A HEBRIDEAN island, famously bought over by its own people after 
they had been frustrated by years of absentee landlords, could soon be toasting another success fuelled by people-power and pints of beer.

Plans are being taken forward to build Scotland’s first community owned brewery on the Isle of Eigg and the man behind it is quietly optimistic that amid the current gloom, the public will get behind a “positive” social enterprise.

Stuart McCarthy, a former secondary school teacher, says the business will create jobs and boast 100 per cent green credentials, lifting the island at a time when tourism is extremely limited and could potentially worsen if cases of Covid-19 continue to rise.

By year three, he has pledged that 25% of the profits will be used to fund grants for local entrepreneurs who want to take forward their own business ideas and says he has had a great response from local people.

The 42-year-old ran a micro brewery on the island for five years, with some success, selling thousands of bottles to budget supermarket Aldi.

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Reviews were favourable, with beer fans advised to “buy two if they see one because bottles rarely leave the island’. However, the heavy costs involved in production, he says, led to the business folding in 2019.

He said: “What we are looking to do is raise £200,000 to build Scotland’s first cooperative brewery.

“We already exist in a virtual sense but we need to raise enough money to build the building, buy the kit and make beer.

“I ran a brewery for five years from about 2014 until 2019 and that was a very small, almost smaller than a nano-brewery and we did very well.

“We sold to Aldi back in 2015, we had a beer festivals and I think we sold about 5,000 bottles to them.

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"But as a business we were really small and it kind of supported itself.

“The labour required to make beer...it kind of came down to that in the end.

"It folded in 2019 but since that happened I have been thinking a lot about the island and it struck me that this would be a great way to extend the community buyout.

“What that did was that it created ownership for the people on the island and that, in turn, creates resilience, it creates opportunity and it makes people work for common goals.

“And I got to thinking how would you extend that in a business sphere and to me the obvious thing was to create a cooperative.

“Beer is a thing that connects people, I’ve called it the egality, if you excuse the awful pun. The levelling of a social platform.

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“Before teaching, I did a lot of jobs where I felt it was really difficult to connect with a job that was taking all my time and labour and giving me 
a fraction back.

"All I wanted was to explore something that creates that sense of ownership for the people who run it every day and the people who buy into it.”

The entrepreneur says the brewery will be 100% environmentally based, with all brewing achieved with green energy fuelled by solar power panels. 

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Mr McCarthy said: “I’ve sourced quite a small brewing kit to allow me to work within my energy capacity.

“The hops will go to a local trader who helps compost there, the used mulch will go to local farmers less than a mile away.”

He met his wife Tamsin, 42, an Eigg native, at university and taught in schools in Liverpool and Manchester. The couple spent some time in Nepal’s capital city of Katmandu before moving to Eigg after their children arrived.

He said: “When you have kids you think ‘it’s an amazing experience to grow up here, it’s a really safe place’.  

“It’s how I imagined it was in the 1980s when you went out on your bike and could cycle anywhere.”

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While one of Eigg’s old Gaelic names is The Island Of The Powerful Women, the island has been owned by a succession of wealthy men before it was taken into community ownership 23 years ago.

Mr McCarthy. believes his latest venture is a natural progression that will tap (excuse the pun) into this spirit and help ensure small islands are not simply seen as good places to grow up, holiday on or retire on.

He said: “Fundamental to this is opportunity. Eigg is a really gorgeous place to live, for your whole life. Not just your childhood and once you get middle-aged you come back and live here. 

“To do that you need to create opportunity. In three years it will provide three full-time jobs and, crucially, not just on a seasonal basis.

“Written into our constitution is that by year three  25% of that net profit will go towards a grant for entrepreneurs to take forward their own ideas.”

The couple also run a 24-bed youth hostel on the island, which has been hard hit by the pandemic. While Eigg is starting to see a return of some tourists, it could be some time before the island is enjoying its previous booking rates.

Mr McCarthy added: “People like beer, they like the social aspect.  I’m surprised this hasn’t happened already in Scotland.

"In some ways I feel like it’s the right time to be doing this. People want a positive story. It’s happening in a time of crisis and hopefully the public  will be drawn to that.”

To find out more about the brewery see: www.eiggbrewery.com