What harm is lockdown causing for island and other communities?

The comments in this post arose from our discussions about lockdown. They argue neither for lifting or maintaining lockdown restrictions, but point to issues we must address as island communities, whatever timetable for easing lockdown may be agreed.

There have been no identified cases of Covid 19 in Uist and Barra, and only a handful in Lewis, and community transmission seems to have been halted there (no further cases since 10th April).  This would suggest that easing lockdown conditions on these islands should be possible, providing we maintain travel restrictions to and from the mainland.

On the other hand, the sudden emergence of cases on neighbouring Skye (through which most supplies to Uist come) demonstrates how vulnerable our communities could be if and when cases present themselves here.  The fact that we all use a few common facilities, like a few supermarkets, means that transmission in the community could happen rapidly.

While these islands are very fortunate that we do not have any identified cases of Covid-19 at the moment, we should not hide from the fact that the lockdown is having severe consequences, including for health outcomes, on the islands:

  • The usual screening services have stopped, and, like elsewhere, patients are reluctant to approach their GP with non-Covid symptoms.  This means that important diagnosis, including critical early diagnosis, is not happening, and is putting lives at risk.  Unfortunately there is no way of counting these cases, although national analysis suggests very clearly that there is now an excess death rate which is not directly caused by Covid-19, and some of these deaths will happen on our islands, too.  In the case of our community, the potential early diagnosis of cancer is particularly concerning – numbers on the islands are too small for reliable statistical comparison, but it is widely believed that we have high incidences of cancer, and we raise more funding (per head of population) for Macmillan nurses and other such services than almost any other community in Britain.
  • The Western Isles have a higher proportion of elderly people than the Scottish average.  This makes us vulnerable to Covid-19.  It also makes us vulnerable to the harms caused by lockdown.  For example, Tagsa Uibhist’s Cuimhne project made significant progress in engaging with service-users, families and carers around dementia, but lockdown is now reversing these positive developments, and initially Cuimhne workers were not even recognised as key workers.  The only effective ‘treatment’ to slow dementia is social interaction, and lockdown has significantly curtailed the excellent service the community was providing through Cuimhne.  And similar harm is being caused to other elderly people, whether they suffer from dementia or not.  As one person in their 90s put it, “I may not have long to go, and isolation has wasted two months of the precious time left to me.” The strong social interaction typically delivered by our island communities prolongs life – without it, some lives are being shortened. 
  • As a remote rural community, these islands have always faced significant challenges with social isolation, leading to high incidences of mental health challenges, addiction and suicide.  Lockdown will be enhancing this harm, especially around mental health and alcohol addiction.  This is made worse because many of the most isolated do not have good internet access.  However, while enhancing internet access would be beneficial, it will not solve this challenge – many of these isolated individuals need real social interaction.
  • Because of the higher proportion of elderly people within our island communities, we have a greater number of deaths.  Within our close-knit communities large funerals are a major means to process grief, and the very tight restrictions on funerals is a significant source of distress.
  • Finally, there is significant evidence internationally that lockdowns can cause long-term harm to some children.  While those children who were already identified as particularly vulnerable before the pandemic may be receiving special support, there will be other families who are finding the combination of lockdown, home educating, financial pressures, etc. particularly challenging but will not be coming forward or presenting for special support.  Because many islanders work off shore, some families have been separated, leaving just one parent to look after the children during lockdown.  And key to the healthy development of all children is positive social interaction with other children.  Again, these harms being caused to our children cannot be quantified, and may only be seen in years to come.
  • In addition to these negative health outcomes, lockdown is making crofting, which is at the very heart of our communities and local economies (contributing about £4m each year to Uist and Barra alone), very challenging.  Crofting relies heavily on shared labour within communities.  Spring is one of the busiest seasons for crofting, so easing restrictions would deliver significant help.

This list makes all the clearer that the primary trade-off we face as island communities is between protecting ourselves from Covid and reducing the significant harm being caused by lockdown.

Easing lockdown restrictions, for example allowing greater interaction between small numbers of households, or allowing small groups to meet, potentially outdoors, would greatly help with many of the challenges listed above, from the elderly to children.

