Back to business

Our croft tenancy here on Rum was a hard won victory in a competitive environment. The newly created crofts were widely advertised and we had to apply, submitting a business plan and meeting set criteria. Our initial application was scored on a points basis as the Community Trust had very specific aims in mind when the crofts were created in terms of who they were looking to attract to live here on Rum and what the crofts would be used for.

For us the process of putting together an application and business plan was a very productive one, almost regardless of whether our application for this croft here on Rum was successful or not. It cemented what we wanted to do next after our year of WWOOFing, made us look at how we might earn a living and work the land, showed us our skill / education / knowledge gaps to create a list of things we needed to work on and really cemented for us what we wanted to do with our time, energy and money.

We were asked for further information to support our application and then invited for an interview where we were grilled at length by directors of the trust, the chairman and local councillor, the development officer and a representative from the Scottish Crofting Federation. It was far from a done deal and we were aware at every stage that we may not be offered the tenancy of the croft.

Four years on I have been revisiting that original business plan. I will be very honest and confess that for a long time it sat in an envelope and was ignored. The reality of life on Rum was so very, very different from the theory. The challenges were more diverse, more testing and more unexpected than we could ever have thought possible. The breadth of skills we needed to acquire, knowledge we were lacking, philosophies and ideas to be challenged and rethought. I had assumed that a super productive allotment on a small patch of fertile south coast land would translate upscaled ten fold onto an area of croftland on Rum, that the lack of foxes and other ground predators would mean our chicken and duck keeping triumphs down south would be improved upon, that our captive market of 40 fellow islanders would all be interested in buying our produce with no competitors growing food already. We thought our conservatively planned timescales allowing for no real progress in year one and small growth in year two would mean we would be ahead of our own game.

Oh how naive we were!

We didn’t allow for so, so many things, we had no idea. Rum is the place that Davies and Scarlett are growing up but I consider it the place that I have grown up too. It’s the place where the world didn’t bow down infront of me and do what I expected it to. It’s the location for things not happening as I anticipated them doing, it’s the place where sometimes things I intended to happen didn’t. It’s the backdrop of lessons learnt, u turns made, crashing realisations, harsh realities and brutal home truths. On Rum you take responsibility and are accountable. On Rum you are effectively naked in as much as no one cares where you came from, what car you drive, what house you live in, what clothes you wear. You are stripped bare and have only yourself to answer to, to blame.

It’s taken four whole years to fully understand this. Four years to come to terms with what we are and are not going to achieve and what is actually important anyway.

This year we have changed our focus and are very much concentrating on making Croft 3 a sustainable place for us to make our life and support ourselves. Our original business plans were about diversification, opportunities for all four of us to do the things we loved and learn new skills, to make money from our efforts. Self sufficient is about more than just growing food. Four years on we have slowly worked towards creating a business which supports the four of us and we still have a way to go but it feels as though we are making bigger steps in the right direction. We have built a brand, created a market, made an outlet and worked on marketing, advertising, getting the word out. We are trying to make the most of the opportunities here and all we have learned while we’ve been here.

Croft 3 In The Shed is doing really, really well. We have already noticed patterns emerging in what products are selling well and which price points seem about right and which might need tweaking. Some of the things we are selling seem to have interest online or even on other islands so that is something to explore further. We are still selling our eggs through the shop and to locals, just this week I have had repeat orders for baking from people who visited last year and ordered bread and cakes from me then. We have ideas for more product lines to introduce over time and while Ady and I put our retail experience into practise Davies and Scarlett are learning heaps about packaging, pricing, labelling and presentation.

We have various other ideas for ways we can bring more income in from the croft, more of which to be elaborated on as we start doing them or learn more.

Along with bringing in more income we are also looking at ways to reduce costs. Our single biggest expenditure is animal feed so this year we have made a real effort in growing more crops for animal feed to see if we can reduce next years feed bill.

It’s an exciting time and the thrill of making sales, getting enquiries and coming up with new ideas for revenue streams is making us all excited and thriving on the massive opportunities available.

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