Grimsay Island Gathering shines a light on island renewal

Fifty Scottish and Irish islanders gathered last week in Grimsay, North Uist to focus in particular on the contributions of younger islanders in renewing island life and contributing to sustainable island communities.

For a whole morning (of Wednesday 2nd October), 10 enterprising young islanders, most in their 20s and 30s, told of the often remarkable personal journeys that brought them to Uist, whether returning to their island home from the mainland or as far afield as Kenya, or being inspired to make Uist their new home. And they introduced all the participants to their business in Uist as founders of start-up enterprises or social enterprises like the North Uist Distillery, the Scandinavian Bakery, Uist Forest Retreat and an outdoor nursery, developing community sports, reviving a community charity that almost went under, as a climate change artist, or as a young leader seeking to tackle the shortage of appropriate housing that is preventing more people returning or settling.

Throughout the week from September 30th to October 4th hosted by CoDeL and the Scottish Islands Federation, more than 10 other young islanders led sessions on topics such as culture and identity, crofting, tourism, and developing island skills. They included young crofters and musicians, managers and development officers at social enterprises, arts, tourism and Gaelic development officers, and the founder of the Coral Box, Winner of this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year at the Young Women in Tourism Awards.

And young traditional musicians on Uist, both Uibhisteach and UHI students, entertained the visitors at a welcome ceilidh on Grimsay.

Jonny Ingledew of the North Uist Distillery spoke about “so many opportunities on the islands and so much community support”, Kathryn Johnson of Uist Forest Retreat of “being out in the wild, seeing the eagles”. “My sloinneadh tells me both who and where I belong”, explained Gemma MacKinnon, Manager of Caraidean Uibhist and founder of St. Jerome’s Children’s Home in Kenya, “home is home”.

Within two weeks of arriving in Uist I had a job”, said Emma Axelsson from Sweden, and “now I have set up the Scandinavian Bakery, which I wouldn’t have done anywhere else”. “Where else would I have worked for a public agency, built a windfarm, built a harbour, and now be managing a major social enterprise, and all so early in my career?” asked Kirsty MacCormick, Manager of Cothrom.

The Grimsay island gathering brought together Uibhisteach with members of the Scottish and Irish island federations representing 14 Scottish and Irish islands and launched the Smart Islands project funded by Leader in the Outer Hebrides and in Ireland. With additional funding from the Community Learning Exchange and the Scottish Islands Federation, the gathering came at a critical point for island development.

The whole of the Scottish Government’s Islands Team joined the gathering on Grimsay midweek as the draft National Islands Plan was laid before the Scottish Parliament on the 3rd of October 2019. Key discussions included reviewing the extensive island consultations for the Plan, the implementation of the Plan, measuring its impact, how it can enable the best support for Scottish islands, and what the Irish participants might learn from this dynamic process.

And the gathering gave additional support and insight into the recent Islands Revival Declaration, released by the James Hutton Institute, SRUC, CoDeL and Community Land Scotland, which opened with the statement “that there is credible evidence of ‘green shoots’ of population turnaround in the Scottish islands, which as yet does not show up in official statistics.”

The Declaration points to “multiple factors driving and facilitating positive population trends in some island areas. These include… local control of territorial assets (land and marine), accompanied by good governance and leadership.’ It was appropriate, therefore, that issues in the spot-light were taking over the management of crown estate assets through a unique partnership between the community land estate Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn and CnES; community renewable energy as exemplified by the new wind turbines just opened by the North Uist Development Company; and the long journey that the island community of Eigg took to buy out their island and all the positive impacts. from population growth to creating their own island grid, that has caused.

An overview of the work of Community Energy Scotland across Scottish islands given by Rona Mackay from Benbecula and the presentation on managing crown estate assets by Lisa Maclean from Galson on the Isle of Lewis demonstrated just how much cutting-edge innovation island communities are now driving.

The Irish island representatives drew inspiration and insight not just from the young islanders, the Scottish Islands Act and Islands Plan and all the sessions, but also from visits to Uist organisations such as Taigh Chearsabhagh and the eSgoil centre at Carinish, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s on-line teaching programme, on North Uist, … Cothrom, Hebridean Jewellery and Kildonan museum on South Uist, … a working croft and polycrub on Benbecula, … as well as, on Grimsay itself, Uist Wool, Kallin harbour, the boat building shed and interpretation centres, the Blackland Centre and of course Ceann na h-Áirigh, the community centre of the Grimsay Community Association where the island gathering took place.