But if we ease lockdown restrictions, then we must continue to protect vulnerable people, and without isolating them even further in comparison to the rest of the community.  This will need:

  • Continuing travel restrictions between the mainland and the islands.  This includes self-isolation for any islanders returning from hospital appointments on the mainland.  This is particularly challenging for vulnerable patients returning, and the more testing can reduce the need and length for self-isolation, the better.
  • Continuing measures in supermarkets and other shops to reduce the likelihood of spreading Covid.  In our island communities, almost all households use the same small number of shops.  If these shops became contaminated, the virus would quickly spread.

If we extend lockdown conditions, or even reduce restrictions slightly, then we must all work proactively to better address the challenges.  For example,

  • GP practices might proactively contact patients to check whether they have non-Covid symptoms that they are not coming forward with.
  • Mechanisms to enhance social interaction for particularly isolated individuals, from the elderly to those challenged by addiction, should be developed. 
  • Somewhat larger funerals should be allowed, providing social distancing at the funerals is maintained. 
  • Easing restrictions on diy, gardening and related supplies would provide much greater opportunity to do productive things that add focus and meaning to isolated lives during lockdown.

Young views reflected in CoDeL’s submission to the Scottish Covid-19 consultation

The uploaded document reflects discussion among community representatives on Uist and Barra, a majority of them young leaders and other younger islanders, facilitated by CoDeL.

The document does NOT represent the views of the participants in these discussions. The community discussions suggest that there is unlikely to be a consensus on how to proceed. Different members of the community have different experiences under lockdown, and above all face different risks within their family and community networks.

“Most people I speak to individually want lockdown to be eased, but this is not reflected in the public debate.”

“I have people within my family who are very at risk. The last thing I want is for lockdown to be eased now.”

CoDel response to Covid 19 Framework

The facilitated discussions nevertheless suggest that it is possible to have constructive discussions on the challenges at a community level, to enable people to express their opinions and for others to hear them, and for people to adapt their views accordingly. This is particularly important when some people’s views are amplified within media and social media, while many members of island communities do not air their views publicly even if, or perhaps especially if, they diverge from what is being articulated by others publicly.

The document looks at travel restrictions and testing, … challenges the focus on health vs economy, … includes tourism, crofting and other parts of local island economies, … considers the potential for localised approaches to lockdown, … and makes a range of suggestions.

A second post will explore in particular some of the potential harms being caused by lockdown on the islands, and in most other communities, too.

Island resilience in practice

Recently we held the first Uist Open Space session on zoom. What a positive experience. Yes, we all face challenges under lockdown. And yet we also shared so many positive actions already happening within the community to support each other, and many ideas for future actions and development.

Current positive actions:

  • A new housing group for Uist and Barra, currently with 3 councillors and 3 younger people, half men, half women, to access funding for and steer a new post to address the housing shortage that is preventing more younger people from staying, returning or settling on Uist.
  • The launch of the Psychological Wellbeing Hub with 30 psychological first-aiders across the Western Isles
  • Support for people to get connected, to boost data packages, etc through Cothrom
  • The work of the Cuimhne project supporting those with dementia, their families and carers, whose workers are now recognised as essential workers and so able to visit people with dementia
  • The work of Resilient Uist
  • On-line classes (e.g. gentle exercise, Irish and Highland dancing)
  • The work of the Tagsa horticulture project in providing seedlings
  • Kallin Harbour doing well out of selling fish locally
  • Langass Lodge offering eggs in telephone kiosk at Clachan to raise money for Tagsa
  • A planned virtual ceilidh of Uist musicians

Some future plans:

  • Support to identify employment opportunities for young people (funding support for young people into work is currently more flexible) (contact kirsty.maccormick@cothrom.net)
  • An open space group to share and explore mental health issues, which will meet once a fortnight over zoom (contact Rona at sineag1@yahoo.co.uk and/or thomas.fisher@mailbox.org )
  • A hope wall in the supermarkets and on facebook for people to put up their hopes, pictures, poems, etc. (contact tracy@tagsauibhist.co.uk)
  • A group/project or other vehicle to develop ideas and actions to make Uist communities and local economy more sustainable beyond the Covid-19 crisis (contact theonasandbank@gmail.com and/or thomas.fisher@mailbox.org)

We are sure that similar initiatives are happening on Scottish islands and internationally also, and across islands. We can all still buy products from Scottish Islands at Isle20.

Positive news, resilience and island life beyond the crisis

… were some of the key themes in responses to CoDeL’s survey, targeted in particular at younger islanders on Uist and Barra.  Here are some examples:

Resilience and social innovation would be particularly relevent to the current situation.

