How Wendy, Fanny and Blowy transformed an island economy

Three wind turbines proved to be quite the money spinners for the residents and owners of the remote Scottish island of South Uist.


The remote Scottish island of South Uist

The three wind turbines on the remote Scottish island of South Uist "converse in sibilant voices as a fierce wind spins their enormous sails", says Martin Fletcher in The Daily Telegraph. "Nobody hears them, save a lone crofter digging peat" yet they have transformed the island's future.

A decade ago, South Uist's inhabitants, led by Angus MacMillan, launched a buyout of the island from its absentee landlords, using their rights under the Scottish Land Reform Act to purchase 93,000 acres of South Uist, along with its smaller island neighbours, Benbecula and Eriskay, for £4.5m. They raised £400,000 and sought the rest in grants from various Scottish development bodies, the local council and the lottery.

Since then, the islanders have become skilled lobbyists and "masterful fundraisers", having raised more than £23m ingrants over the years, secured jobs and resurrected South Uist's once famous golf course, which now pumps an annual £70,000 into the local economy. They have sunk £10m into creating a marina for 50 yachts and invested in several looms at £20,000 each to produce Harris tweed.

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Yet their decision to pay an extra £100,000 for the "wind rights" when they bought the islands may prove their shrewdest move. The decision proved to be the "bargain of the century". Three giant towers were shipped to the island from Germany via Sweden and erected on bases of 40 million cubic metres of concrete.

Operating 98% of the time in North Atlantic gales, the three turbines known as Wendy, Fanny and Blowy earned £1.2m last year, "a bonanza for a tiny island". Today, the island's management company has more than £30m in assets, a healthy balance sheet and employs around 20 staff, and South Uist has a viable economic future.

Money makers: finding a fortune in a one-buck shave

"Are the blades any good? No. Our blades are f**king great."That was the comedy line that earned 37-year-old MichaelDubin legions of fans on YouTube and now a reported $1bndeal with Unilever. The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giantisn't letting on exactly how much it paid for the Dollar ShaveClub, the discount razor-sales business that Dubin set up withbusiness partner Mark Levine in California four years ago.

But what is certain is that, as Dubin tells the Financial Times,"we struck a chord". The slapstick video which featured atoddler shaving a man's head and an employee being drivenaround the company's warehouse cost just $4,500 to make,but it was enough to make the start-up company a threat to amarket dominated by Gillette and Schick, whose razors cancost upwards of $8 each.

Sales have ballooned from $4m in2012 to $152m last year, including new lines, such as an $8shaving cream and a $12 Miracle Repair Serum. The founders'mix of humour and business nous has spawned severalcopycat brands, but Dubin, who remains as CEO, won't be tooworried. Sales are on target to hit $200m this year.

The In Crowd

Luke Lang, the 38-year-old founder of Crowdcube, Britain's leading crowdfunding website, doesn't hold back. "That was... utter bulls**t," he tells Kiki Loizou in The Sunday Times, referring to an accusation from Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie that Crowdcube misled online investors by drip-feeding money into fledgling ventures to make the firms seem more attractive. "Things like that do not happen," states Lang, normally a 6ft 3in "gentle giant", speaking from behind his desk at the company's headquarters in Exeter, amid bean bags and views out towards the English Channel.

February proved a low point for Crowdcube when claims management firm Rebus went into administration, taking £800,000 of investors' money with it. But investing in start-ups is risky, and Crowdcube has also had its successes, raising over £180m in seed capital since it was founded in 2011 by Lang and Darren Westlake, with £10,000 from each of their fathers. "In a pleasing twist", Crowdcube has turned to itself to rustle up £6m in two weeks. Overall, it's valued at £65m, despite losses of £5m last year on revenues of £2.7m.

But could the publicity from the Rebus affair derail the rapid crowdfunding boom, asks Loizou. Lang is emphatic in his response. "We have spent the last five years proving people wrong. We don't plan to stop anytime soon it's too much fun."

Battling inequality

Gavin Oldham, 67, ought to be the quintessential City insider, writes Alex Williams. He founded Barclayshare (now Barclays Stockbrokers) before launching his own brokerage, The Share Centre, which floated on Aim in 2008, valuing the business at £43m. He also owns Share Radio, which broadcasts from Pimlico, with 120,000 weekly listeners. But Oldham is also a Christian who campaigns against wealth inequality and is deeply concerned about the state of our financial system.

The City has become a "harsh place", where "self-interest" has overtaken any sense of "generosity to other people", he tells the The Times. Britain's vote to leave the EU was a protest vote against a type of capitalism that is failing to be egalitarian. The richest 10% of people in the UK have £770,000 each. The poorest 10% have £877 each.

Oldham credits his awareness of inequality to a gap year he spent working at an aircraft factory. Having come from comfortable circumstances he attended Eton he was shocked to find colleagues reliant on this week's wages to pay next week's bills, with "nothing else" to fall back on. "That was really a wake-up call for me because I suddenly realised I had come from a background where there was investmentand savings and there was a cushion."

Still, Christianity is compatible with capitalism, he says. Oldham believes people benefit from having a financial stake in a business and The Share Centre is aimed primarily at small investors. "It is essentially about reaching as many people as you can. It's not about looking after those who have money."

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.