The Smart Island project, CoDeL and the Scottish Islands Federation are deeply grateful to the Grimsay Community Association, Cidsin, the cafe at Ceann na h-Áirigh, and Maclean’s Bakery/Stepping Stones Restaurant for providing such an excellent venue and food throughout the week. And to the young musicians, the Accordion and Fiddle Club, dance tutors Neil and Morag MacPhearson, and Stoneybridge Hall committee for the excellent ceilidhs during the event.

The whole week was part of the Leader funded “Smart Islands in Scotland and Ireland: Supporting Enterprises and Young People”. The next part of the project will be delivering training in Galway in Ireland for representatives from the 30 inhabited islands off Ireland, based on more than a decade of work on Uist focusing on community development, enterprise and young people.

The Islands Revival Declaration

The Declaration appeared this week, on the Islands Revival blog. The joint statement issued by research institutes, community groups and public sector organisations begins: “We affirm that there is credible evidence of ‘green shoots’ of population turnaround in the Scottish islands, which as yet does not show up in official statistics.

The population of West Harris has increased by 27% since 2012, that of Eigg by well over 50% since the buy-out in 1997. The population of Colonsay has been growing since 1991, while Westray in Orkney registered growth for the first time in 2011. Kerera has doubled its population in the last 8 years. Iona, Ulva Ferry on Mull have dramatically increased their primary school rolls, while primary school rolls in the Outer Hebrides have been maintained since 2011 suggesting that a key younger demographic group (parents with young children) is being sustained across this large island group.

Why is this happening? Read the Declaration for suggestions, and the blog posts for the detail. You can also look at the press release from the James Hutton Institute.

CoDeL is delighted to have been working with the James Hutton Institute, the Scottish Rural College (SRUC) and Community Land Scotland on this project, which first emerged from our research on young people returning, staying or settling on Uist. Turnaround is not just happening on Uist, but also on many islands both in Scotland and abroad.

Full programme for Island Gathering

Only a few weeks to go before the Island Gathering on Grimsay. It will bring together participants from islands across Scotland and Ireland. Have a look at the PROGRAMME here. If you are interested in participating in the event, please get in touch with Theona Morrison (

With the focus of the Smart Islands project on YOUNGER PEOPLE who are returning, settling or staying on islands, we are particularly keen to involve younger participants (the Scottish definition of a young crofter, and the European definition of a young farmer is below 40).

For those coming from outside Uist there is some hostel accommodation available — please ask us for details.

Latest news and website from CoDeL

We launch CoDeL’s new website today. Thank you to Liam Crouse for revamping the website.

Our Islands Revival blog is coming to a close, and has brought together some great posts from islands across Scotland, as well as from Arranmore in Ireland, Prince Edward Island in Canada and from the Caribbean. The project’s concluding workshop will be held at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye at the end of August 2019. Continue reading “Latest news and website from CoDeL”

Launch of the Smart Islands project

We are excited to be launching the Smart Islands project with funding from Leader Action Groups in the Outer Hebrides and the four counties of Ireland with islands. Our first big event will be the gathering of island representatives from across Scotland and Ireland on Grimsay in Uist during the week September 30th to October 4th. In addition to sessions to share knowledge and experience on a wide range of island topics, the week will also include the AGM and annual gathering of the Scottish Islands Federation, and a video link to the presentation of the draft Islands Plan to the Scottish Parliament. Continue reading “Launch of the Smart Islands project”

Conundrums on Population Trends: Happiness, young people, children, jobs

The common perception is that island populations are in decline and that lack of jobs is the key driver behind such decline. On the other hand, surveys reveal that the Highlands and Islands are the best place in Scotland to live and more young people want to stay or settle there, while many island jobs remain unfilled. So what do we make of these apparent contradictions? Continue reading “Conundrums on Population Trends: Happiness, young people, children, jobs”

How island communities are seeking to boost their populations, and succeeding

Lewis & Uist, Mull & Iona, Eigg & Bute, Westray, and Caribbean islands also, show how much island communities are doing to turn around population … through housing, culture, identity, land ownership, social enterprise, young people, jobs, enterprise, island diasporas, integrating refugees ….  The posts on the Islands Revival blog keep coming, with more to appear shortly from Harris, Lewis, Kerrera, Colonsay, Barra.  Go here to find out more, and also follow us on Twitter @islandsrevival Continue reading “How island communities are seeking to boost their populations, and succeeding”