I’m sure your groups have covered resilience before, looking for more positive notes now is the time for the global population to wake up to the importance of our native and natural habitats, being environmentally aware, sustainable and not pushing mother nature to the limits that triggered this crisis. Uist is already doing well here, … what more can be done?

I think focussing on good news island stories around local economy and work, what you are already good at would be the best positive message at this time.

Strategies for staying strong, financial support for social enterprise resilience, positive messages.

It would be valuable to talk about how the current crisis could be used for positive social change after the crisis is over so we don’t just go back to how things were.

peer to peer learning is very valuable. What we want for our communities once this is all over. How to make it through.

I think looking at the wider economic potential in a positive light would be worthwhile.

How to organise mutual aid in situations like the current crisis. Finding ways in which we can collaborate beyond the crisis would also be helpful – whether pooling our resources and skills to organise creative get-togethers for the community to combat the lingering emotional impact of isolation, or to find new ways of working.

The survey sought views on what CoDeL as an organisation rooted in an island community could deliver over the internet during lockdown, to continue the work of the Smart Islands project.

Following the lead of the Social Enterprise Academy, CoDeL is primarily offering open sessions over Zoom. There was some interest in sessions and webinars on specific learning topics, and in one-to-one or small group coaching. There was far more interest in ‘open space’ sessions allowing peers to meet and share. In our next post we will report on the outcomes of the first of these sessions which are being held fortnightly.

Even before the Covid crisis, there was particular interest and energy for networking around issues of mental health, and this has become all the more important during lockdown: “I think it’s taking strain on each of us in varied and multiple ways.” So on the alternate weeks we will be organising ‘open space’ sessions focusing on mental health.

Islands’ Social Capital

The Islands revival is being driven by the amazing social capital that islands deliver, which is encouraging people to return, settle and stay. The above average levels of social capital present in the islands has been evidenced by a recent report by the Scottish Government.

Social capital is the social connections that contribute to people’s quality of life, health, safety, economy and well-being in the neighborhoods where they live. These social connections are a source of support through people’s lives, for instance, in education, workplaces, retirement and leisure.

Continue reading “Islands’ Social Capital”

CoDeL to present at ISISA 2020

Representatives from CoDeL have been asked to present at the International Small Island Studies Association 2020 conference in Newfoundland in June.

Newfoundland, an island at the eastern end of the Canadian Maritimes, shares similar concerns regarding outmigration and climate change resilience.

Inis Meáin working towards their new community centre and offices

Ciara Ní Fhátharta is the Bainisteoir/Manager of Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin, the local development organisation set up for Inis Meáin in the Aran Islands, Ireland, in 2016 to help promote the island, ensure services, preserve the language, attract funding and help ensure a better life for all living on the island. Here she provides an update on the island’s development. Continue reading “Inis Meáin working towards their new community centre and offices”

Irish flexible working initiative expands to Scotland

The community project Grow Remote started as a WhatsApp group connecting workers in remote areas of Ireland with employment opportunities, and has now secured €500,000 in funding from the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, managed by Enterprise Ireland. 

With intentions to use the funds (and matched funding received from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland and Western Development Commission) on hiring staff for the 60+ local chapters and 10,000 members, the not-for-profit is now also expanding to Scotland, with a chapter currently being set up in Edinburgh.
 
With the expansion of superfast broadband to rural and remote areas, working opportunities which were previously unavailable to residents of these areas are now more accessible – particularly with the help of project such as Grow Remote. 

From Grimsay to Galway

The CoDeL update on the Smart Islands project for December, 2019, featuring the week in the Isle of Grimsay in October, the training week in Galway, Ireland, and a few other activities we’ve been up to.

Working with the Director of Schools with the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board, during the Smart Islands training week in Ireland.

Following on from the successful week in Grimsay, 4 facilitators from CoDeL and the Scottish Islands Federation Chair came together with representatives from Toraigh (Tory Island), Árainn Mhór (Arranmore), Clare Island, Inishturk, Inishbofin, Inis Mór, Inis Meáin, Inis Oírr, Bere Island, Cape Clare Island and Sherkin Island to work towards enterprising solutions for their own communities by utilising coaching skills learned during the week.

The intensive course combined asset identification with economic skills to established a shared discussion about island-based enterprise. The week was extremely positive, and the Irish representatives left with a genuine sense of enthusiasm for the project, which will see them coach young people within their own communities.

The full report can be downloaded and read here: