The Glenkens

“We are a forested area, a farming area, an energy generation area. We are a watery area, given life by our rivers and lochs. Our natural environment is so special that we are part of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere. Our landscapes attract visitors from all over the world. We are a peaty area and our soil stores some of Scotland’s best carbon. It is our home, where we work, live and play.”

So opens “A Vision for Land Use in the Glenkens”, demonstrating just how asset rich our rural and island communities are.  And the wealth of community energy, from volunteering to long established organisations, was so evident when we visited the Glenkens at the end of January 2024, to see and hear about the Glenkens Community and Arts Trust and the Glenkens & District Community Action Plan (CAP), the Galloway Food Hub and Bairn Banter.

We heard how community action in the Glenkens, rooted in decades of practice, is becoming increasingly organised and ambitious.   The Community Action Plan, published in September 2020 after significant community consultation, engages with four key themes:

  • A Connected Community
  • An Asset Rich Community
  • An Economically Flourishing Community
  • A Carbon Neutral Community.

And the community is clearly well organised with three closely connected but distinct voluntary entities that ensure delivery and accountability:

  • The Glenkens & District Trust builds the available funding pot through effective liaison with wind farm (and other) developers and administers the funds effectively and transparently. Membership is drawn from Community Councils.
  • The Community Action Plan Steering Group, a non-incorporated body, owns the Community Action Plan (CAP), keeps it relevant and prioritises delivery. Membership is drawn from across the area.
  • The Glenkens Community and Arts Trust, the local anchor organisation, has the mandate to lead on delivery of the CAP, which it does through a strategy of direct delivery, supporting other local organisations, such as the Galloway Food Hub, and creating regional and national partnerships.

  

“The Glenkens and district Community Action Plan clearly maps onto regional and national priorities. We think the delivery model for this CAP is a case study in how to plug the gap between national policy and action on the ground in a remote-rural community. However, a lack of regional partnership working and core revenue support is hampering our efforts to make this happen. Communities should be viewed as key strategic partners in delivering ScotGov priorities efficiently and effectively – but need to be valued and resourced as such.”

Helen Keron, GCAT Executive Manager

The Community Action Plan aligns very clearly with regional and national strategies such as the South of Scotland Regional Economic Strategy, the Dumfries and Galloway Local Outcomes Improvement Plan and Scottish Government priorities of tackling poverty, ensuring a just transition and building a wellbeing economy.  The Glenkens have created a model of effective delivery of regional and national priorities within so-called remote rural communities that could be shared across the country.

GCAT is developing pilot projects with local and regional partners around innovative housing solutions, community transport and energy efficiency in public buildings. But they are keen to do more, in order to embed the principles of Community Wealth Building across their area and beyond.   

The Glenkens is fortunate to have access to resources from windfarm developments in the area, currently standing at about £280,000 a year across 10 Community Councils. If this increases further, local communities will be able to prepare for more ambitious local action. This demonstrates the potential for local sustainable development resourced through income from local assets.  Well-engaged locally-driven strategic development is key for meeting the needs of the community.

A large threat to the sustainability and prosperity of the Glenkens is rapid land use change.  CoDeL and GCAT first connected through a ScotGov / SOSE programme around land use, through which we discovered how existential some of the threats to local communities are. They are being driven by well meaning but misguided policy interventions in response to the climate emergency.  We will reflect more on the outcomes of our project on community voices and natural capital in another blog.

Nevertheless, a two-hour drive around the area brought these realities into stark focus.  Huge areas are being planted over by trees, driven by the latest iteration of susbsidies, in this case carbon offsetting  and timber production.  The densely packed trees we saw are of questionable benefit to the climate and biodiversity and take out of action so much good land that could be used for sustainable and regenerative farming; the Glenkens has for generations supported livestock farming.

We felt the grief within the community for farmers who had farmed their land for generations feeling that they have no option but to sell up and bury their land under trees which will so damage the productivity of the land.  And for the loss of key landmarks and meaningful places for local communities.  As our host reflected, how would Edinburgh residents feel if Arthur’s Seat were suddenly fenced off and disappeared under a densely packed forest of spruce in order to meet national planting targets?  But apparently Waterside Hill in the Glenkens does not deserve any such consideration and is now planted – a very visual reminder of the lack of community voice in land use change at present.

We thank all our partners, and the funder Scottish Rural Network, in this project on “Community Actions in Uist & Glenkens”.  The views expressed in this blog post are our own.

From 2023 to 2024: Looking back and forward

Last year CoDeL engaged significantly with the challenges to rural and island communities presented by the climate and biodiversity emergencies.  We sought to amplify the voices of local communities who feel threatened not only by these emergencies but also by responses to them, some of which are making the challenges even worse, rather than mitigating them.  We are delighted that organisations like Community Land Scotland and Scotland’s Land Commission are strongly challenging the uniquely concentrated and opaque structures of land ownership in Scotland; and also the often dangerous consequences when such concentrated landownership is combined with the opportunities provided by carbon markets to extract yet more value from landed estates, regardless of the short and long-term consequences for local rural and island communities.

Towards the end of last year we also participated actively in the Scottish Rural and Island Parliament, unique within the British context, Theona, in her capacity as Chair of Scottish Rural Action, and both Thomas and Theona facilitating an Open Space session, and contributing to many other sessions also.  The event bringing together some 500 people was astonishing, not least the work of the younger delegates who had a day of their own sessions drawing up 10 demands and presenting them to Scottish Ministers who organised a special debate on these demands in the Scottish Parliament last week (see here).  The contributions of Uist and other island folk at the Rural and Island Parliament in Fort William was striking, as the following short video demonstrates.   

At the end of the year we were fortunate to receive funding from the Scottish Government’s Scottish Rural Network to build on networks we established last year to highlight how much communities are doing themselves, including so much impactful action to deliver on many Scottish Government priorities.  At the Rural and Island Parliament, the Deputy First Minister highlighted the evolving Rural Delivery Plan.  A key response from communities is, invest in us to deliver on our, and your, priorities.  This is what we want to demonstrate through our latest project, working with Cothrom, Community Energy Scotland, Tagsa Uibhist and Uist Beò here in Uist, and with Bairn Banter, the Galloway Food Hub, and the Glenkens Community and Arts Trust in Dumfries and Galloway.  It is exciting to be working with such dynamic and ambitious community organisations.

At the Rural and Island Parliament we also engaged significantly around emerging trends in rural research, and are developing a focus on the depth and extent of rural and island knowledge.  Of particular importance is how such knowledge can be harnessed to benefit rural and island communities, and not just be the latest of our assets to be extracted for their value by external research institutes who come with their very different lenses and perspectives, not rooted in the lived experience of our rural and island lives and the unique inherited knowledge that we hold as communities in the here and now.

Amidst all this, we continue to actively support the development of Uist Beò, the digital platform (website and social media) reflecting the lives of young islanders in particular, and all the events, jobs and opportunities available in our vibrant island communities here in Uist.  Far from being backward and lost in the mists of time, we are dynamic communities, with a thriving Gàidhlig culture, many young entrepreneurs, crofters and community workers, and such a full schedule of community activities, sports and events, including for families and children, that it is impossible to keep up with them all.

Building on this, and the Social Enterprise Place Award that Uist won during Covid, CoDeL is facilitating a collective process involving diverse community organisations to see if we can attract the investment to bring about transformational change within our island communities, building on our many assets and strengths, and tackling some of our deep-seated challenges, such as local food production, mental health and wellbeing, and housing.

We continue to be inspired by the energy of our island communities, especially so many dynamic young islanders, and feel privileged to support and facilitate new visions, strategies and practical action within rural and island communuities and organisations.

(Click on the image below to find the full vision from Glenkens.)

Special issue of Arctic Yearbook

The special issue of Arctic Yearbook is now available online at https://arcticyearbook.com.  CoDeL’s contribution, one of 15 scholarly papers, is available here. It builds on CoDeL’s extensive research across the Northern Periphery and Arctic during Covid, and applies the insights from the Covid research to the even greater challenges of the twin climate and biodiversity emergencies. The abstract and the link to the full article follows below.

The Arctic Yearbook will host a webinar to officially launch this collection on 7th September 2023 (1100 to 1230 EST) and an in person event during Arctic Circle in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Challenging dominant narratives to enable effective responses to pandemics and other crises in rural and island communities by Thomas Fisher and Theona Morrison

This article strongly evidences the need to transform narratives and perspectives on rural, island and indigenous communities, and the many elements for such transformation that are already in place. We start by summarising extensive research conducted during COVID-19 on communities across the Northern Periphery and Arctic that turned what are often regarded as the challenges of peripherality to their advantage as resilience factors. In the process, they challenged many economic frameworks that have long dominated development policy for ‘remote’ regions. We then examine emerging research on dominant paradigms that are driving responses to the climate and biodiversity emergencies. Once again, these paradigms are often not rooted in the lived experience and (inherited) knowledge of local peoples and communities, who manage the vast majority of our natural assets. This leads to the wrong ‘solutions’ which can directly threaten rural, island and indigenous communities while not delivering positive outcomes for the climate and biodiversity. The call to “redefine peripherality” is backed by extensive evidence, and makes a series of recommendations for a more integrated, holistic and sustainable approach to peripheral communities, building on their many assets, strengths and resources. Likewise, many voices, from local communities to international bodies, are calling for more effective responses to the climate and biodiversity emergencies that incorporate the worldviews of indigenous peoples and local communities who have so much to contribute.

Transforming dominant narratives cannot happen until we genuinely listen and respond to the voices of rural, island and indigenous peoples within the Arctic and beyond.

Full Article

Shifting narratives: what do we see in Uist?

by Theona Morrison and Thomas Fisher, Directors of CoDeL

Join us for the launch of the Uist Beò website on facebook live (https://fb.me/e/2yGzHzEZh) on 8 March 2023 at 6:30pm.   And this is the related opinion piece that appeared in the March issue of the award-winning local community paper, Am Pàipear.

If I look through a window and you look through it – for all the outlook is the same, we will see and remember different things from that view.

This month sees the launch of the Uist Beò website to showcase a dynamic and vibrant Uist, through the eyes of young Uibhistich – entirely an insiders’ view.

Do we really know what’s going on in our own community?  Are we seeing different things?

For long the dominant perception has been that we are in terminal decline.  If the projected future population trends for the Outer Hebrides prove true in Uist, we will be turning out the lights before 2050.

But even five years ago this did not feel right.  Gathering a list of 469 young Uibhistich in their 20s and 30s, we discovered half were returners or new to Uist: not the exodus of young people our community always assumed (“to get on, you have to get off”).

Why were so many in the prime of their working lives making Uist their home?  The very first returner we asked gave a simple answer: “my social life here is so much better than in Glasgow”!

The ‘night time’ economy is not just for cities. Regular sessions from Saturday nights at Creagorry to the fortnightly Accordian and Fiddle Club as well as ceilidhs and fund-raising events, often with our many award-winning musicians.  Are you dancing? Tuesday night Carinish, Saturday St. Peter’s, Sunday Stoneybridge, and that’s only for the adults!

Are you interested in art, crafts or archaeology, or sports (athletics, running, football, badminton, squash, golf, swimming indoors and outdoors, paddle-boarding, kickboxing, yoga, etc.)?  Ceòlas, now at Cnoc Soilleir, has more than 100 joining their Gàidhlig classes.

Primary school children are spoilt for choice, especially in sports and music, Highland and Irish dancing.  They could be at an activity every evening of the week, and at a fraction of the costs in a city, some even free.

So does the window you look through have an old frame or is it newer?  Of course older generations hold memories of much greater numbers, from schools to dances.  But how about the last decade?  Last year we had only 9 fewer primary school pupils in Uist than 10 years earlier, out of more than 300.  In Barra the number of primary pupils last year was 19% higher than in 2010!  And this is likely to continue.  Cothrom Òg Gàidhlig nursery has 26 children signed up and a waiting list. All pupils entering Daliburgh School for the last two years are in Gàidhlig medium.

Sustaining the number of younger children for a decade is a remarkable success.  In Grimsay one child started primary school a decade ago, today there are 15 children.  No, it’s not what is was 40 years ago, but it is more than 10 years ago.  Locheport, with only 3 children recently, now has 13, with 3 more expected soon. 

It’s too early to say whether the decline has bottomed out.  For historical reasons we have a high proportion of elderly people, so there will be more deaths than births.  But for many returning or making Uist their new home, the view through the window is looking exciting and vibrant.

Take all the young businesses.  North Uist Distillery, set up by two young returners, now employs 13 people, bringing life back to one of Uist’s most historic buildings.  We have award winning young businesses, e.g. Coral Box and Studiovans, who recycle plastic from our shores to create modular units for vans. As the Uist Beò website will show, we have young people and families in crofting, culture and music; beauty, health and wellbeing; photography, art and architecture.  We have numerous PhD students, and many who work online, e.g. in the medical sector or web-based design.  And the islands have the highest density of community enterprises per head of population in all of Scotland.

In hospitality the Politician, Croft & Cuan, the Bistro, Grimsay cafe, Westford Inn, the Dunes Cabin, Lochmaddy Hotel, the Berneray shop, the Wee Cottage Kitchen have all recently been taken over or set up, often by young people with children, showing confidence in the local economy.  Many young people have told us that they see so much opportunity here. 

The narratives we tell ourselves as a community are really important.  Nobody would say we don’t have our fair share of challenges, what with ferries and housing!  Many include jobs also, although the greater challenge is filling the many vacant jobs we have at all times, providing plenty of opportunity for people if they can only find somewhere to live.

Whether we view our glass as half empty or as half full has real impacts.  Past ‘official’ narratives, of decline, a place to leave, or of a romanticised empty place to retire to, both undermine our future.  Who wants to be in a place where the lights are going out soon?  We don’t need to look far from our islands to see other islands now abandoned.

Whether here or in other island communities, we always first ask people, why are you here, in spite of the many challenges you obviously face?  Many of us could join the numerous Hebrideans in Glasgow and elsewhere, but we choose to live here.  Why?  It isn’t because of ferries, shopping malls, ice rinks, diverse global foods.

More important factors are influencing our life choices, factors that came to the fore during Covid: land, sea and croft; community and family; wellbeing and resilience, freedom and safety; Gàidhlig and vibrant culture; dynamic community groups and activities; small class sizes and dedicated teachers; being valued for who we are, a sense of equality; our strong sense of identity and belonging, of being there for each other; etc. etc.

Many of us have lived elsewhere, including when young people leaving school go to experience life elsewhere.  So we can recognise how valuable all those factors are, how at home we can feel here, and how envious people elsewhere are of what we have, and share.

So let us all, from individuals and community groups to agencies and CnES, ditch managing decline, rationalising and centralising, and instead invest in our future, by building on these great foundations, including a more assertive community that no longer kowtows to distant powerholders or outdated narratives.

From the Arctic Circle Assembly 2

by Theona Morrison, Co-Director, CoDeL

In my previous blogpost about the Arctic Circle Assembly I said that would focus a little on indigenous voices.  As well as the session on ‘Remote Areas: A window of opportunity’, I also presented at one called ‘Polar Law: The Just Transition to Low Carbon Economies in the Arctic and Beyond’.

I spoke about food and the global movement of ‘product’ around the world. Rosie MacLeod, who was with me from Raasay, presented her work on the new hydro power in Raasay (see Rosie’s blogpost here). SSE had given £350,000 towards the scheme, but three local young people on the board of Raasay Development Trust issued a Community Share Offer which raised a further £650,000 in seven weeks! They aim to sell the electricity locally, with profits going into a community benefit scheme which they will use to refit old houses – brilliant! Oh that we could do that in Uist and everywhere else! The injustice of hosting production of renewable energy and then paying more for the the use of the energy than those in cities is anything but ‘just’.

Hydro power in Raasay

This was the feedback from Professor Rachael Lorna Johnstone, Professor at Háskólinn (University) á Akureyri:

Dear friends, I wanted to thank you for a very successful (in my humble view) session on the Just Transition at ACA. We had a great turnout and good feedback on the session. To my delight, Aili Keskitalo, former president of the Saami Parliament in Norwegian Sápmi, came up and thanked us for the session and was very positive about it! If we have her approval, I do not need anyone else’s!  Let’s keep fighting the good fight!  Rachael

As I said in my previous blogpost, it was encouraging to see that indigenous peoples could be heard in a range of sessions, although, as one person said, we do not lack technical innovation in the Arctic, but we lack business (will, as in commitment) and political innovation.

‘A sign of hope is being able to speak in your own indigenous language’.

Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada (the first indigenous person to hold this office) at the Arctic Assembly

I attended a plenary session hosted by the Americans: The Future of Arctic Peace, Science and Security.  They summarised their new strategy in which they spoke about prosperity, sustainable growth etc. Of course security is a big driver, because ‘their’ Arctic is across the water from ‘the Russian Arctic’.  But always growth, just mitigating the how. After the presentation I said I hadn’t read their new strategy but hoped that it was crafted with a good heart.  However, I asked whether we shouldn’t be considering new ways of living, instead of a continual extraction model to prop up societies far removed from the Arctic. Shouldn’t we be considering some degrowth ideas? There was a big round of applause and then a group of indigenous people came and hugged me.

The response from the stage was that it was ok for those of us who have what we need to take that position, but he thought indigenous peoples would want roads and hospitals, etc. The following day the Inuit gave me a book explaining how mitigating strategies like pumping CO2 into defunct oil wells is not having a good impact on climate responses locally.

We also heard that Arctic people have the insights but not the voice or governance. Local groups can respond but don’t have influence. If a cause is taken up by national or international organisations, it can be debated year on year with no action in the end. Models lack the space for justice and equity.

Some of the most insightful sessions I attended were actually led by indigenous people from across the Arctic. One session was called ‘Indigenous knowledge and cosmovision in climate mitigation.  Some of the quotes I noted were:

“Our language roots us with our traditions (Inuit). English phrases such as ‘traditional ecological knowledge’ puts us in a box”.

“If we were to leave this earth (as humans) Mother Earth would heal herself, the animals would remain.”

They regard themselves as a land-based people whose knowledge is shared. So many similarities to that of the Gaels on the western fringes of Scotland.

At  another session, A Just Energy Transition in the Arctic, indigenous leader and Senior Regional Director of Alaska said ‘be careful what you wish for’. Tesla are rolling out electric cars as a green fuel alternative for cars, but this has resulted in the destruction of a mountain in their territory being mined for minerals needed for the electric cars.

In addition to visiting the tomato farm on the last day, we also visited the National Park where the first National Parliament was held by the Vikings, not regional assemblies, but country wide. There were no indigenous people in Iceland, the Vikings from Norway were first, arriving via Ireland, so their genetic mix on the male line is Norwegian and Irish on the female line.  Yet more links between Scotland and the Arctic.

“Iceland was in independent Commonwealth from 874- 13th century with the oldest parliament in the world. It subsequently came under the influence of the Kingdoms of Norway and Denmark but continued as an independent country. In 1944 it became a republic, rejecting monarchy.” (Thanks to D Hitchins for this comment on my previous blogpost from the Arctic Circle.)

Attending the 13th OECD Rural Conference  – Building sustainable, resilient and thriving rural places

by Andrew Muncaster

I was delighted to attend the 13th OECD Rural Conference in Cavan, Ireland last September to speak at a plenary session on young people as leaders in our rural communities.

A few weeks beforehand we were briefed on what the aims of the session were and given some guidance on what kinds of things we should try to get across to our audience. We were told to be confident, bold, and to try and get a key message out to a room full of policymakers and stakeholders. Some pressure came with such a great opportunity to speak up and get the views of myself and other young people heard on the issues facing our local areas and what policymakers – some of them sat in the room – needed to do better on.

I remember first seeing my picture appear on the OECD’s website where the speakers were all listed. There I was situated right next to the then Taoiseach Micheál Martin. I could not quite believe it at first, and honestly felt a bit of imposter syndrome creep in. Who was I, a young student from a far-off island and why should anyone listen to me at this event next to top academics and policymakers from Europe and beyond? I knew, however, that my place at the table was just as important as theirs. I’ve lived my whole life in the islands, I am passionate about the Gàidhlig language and culture which is inseparable from where I am from, I have had years of experience standing up as a young person and contributing to policymaking and a range of local and national issues, and the voices of young people deserve to be heard – especially in the world we live in today.

The plenary session was exciting, engaging and elicited a fantastic response from those who sat in the room. Alana and I spoke on the key issues facing the islands, and 2 young women from Ireland spoke with passion about their rural areas as well. It was fascinating to see how much we had in common in rural Ireland and Scotland. All of us were proud of our local areas and the culture and heritage which is so strong in them, and we were passionate about the issues faced in them today.

