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Guest Blog: Internship creates a road to somewhere

The Land Commission’s work programme covers a wide range of issues – everything from land value tax to community ownership – and as part of that we’re looking to the academic community in Scotland to help us gather evidence, spark debate and develop new approaches to make the most of Scotland’s land. We recently funded an internship to create an interactive map identifying land owned and managed for non-profit purposes in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross-shire, which might help to support local community ventures. This is a move by North Highland Initiative (NHI) to encourage community projects to build on the increased numbers of visitors and interest in the area due to the success of the North Coast 500. The Commission approached Adopt an Intern who were able to place Sam Mackinnon to the internship.

Here, Sam blogs about the work he did for the Land Commission and his experience of the internship:

Late last year the Scottish Land Commission asked me to create a new resource for local community organisations operating in the north Highlands. The aim of the project was to produce a map illustrating all the land operated for non-profit purposes in the region that could be used for economic development planning. The stimulus for this was the new and successful North Coast 500 route launched by the North Highland Initiative: now that more tourists than ever were flowing through Ross-shire, Sutherland and Caithness, something had to be done to enable communities to capture all the economic potential of this. The final product of this project will allow communities to see what public resources are available for them to harness.

Undertaking this project was a rewarding experience for me both personally and professionally.

Personally, because I grew up in the Outer Hebrides, a place similarly fighting economic and population decline. I am even more conscious of this as I myself am evidence of the problem, having lived for the past five years between Aberdeen and Glasgow. This background has fuelled my interests in urbanisation and my concern about rural decline. Being given a real opportunity to address these issues is fulfilling and something I am grateful for.

Professionally, as even despite my limited experience in this area, after being provided with the overall aims I was trusted to plan, organise and execute the project with complete independence. This level of responsibility made it enjoyable but also increased my capacity to learn, taking up new useful tools, ways of working and presenting information that I never would have thought of doing otherwise.

Especially beneficial was that the internship required me to learn how to use Geographic Information Systems software, often used for economic analysis and planning across different geographic environments. This is something that I have since introduced into my daily work as a full-time researcher at a Glasgow-based think tank, where I have also been carrying research into land economics in Scotland and Europe.

Overall, I have been made a better researcher thanks to this project. Now I hope that communities in the north Highlands can benefit from the new resource available to them just as I have benefitted from being given the opportunity to create it.