My journey through the Highlands & Islands so far…..

 

The Growth at the Edge project (aka ‘the rural one’) is all about building a picture of the health and wellbeing benefits of social enterprise activity in the Highlands & Island of Scotland. As I have journeyed to some of the most remote and rural communities in Scotland in the past few months, I have been keeping a photo diary of my adventures….

I’ve met the most amazing community spirited people dealing with major transport issues, lack of services and issues that us urban folk may take for granted, such as access to fresh fruit and vegetables, or being able to reach a doctors surgery. Some rural inhabitants see themselves as the ‘forgotten people’, with ever depleting populations and a lack of vital infrastructure.

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A run down filling station in Helmsdale, the only one in the area

 

In spite of such challenges, the people of rural communities are defiant and resilient, both making the most of what they have and continually fighting for more. They are coming together and building new community centres to create meeting places and to provide activities for all ages…….

 Atlantic Centre, Isle of Luing and the Seaboard Centre, Balintore

They are encouraging people to curate their heritage, and are fiercely proud of their history….

The Mermaid of the North and Fish Sculptures, celebrating the fishing folklore of the Seaboard Villages

They are bringing education, arts and crafts to their communities, utilising and nourishing the skills that they have in their populations…

Art projects and handmade woodwork at Cantray Park, Cantray

As well as offering employment to people in the local community, including vulnerable groups and those in need……

Shetland Soap Company, Lerwick and The Elgin Youth Cafe, Elgin

They are encouraging people to ‘grow local, eat local’, with many communities investing in land for traditional crofting and market gardens and education to promote healthy living….

Blooming polytunnels at Cantray Park, Cantray and healthy living education at Elgin Youth Development Group, Elgin

And they are also investing in renewable energy and the recycling of materials to aid the sustainability of their communities for the future of their generations……

       Wind Turbines and a brand new ReStore furniture upcycle workshop at Cothrom, South Uist

I have met some very interesting service users along the way…….

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Some happy ducks and geese using the pond at the aviary at Cantray Park, Cantray (some had flown all the way from Canada just to use their service)

And I’ve literally been to the very edge of civilisation…..

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Views from sunny Lerwick, Shetland

But what is most exciting is that this is only the beginning of my project and I’m looking forward to uncovering so much more! My journey will be taking me to many more remote and rural communities, all with their own stories, of which I hope to share with you along the way!

The Ins and Outs of Rural Migration (Part 2)

This week we continue our conversation about rural migration from first-hand experience. Using themes drawn from literature Bobby Macaulay will guide us through his experiences. Bobby is a CommonHealth researcher who left Shetland shortly after his 16th birthday.

Rural economies are dominated by low paid labour markets and there is a lack of training and education opportunities for young people……

Bobby: I don’t think it is necessarily true that you are more likely to go into a low paid job, but I would say that the choice of well-paid industries is much more limited in Shetland. Despite its ups and downs, the fishing industry in Shetland is still strong with some of Britain’s largest pelagic trawlers based in the isles. Another source of well-paid jobs is the energy industry, previously dominated by oil but now developing into natural gas and renewables. Through the UHI-affiliated Shetland College and NAFC Marine Centre, there are possibilities of gaining certain sector-specific training within Shetland. However, outwith these industries and the upper-echelons of the public sector, well paid jobs may be harder to come by.

Young people face scrutiny and hostility for wanting to move away……

Bobby: Cultures die if young people do not keep them alive. Therefore, there is a natural and understandable desire from the older generation that young people remain in the community to continue that culture, whether it be in the form of language or dialect, livelihood or local practices. So for those families and communities very deeply rooted in the culture of an island (which can be totally different even to the neighbouring island) there would be a desire for their young people to stay, or at least promise to return home.

I have never personally experienced hostility for leaving but that may be because (a) my parents are not native Shetlanders so don’t have such a deep rooting within the culture, (b) there may be a belief that new practices and viewpoints may not necessarily be detrimental to an island culture as it evolves, or (c) they weren’t too bothered about losing my presence within the community!

There is little to keep young people occupied in rural locations, which can affect emotional wellbeing…..

Bobby: Similarly to Jack’s response to this last week, I have never found this myself. Before I left home I was involved in a huge number of sports, clubs and activities and rarely found myself with nothing to do. Even now when I go ‘home’ there is always too much to do. This may differ between people and communities but I subscribe to the belief that ‘you get out what you put in’ so those people who are willing to get involved in the community will find that there is a huge amount to do and gain from being part of it.

There are many older retirees moving to rural communities which can be a burden on local services e.g. healthcare…..