We called on policymakers to break down the barriers preventing young people from returning and to help match their aspirations with the opportunities available. We called on policymakers to directly empower communities, to bring them around the table, and to especially involve young people directly, who are vital in ensuring the continued prosperity of our rural communities, emphasising that the responsibility fell on the policymakers to reach out, to listen and to act on what we need. Our key messages were that young people do want to return, we are proud of our communities, and we need action to reduce the difficulties faced when trying to return to our rural communities. We also emphasised that young people are already leaders in our communities and that policymakers should never underestimate the power of our voices.

Our discussion and the key messages that came from all of us on the panel made a big impression on those in the audience. After a long day of academics and professionals presenting their carefully planned, long-winded, meticulous and nuanced viewpoints, it was incredibly refreshing for them to hear directly from the young people from these rural communities speaking boldly and passionately from their own life experiences and what they strongly believed was the future of their communities. We had several of the attendees speak to us after the session, praising us for being so bold and outspoken which made me feel as if I had accomplished my mission of really grabbing their attention and getting our key messages across to them. That was my first international conference, and so to have that kind of reaction was unbelievable to me, given how easily the voices of young people have been disregarded in the past.

Andrew Muncaster with Ian Power, CEO, SpunOut, Ireland

My thanks firstly go to the Scottish Rural Network for making it possible for me to attend the conference, to everyone at CoDeL who reached out and invited me to attend, and finally to the OECD for facilitating such a vitally important discussion and giving a platform to young people from rural communities to speak our truth which I think had a big impact on many of the attendees at the conference.

From Raasay to Reykjavík

by Rosie Macleod, Raasay Community Renewables

Living on an island, it is easy to get caught in a bubble, thinking that the issues faced by your community are isolated and completely unique. My recent trip to the Arctic Circle Assembly, hosted in Iceland, provided an opportunity to see that whilst the issues faced in my community are on a different scale compared to Arctic communities, at their core, they are very similar. I found myself attending panel discussions on the remote housing crises for young people, the importance of reviving language and tradition, and on sustainable island futures.

Island communities can offer something completely different, and in my opinion significantly more, than cities and suburbs. However, the two shouldn’t be compared and neither should be disadvantaged. I made the decision to move home after graduating, knowing that I was severely damaging my job and career prospects, especially in the Energy/Engineering field. However, since Covid, I have watched more and more opportunities open up due to home working.  I think there is huge potential here (once we have started to address the housing crisis) to revive island populations and reduce the large ‘brain waste’ i.e. people not using their education, training or skills (another term I picked up at the conference). 

A few things stuck out to me from the discussions, like the introduction of entrepreneurship into the local school curriculum and how intrinsically linked the housing crisis is to mental health. Starting with the former, in my opinion, Covid highlighted that our economy in the Highlands and Islands is far too reliant on the seasonal tourism industry. Whilst tourism definitely has its place here (who wouldn’t want to experience our incredible landscape?), in order to achieve sustainable communities, there really needs to be a diversification of career opportunities.  These can stem from both access to home working and entrepreneurship, so why not get a jump start and teach it in schools?

On the latter point, it seems completely obvious that the housing crisis is significantly affecting young peoples’ mental health, yet it didn’t even cross my mind until it was mentioned at the conference. Having no option but to live in insufficient housing, a caravan or with your parents when half the houses are holiday homes would be difficult for anyone. Add in lack of access to mental health services and you are basically pushing young people and families out the door. I could spend days ranting about the housing situation here, but others have already done a far more eloquent job, so I’ll leave it there. 

I would like to thank CoDeL for inviting me to the Arctic Circle Assembly, and the Scottish Rural Network for funding my travel and participation at the conference.  I was invited through my involvement with Raasay Community Renewables who set up and run the local community owned hydro scheme. By participating in a panel on the Just Transition to Low-Carbon Economies, I got to share our story of using a community share offer to fund the majority of the project, our hopes and plans for selling the energy generated locally, and the community benefit fund that will be created with the profits. I got to meet and listen to speakers on subjects that I am very interested in, such as green hydrogen and marine renewables and their place in a low carbon future. Overall the experience was invaluable and I loved seeing what Iceland and the Arctic has to offer. 

