In small communities across rural Scotland the primary school is the centre of village life.

It is no different for families in the Highland village of Strontian, on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.

So when Highland Council suggested that, rather than refurbish the dilapidated Strontian Primary School, the 30 or so pupils would be housed in portable classrooms instead, parents decided to take matters into their own hands.

So was launched an ambitious plan to raise enough money to buy a plot of land, construct a new school building and then lease it back to the council to help pay off the debt.

Volunteers brought in £155,000 in community shares, which unlocked other funds such as land grants and bank loans.

Now, four years after the council’s original plans were rejected, the brand new £900,000 school is finally ready to open its doors.

It is a remarkable moment for members of Strontian Community School Building Ltd who have fought so hard to make their dream a reality.

Jamie McIntyre, the group’s treasurer, said: “The council did a statutory consultation on three possible options, but unfortunately, their preferred option was not supported by the parents, so we had a wee bit of a stalemate.

“Quite casually, we asked Highland Small Communities Housing Trust, which had some land available, how much it would cost to build a new school and, when we saw the costings, we thought it was possible.

“So we put it to the council and proposed the model we have here, which is that we finance, design and build the school and we lease it back to them for use as long they need it.”

Headteacher Pamela Hill, is delighted with the development, describing the 1970s building as “dated and sad”.

She said: “There wasn’t much space for us. We really needed a school that was a bit more up-to-date with technology suited for children for the 21st Century as well as somewhere where there is a bit more space for them as well.”

The campaign attracted admiration from local politicians. Ian Blackford MP for Ross, Skye & Lochaber, said: “All those in the community who have made this happen should be congratulated on providing what is a first class facility.

“This shows how local people can understand how they can deliver the needs of the local community whether that is education or other vital services.

“We need to make sure we give sufficient support to communities on the ground like this and that public authorities are not putting unnecessary hurdles in their way.”

Highland councillor Andrew Baxter said the work of Strontian’s “very talented community” could inspire others.

He said: “I think other communities in the Highlands and across the whole of Scotland could be looking at this and saying that they too could do something like this.”

The long term future of the building as a school is still a little uncertain beyond the next decade because there is a break in the lease with the council - although it could run for at least 15 years when the community debt would effectively be cleared.

At that point the council could consider moving the primary pupils into a facility on the grounds of the nearby secondary school - a move which is not possible at the moment under the terms of its PFI contract.

However, whatever the future holds for pupils attending the new Strontian Primary School the building has been specifically designed with the longer term in mind.

Part of the design brief was to create a building that could be converted into four affordable homes to benefit the Strontian community further.

Mr McIntyre said the plan is an example of how a community can design services for itself in a joined up way, rather than looking at assets on an individual basis.

But he also argues there are crucial lessons to be learned about the way communities should be encouraged and supported in development projects.

He said: “We are all obviously delighted with the new school, but we have had a lot of sleepless nights.

“There were times when it seemed it just would not happen and what we want to make sure is that, when communities are working to provide facilities in this way, public bodies do their utmost to support them.”