Theona Morrison is a founder and Director of CoDeL and Acting Chair of Scottish Rural Action. She presented at COP26 on Achieving a Just Transition for Rural Scotland. She led the Smart Islands project project with LEADER funding in Scotland and Ireland, to support enterprises and young people, and contributed to the Northern Periphery and Arctic Covid-19 impact research from which has emgerged Redifining Peripherality. Theona also worked in partnership with the James Hutton Institute on the Islands Revival blog, having first recognised a demonstrable change in the number of young people returning, settling or staying in Uist.
For over 20 years she has developed education linked to the needs of the local economy, and continues this work with Community Land Scotland and the UHI Post Graduate Nursing & Midwifery Committee. She delivered post-education and adult support for enterprise and entrepreneurial activity informed by a deep understanding of local economic literacy. Theona continues supporting new-start businesses and leads a number of strategic Community Planning Groups.
Theona Morrison has in fact devoted the last 30 years to community development. Her career, which started in public health and in a Blue Chip global company, has included being the Director of a Radio Station, managing a contemporary traditional Scottish music group, … being the founder member of the Scottish Women’s Enterprise Group and one of only two women from Scotland to sit on a Westminster Government advisory body, … starting her own business using local island produce and the skills of local people to produce and sell garments that could pay a fair price to fleece and garment producers alike, …and working in the public sector to promote vocational education linked in with local island economies.
After leaving the Dental Department of Lanarkshire Health Board, where she delivered Dental Health Education and treated patients, Theona joined Colgate – Palmolive. She chaired the British Dental Health Foundation, managed a team of regional representatives, worked in marketing and ultimately managed the Professional (Dental) Services Division, which included working on pan-European manufacturing plans.
Resisting offers to work for Colgate internationally, Theona returned to Scotland to become the first female Director of Moray Firth Radio in Inverness – a commercial radio station that broadcast from Thurso on the north coast of Scotland to Fraserburgh, north of Aberdeen. It was during this time … having visited Colgate Bangkok in Thailand, having seen corporate life internationally and then compared it to the role of a radio station as the voice of people spread across a sparsely populated area of the Highlands of Scotland, … having been invited, along with other women, by the Secretary of State for Scotland to establish an Enterprise Group that would encourage increased entrepreneurship in women across Scotland, … and being inspired by those trailblazing women leading the way … it was during this time that Theona saw the impact that local enterprise can have on communities and on people’s lives.
When Theona moved to Uist in the Outer Hebrides in 1991 she worked as a Business Counsellor for the Local Enterprise Company for 10 years with responsibility for New Start businesses throughout Uist and Barra. She co-delivered business skills seminars for the local college, now part of the University of the Highlands and Islands. In addition, working from ‘The Outhouse’ at her island home on Grimsay, Theona undertook project work for numerous organisations including implementing the feasibility study to establish a National Touring Gaelic Theatre Company securing £3m of funding and assessing the economic impact for the National Gaelic Arts Project. She was also co-coordinator of the Aurora project, a pan-European project which linked rural France, Austria, Sweden, Scotland and Ireland to increase women entrepreneurship and grow the business birth rate by women in rural areas.
Theona was then asked to deliver the Enterprise Education Agenda in schools for the Local Authority in the Outer Hebrides, under Scottish Government initiatives Schools Enterprise Programme and Determined to Succeed. She managed the development of the first crofting course for schools, which was first delivered at the local secondary school, and has supported the development of other vocational training matched to the needs and opportunities of the local economy, for example in health and social care.
Theona has served on the boards of many local organisations and initiatives, such as a local Economic Development group for which she chaired the Culture and Language working group, an Education Business Partnership and Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre. She is Trustee of an uninhabited island schoolhouse heritage project and of Grimsay Community Association which has brought an old church back into the community to use as a hub of activity. She is secretary of a Traditional Music Society, and to her local Common Grazings (crofting) Committee. She Chairs the Locality Planning Group for Health and Social Care on Uist whilst also sitting on the Strategic Planning Group.
Theona has lived in Uist since 1991. She married a local tradition bearer and has a son who is steeped in the islands’ cultural inheritance, a fluent Gaelic speaker and rooted in Uist.