Island Voices is a series of recordings brought together by the Smart Islands Scotland and Ireland project. In these recordings Irish islanders speak about their visions for their communities in 2025, covering the topics of population, housing, infrastructure, language and culture, and tourism.
In this recording you can listen to islanders speak about population, and its role in the future of their communities.
Smart Islands in Scotland and Ireland is a transnational project bringing together island communities in Scotland (especially Uist in the Outer Hebrides) and Ireland (off Donegal, Mayo, Galway and West Cork) to share and develop experiences and methodologies that can make their islands smart, dynamic and sustainable.
Covid-19 has demonstrated beyond doubt the attractiveness of living and working in rural and island communities. CoDeL’s research on redefining peripherality (see here) has identified many reasons for this, not just in Scotland, but also in regions from Canada to Finland.
Even before Covid-19 many young people wanted to return, settle or stay in their rural and island communities, and the pandemic has accelerated this trend. The pandemic has also made this so much more difficult for our young people as asset-wealthy urbanites seek to snap up housing as rural and island boltholes to escape to. This is happening across Scotland and across Britain, from Cornwall to the Scottish islands.
Addressed to ‘all for whom sustaining Highlands and Islands communities is a concern’, the letter focuses on growing worries that rising property prices in Scotland’s Highland and Island communities are making it almost impossible for local residents to purchase homes, a pre-existing concern that is being intensified by post-Covid ‘urban flight’ and an even greater number of cash buyers seeking second homes.
The letter calls for increased support for younger generations struggling to make their homes in the Highlands and Islands and cites a recent example of a Uist rental property successfully being marketed exclusively to young locals and rented to a family with three children. In a housing market where long term rentals are almost exclusively shunned in favour of holiday lets, the letter writers point out that this could serve as a template moving forwards.
The passionate and insightful letter has prompted national and international interest. It has been mentioned in the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and The Herald as well as local papers Am Paipear, The West Highland Free Press and the Stornoway Gazette. It was the top trending item on the BBC News online, has featured in Eorpa on BBC Alba, on BBC TV Scottish News and The Nine as well as on Radio Scotland, Times radio and Radio nan Gaidheal in conversations with the leader of the council and Hebridean Housing Partnership.
CoDeL is leading a new European funded project to assess the economic impacts of Covid-19 on peripheral communities from eastern Finland to Prince Edward Island in Canada, and to recommend policy and action that can enable these communities to be sustainable and thrive in the future.
The partnership led by CoDeL is funded under the Covid Response Call of the European Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme and includes 6 universities or research institutes, 3 other public institutions (including NHS Highlands) and 3 business networks in the Highlands and Islands, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, all four Scandinavian countries, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Canada.
“With Brexit looming”, says CoDeL Director Thomas Fisher, “the Nordic and Arctic region and Scotland are determined to build ties to enable partnership working in the future. We are delighted that Uist in the Outer Hebrides can play a leading role in this work stretching across the whole Northern Periphery. All the partners are determined that the project draw up recommendations for economic renewal and redesign in peripheral areas that together we can implement in future. The project recommendations will influence the design of the next Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme funding round, and it is so important that Scotland has a strong voice in this.”
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.
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.
CoDeL was invited to present on the Uist experience to the Cross-Party Group at the end of October 2019. This was an opportunity to present evidence rooted in island experience at the micro-level as a counterpoint to national projections, based on historic trends, which are particularly dire for the Western Isles.
This reinforced the insights from the Islands Revival Declaration: ‘We affirm there is credible evidence of ‘green shoots’ of population turnaround in the Scottish Islands, which as yet does not show up in official statistics’ .