Bobby: Of the people who have moved to the island I am originally from, I don’t know that I could say they tend to be much older. I’m not sure about the strain placed on public sector bodies but I can see the opposite effect on local businesses and schools. The bigger the population, the more products the shops can sell. The more kids are in the school, the more jobs can be supported on the island. In this way a steady in-migration to an island community can help sustainably support local businesses and preserve local jobs.

Incomers tend to interfere or try to take over the running community activities, leading to hostilities….

Bobby: This is a very poignant question for me as my parents were incomers to the island, moving there 2 months before I was born. Over the past 28 years they have been involved in a huge number of community activities. Over that time they will have undoubtedly done things in their own way, but I don’t think there is any suggestion that this has been detrimental to the island, and I am unaware of any particular hostility towards their involvement. As Jack said last week, the values held by an island culture are not necessarily compromised through the involvement of incomers. Indeed, it may be these very values which attracted people to move to the island in the first place. As any community evolves, it must decide which elements it carries forward and which it lets slip away. Perhaps the level of hostility towards incomers in community depends on which elements of the community culture fall into each camp.

The Ins and Outs of Rural Migration

In compiling my literature review on the challenges and opportunities for social enterprises in rural Scotland, I have been struck by the negativity often associated with life and conditions in rural communities.  Two of the biggest challenges for rural community culture are found to be: the decreasing numbers of young people remaining in the community, leading to the increase in ageing rural populations; and the consistent number of ‘incomers’ to rural areas, such as retiring city dwellers, and the effects that this ‘counter urbanisation’ has on community life.

Despite these issues having been highlighted in academic literature, I was keen to hear the perspectives of the Yunus Centre’s own islander population, Jack and Bobby, dubbed ‘the faces of rural migration’, on a few prominent themes from the literature highlighted below. This week we begin by chatting to Jack Rendall, one of our PhD students, who left rural Orkney at the age of 18 to study at University here in Glasgow.

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Jack en route to sunny Glasgow

 

Rural economies are dominated by low paid labour markets and there is a lack of training and education opportunities for young people……

Jack: To gain a highly skilled job within certain industries in Orkney you would need to have college or university education and the chances are that this would only be achievable by moving to mainland Scotland. Consequently, for those remaining on the island the chances of walking into a high paying job would be slim; therefore many people end up in low paid jobs within local businesses. Young people who stay in Orkney may consider something ‘well paid’ if it makes them enough money to support their family, perhaps reflecting differing priorities within the isles. There is a lack of training and education in areas such as renewable energy and other growing industries in Orkney where skills are essential and in demand.

Young people face scrutiny and hostility for wanting to move away from rural areas……

Jack: The reverse is often true amongst young people and their peers in Orkney, as many are ridiculed for having ‘little ambition in life’ if they don’t want to move away. However, older generations may view this differently as young people are necessary for the survival of communities and maintaining history and tradition. Hostility may be felt towards those who have already moved away and openly express their reluctance to return. I’m choosing my words very carefully in this respect so as not to be met off the boat with pitchforks and torches, I would love to return home one day. Either way, there are no real vehement views, part of being an Orcadian may arguably be the understanding that people will always come and go, it’s about making the most of the community you have.

There is little to keep young people occupied in rural locations, which can affect emotional wellbeing…..

Jack: I would disagree, by and large young people are willing and motivated to get involved in island living and there are many opportunities to learn and get involved with things. There’s a great sense of freedom in being able to walk around at night and feel safe or having easy access to beaches and countryside. I appreciate that many people may struggle with this, but for me living in Orkney has only affected my emotional wellbeing positively.

There are many older retirees moving to rural communities which can be a burden on local services e.g. healthcare…..

Jack: It is more apparent in Orkney that those who retire to the islands usually have the money to do so, therefore they are often more economically active; restoring old homes, building new ones and attending local events. They also tend to be very socially active, getting involved in community groups and bringing with them their experience. Whilst this does not lessen the need for elderly social services, it does highlight the fact that they are often some of the most valuable members of the community.

Incomers tend to interfere or try to take over the running community activities, leading to hostilities….

Jack: There are many different types of incomers, so as with any community it is not likely that everyone will be embraced in the same way. Most people are active community members bringing with them enthusiasm, new skills and expertise. Many incomers inevitable get involved in decision making as it is often them who are affected directly by community activity. The way of life on Orkney is constantly changing and adapting, however this does not mean that islanders can’t maintain the same values, and that is what people strive for. Two very important values are to be welcoming and friendly; ‘incomers’ are even front page news on a local island community newspaper which is just one warm example of our hospitality.

Next week we will be continuing the conversation with Bobby Macaulay, one of our Commonhealth researchers who migrated to Glasgow from Shetland…..