How do we best emerge from lockdown?

Following our weekly discussions with younger islanders and others, we drew up a community letter to our island MSP, Alasdair Allan … with more than 40 signatures, over a quarter from accommodation providers, and a quarter from younger islanders, mainly young leaders.  See the letter here: Community letter to MSP 15Jun20

Of course, not every islander agrees fully with the letter, and we continue to have diverse discussions with people with different viewpoints during these challenging times.

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.

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.

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. Continue reading “Grimsay Island Gathering shines a light on island renewal”

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 (theona@codel.scot).

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”

Welcome to CoDeL’s new website!

We are still constructing this site. But there has been a lot of interest in our research on young people on Uist in the Outer Hebrides, so we wanted to make our report available to everyone as soon as possible. CoDeL is now developing a leadership programme for young people on Uist, and preparing to present at the Scottish Rural Parliament in Stranraer in November.