind logoChairman John Forster said that Solar Independence Day is an opportunity for individuals, businesses, charities and community groups to find out more about the potential of solar. By attending one of the  events people can see and hear at firsthand how solar enables consumers to generate their own flexible, cheap and clean energy supply.

Cronan Farm in the heart of Strathmore was the venue for the first event on Friday morning. The MJ & J McLaren broccoli and potato enterprise has installed a 720 panel solar array to provide power for the farms cold stores. The installation exemplifies the appetite for solar amongst Scottish farmers, keen to reduce their energy costs by generating their own electricity. Below, sheep continue to graze under the solar panels.

scot solar sheep

Earlier, the Scottish Farmer published an article about potato growers who were facing high electricity bills for their cold stores and are now leading the adoption of solar power in Scotland. Mark Fazzini, managing director at One Solar, reported a considerable increase in commercial solar installations on Scottish farms across 2013, particularly in Perthshire and Angus, where relatively cheap photovoltaic technology was fitting well with both potato and soft fruit production and storage systems. “PV solar works very well alongside cold stores as the PV production is at its highest in the summer months when the cooling requirement is generally at its highest,” said Mr Fazzini. “The chilled environment required for packaging and storage of soft fruits makes great use of PV production too.”

scot solar shed

Similarly, the chilling equipment used in dairying works suits PV outputs, although Mr Fazzini stressed that electricity from solar sources could also offset the cost of running heavier machines, like milking equipment, conveyor belts and and shed scrapers, and again tended to deliver its power at the times of greatest need.

The National Trust for Scotland , which owns Pitmedden Gardens, provides an idyllic setting for the second event on Saturday morning. The NTS has installed a 115 panel array on the roof of the gardeners storage shed, which is generating power for the Museum of Farming Life and other buildings. The solar array is also generating enough electricity to power six homes. The Trust is rolling out solar power across a number of their sites to help reduce their energy costs and cut their carbon emissions.

In May the BBC reported that data from WeatherEnergy showed that sunshine in Edinburgh in April generated more electricity than is used in an average home – a total of 113%. In Aberdeen the figure was 111%, 106% in Glasgow and 104% in Inverness. About 35,000 homes and 600 business premises in Scotland already have solar panels and WWF Scotland has now called on more home and business owners to make use of the technology.