As 2022 comes to a close …

Tha CoDeL an dòchas gum bidh deagh Nollaig is Bliadhn’ Ùr aig a h-uile duine; do muinntir Uibhist, dhaibhsan a tha a’ cumail taic rinn agus cuideachd dhaibhsan a tha nas fhaide air falbh. Tha bliadhna thrang air a bhith againn fad 2022. Tha sinn air ar cumail a dol le Uist Beò agus tha sinn air molaidhean fhaighinn aig an taigh agus cuideachd air feadh an t-saoghal. Seo dealbh no dha a sheallas an obair a tha CoDeL air a dhèanamh thairis air 2022.

Here are some pictures from highlights in 2022.

Uist Beò is thriving on instagram, facebook and tik tok. Thank you to the dynamic team (Alana, Cara, Fiona and Joanne), to Alex and Izzy @ Friendhood, to Kareen, CnES Settlement Officer for Uist, and to all our funders: Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Rural Network, Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
Thank you to the Regional Studies Association, and to the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme who funded our original research (here) that led to the blogpost.
Thank you to NORA and the Scottish Rural Network for enabling Theona and Rosie to contribute to the Arctic Circle Assembly.
Thank you to the Scottish Rural Network for enabling young Uibhistich as well as ourselves to participate in this conference.
Thank you to Scottish Rural Action for organising such strong Scottish contributions to the European Rural Parliament, including opportunities for Theona to share Uist Beò and other CoDeL work.
Thank you to the European Rural Community Alliance, the EU’s Rural Pact Conference and WONCA for inviting us to contribute to these events.
Thank you to the Scottish Rural Network for funding our communications strategy around Redefining Peripherality, on social media and at conferences.
Thank you to the inspiration of the island and rural social entrepreneurs we were privileged to work with, and to the Social Enterprise Academy for funding our coaching under their Start-up School.

From the Arctic Circle Assembly

by Theona Morrison, Co-Director, CoDeL

The Arctic Circle Assembly is the largest annual international gathering on the Arctic, attended by more than 2000 participants from over 60 countries and held every year in the Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik, Iceland.  The Harpa concert hall is an incredible building with maybe 15 floors (my head couldn’t cope beyond about floor 5!). It was mere foundations when Iceland experienced a colossal financial crash, so eventually when the government were able to raise funds (their currency had also crashed), they managed to build it after all.  So it is very symbolic for them.

“Well over 2000 participants from almost 70 countries [are here today]. It is a formidable demonstration of the desire from so many different quarters of the planet to come together in a new dialogue, in a new form of cooperation, and to seek solutions to the challenges we face. And also in the shadows of wars and increasing geo-political tensions, it is remarkable that all of you have come here today to send the world the message, we want to continue, despite the hurdles, to achieve results for a better future.”

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Chair of the Arctic Circle, and former Prime Minister of Iceland (1996 to 2016)

There were representatives from all sectors of life from the Arctic Circle, with strong representation from Scotland, the most northerly non-Arctic country present.  CodeL (also promoting Uist Beò), was delighted to have presented at the assembly in the session on Remote Areas: A window of opportunity.  I live in the Isle of Grimsay (Griomasaigh) in Uist in the Outer Hebrides, and there is also a Grimsey Island in Iceland, so we’re closer than at first thought in some ways!

Special thanks to Scottish Rural Network, who are not only supporting Uist Beò, but also enabled Rosie MacLeod to present her work on the new hydro power in the Isle of Raasay at a session on ‘The Just Transition to Low Carbon Economies in the Arctic and BeyondIt was encouraging to see that indigenous peoples could be heard in a range of sessions, including this one, and I will pick up on that session in my second blog from the Assembly.  However, as one person said, we do not lack technical innovation in the Arctic, but we lack business (will, as in commitment) and political innovation”.

I presented at the session on remote areas with colleagues from the Faroe Islands and Iceland. Invited by NORA, we all presented positive examples of turnaround in the communities in which we work.  Our host and facilitator, Jákup Sørensen, reported after our session:“Just a short thank you for your time at our session. I think you all can be very proud. I have never before got so much positive feedback before. Here is a message from one of our guests: ‘I felt it was the best session I attended at the entire conference – all the speakers were BRILLIANT, engaging and funny and real actionable potential came from several.’”  I was overwhelmed by the positive response.  On a lighter note, I was feeling a little short with our Nordic cousins!

