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The world’s first community-owned distillery: Glenwyvis Distillery

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The GlenWyvis distillery

The GlenWyvis Distillery is a whisky producing co-op in the Scottish Highlands. It was born of an idea to create sustainable local wealth from a traditional local craft.

Helicopter pilot John McKenzie is a resident of Dingwall in the Scottish Highlands. The town has experienced economic troubles in recent years, like so many across Scotland and the UK. He witnessed how communities in the region worked together to innovate in order to sustain themselves. 

This led to a vision – to develop a whisky distillery for the town. Whisky distilling is historic to the area and John saw this as a great way to create local jobs, increase tourism – and to put Dingwall back on the map.

He found it easy to galvanise support for the idea from fellow local people. “So many distilleries in Scotland are owned by huge multinational corporations and, although the whisky industry is fantastic for Scotland, a lot of the wealth is taken out,” says Cait Gillespie, local historian for Dingwall.

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It’s our distillery. As an investor, you get this spark that there’s a little bit of Ross-shire that’s ours. This really gives Dingwall something to call its own.
– Sheena Young, local resident

Those who supported John’s idea formed a co-op in 2016 and launched a ‘community share offer’ that same year. Incredibly, some 3,000 people, from across the region and beyond, raised an amazing £2.6 million, which enabled the planning and development of the GlenWyvis Distillery – the world’s first community-owned distillery.

In 2017, when building of the distillery commenced, GlenWyvis realised it would need further capital to complete construction and successfully launch the business. Rather than borrow money and incur debts, the co-op’s board once again decided to launch a community share offer. This time, they undertook an ‘open share offer’ – with no deadline for investment – and raised over £1 million. 

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Without the Hive’s support, we would really have struggled.
– John McKenzie, GlenWyvis Distillery founder

John McKenzie explains: “We needed some support and were signposted towards The Hive. The team came up and helped to put together an open share offer. Without The Hive’s support, we would really have struggled.

As part of this process, we were awarded the Community Share Standard Mark which has given us the confidence as directors, which we’ve been able to pass on to the investors.”

Thanks to this continued investment, GlenWyvis has successfully built a new distillery. January 25, 2019 marked the first anniversary of the first test whisky runs at GlenWyvis back in early 2018 – and 12 months later they had over 360 casks of various sizes all quietly maturing in their bonded warehouse. 

“It’s our distillery,” says local resident Sheena Young. “As an investor, you get this spark that there’s a little bit of Ross-shire that’s ours. This really gives Dingwall something to call its own.”

If your co-op needs expert business support, find out more about what The Hive offers.
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