Ágúst Bogason, Research Fellow, Nordregio; Theona; Jákup Sørensen, Senior Adviser at North Atlantic Cooperation, NORA; and  Anna Karlsdottir, Senior Research Fellow, Nordregio

In summary, although there are obvious challenges, it was so encouraging to realise that the impact of my work past and present is inspiring others who face rural depopulation: from linking the education curriculum with local economic opportunity and industry standard qualifications, through the ‘economic literacy workshops’ which Thomas Fisher and I developed and delivered and the demographic research we conducted on young people returning, settling or staying in Uist, and now Uist Beò. I showed statements from the usual tourism messages as well as images, of an empty beach and a roofless cottage, to a soundtrack used for promoting Scotland.  I then compared it to Uist Beò, on instagram, Facebook and tik tok.

On the last day we were able to get out of the conference centre and see a little of Iceland. We visited a tomato farm – hydroponics and of course heated by geothermal energy. It produces 40% of Iceland’s tomatoes.  One other farm produces another 30%, so they do not export because they still have to import.

Iceland only gained its independence in 1944. They have a population of 360,000. Fish, mainly cod, is the number one sector, followed by tourism.

Two words in common usage come from Iceland: Saga and Geyser.  My only comment is the toll tourism has and will take on the environment. Our guide on the Golden Circle said there are volcanoes under one of the glaciers, and if the ice melts they will no longer be ‘capped’, so eruptions could be really damaging. At the same time I saw all the massive vehicles which enable folk to trample and cover the ice. To say nothing of the tonnes of concrete that must have gone into the path to the waterfall, which keeps folk off the grass and keeps them on the straight and narrow by the bus load, but it’s a whole load of concrete which contributes 8% of global emissions. My passion would be to diversify the economy so that tourism is not so important.

Best RSA blogpost 2022 awarded to CoDeL

CoDeL is honoured to have received an award from the Regional Studies Association for their best blogpost in 2022: view the video here.

We are delighted that this global research network recognises the insight held by many so-called remote rural and island communities as we confront global crises, and gave the award to a small social enterprise in a ‘remote’ island in contrast to a well-established academic institution.

Our blogpost on How remote communities turned the challenges of peripherality to their advantage during COVID-19 is simple, but is deeply rooted in the lived experience of peripheral communities across the Northern Periphery, from Finland to Canada.  Above all, it challenges standard narratives that we are backward, that we need to “catch up”.

In the award video we look beyond our original blog post focused on responses to the pandemic to the next and bigger emergencies of climate change and biodiversity.  We call on researchers and policy-makers to value the knowledge and wisdom held by so-called remote communities and indigenous peoples about living in tune with nature and community.

Enabling us to explore these links has been helped by CoDeL taking a break from much social media over the past several months.  We have been able to reflect more deeply on new directions and next steps, following our intensive work with many great partners around responses to the pandemic under the heading of “Redefining Peripherality”.

While we may have had a break from CoDeL social media, we have been busy at sharing insights about redefining peripherality at many different events this year: the EU’s Rural Pact conference, the World Rural Health Conference, the European Rural Parliament, the OECD Rural Development conference and the Arctic Circle Assembly.  We have been struck by how much our ideas have resonated with participants from so many different communities and contexts.  And by how much radical thinking, for example around degrowth rather than growth, has been welcomed at many of these events.

We will be sharing insights from some of these events in our next blogposts, starting with the Arctic Circle Assembly where Theona Morrison linked with communities across the Arctic, including representatives of indigenous communities.  We will also explore emerging insights, for example around the dangerous inadequacies of natural capital frameworks that underpin much green accounting regionally, nationally and globally.

As well as looking forward, we have also come full circle back to our original research on island population which led us to set up CoDeL in 2018.  Since May we have focused much energy on supporting the development of the new digital platform, Uist Beò, delivered by a dynamic group of younger islanders.  The social media (on instagram, facebook and tik tok) shows clearly just how vibrant and dynamic so-called remote communities can be, with many younger people returning, settling or staying.

These younger people are setting up dynamic businesses, running remarkable social enterprises, contributing hugely to community and culture, and to the sustainable use of resources amidst the climate emergency.  We continue to be inspired by their energy, confidence and commitment within a community that may be remote to many, but is at the heart not only of Gàidhlig language and culture but also of much value-driven creativity and innovation, from practical initiatives to deep thinking.

Look out for our blogpost on the Arctic Circle Assembly coming soon, and to the launch of the Uist Beò website in February.