Engaging Minority Voices in a Just Transition: Reflections on different approaches within an island context

“Engaging with ethnic minorities in a rural as compared to an urban context requires a very different approach, due to the significantly lower numbers of ethnic minority people. Additionally, as the numbers of ethnic minorities and people who come to the islands from outwith the UK are significantly proportionately lower than in urban areas, more effort in removing barriers, and a better and positive approach to inclusion needs to be created.”

One element of the Community Action in Uist and Glenkens project involved exploring Engaging minority voices in community strategies for a Just Transition in Uist¸ … how to shape an engagement process which is welcoming, open and safe for ethnic minority groups and those who have come to Uist from outwith the UK, whose voices are often not heard in the usual community engagement activities.  This is not an easy or quick task, and this blog post shares some of the important reflections that have emerged from the process so far.

We explored race equality and other relevant issues at a public event, facilitated by CEMVO, bringing some 20 people from Uist together to learn, share and discuss and put forward ideas for diversity and inclusion in community engagement.

In the longer term we want to devise a guide of suitable approaches for engaging with ethnic minorities in island communities that can be used as good practice, including case studies and learning from this project.

Some challenges to standard approaches to engaging minority voices emerged.  First was that of numbers, and how to ensure every participant has a sense of belonging, very critical to our island culture.  The second was the historical legacy of the deep oppression of Gaelic culture within and beyond our island communities.

Uist, and the Scottish islands as a whole, has a very small proportion of people resident from ethnic minorities, about 1 per cent, compared to 4 per cent nationally in 2011.  Countries of birth other than Scotland and England accounted for 5 per cent of the population on inhabited islands (8 per cent for Scotland as a whole).  When engaging with the Uist community, an event which reaches 50 residents would be very successful.  However, to reach a proportional number of ethnic minorities, one person from an ethnic minority would need to be present. Dealing with such low numbers makes it difficult to ensure success without directly targeting ethnic minorities and people who come to Uist from outwith the UK.  It was felt such an approach is unfair to the people invited as they are being targeted because of their ethnicity, and not for what they would bring to the engagement.

“The rule of thumb to engage cross culturally in other locations seems to hinge upon improving access to target ethnic groups thereby opening the door to individuals within that group. This could be by building relationships with a group via religious venues like a mosque, or cultural centres or celebrations. This presents a unique challenge to Uist as Uist’s ethnic diversity is low compared to other islands and the mainland. For some ethnicities there are not enough people here for there to be a sense of a group who gather because of their ethnicity, and it’s potentially offensive to target an individual on the basis of a sole characteristic.  The important thing is to understand the barriers to people attending, and then ensure the event is advertised in a way that everyone can understand what it is and why they should go. And the main thing is to ensure that everyone who attends feels that they are there because they are part of the community, not because of ethnicity or any demographic they may represent.  There are plenty of groups that gather around activities rather than identities. Maintaining an understanding and relationship with these groups is still a way to increase access to members within those groups whereby there happens to be ethnic diversity demonstrated.”

Targeting individuals could not only be offensive, but could also be detrimental to their feeling of belonging in the community. There was a strong consensus that planning community engagement well so everyone living in Uist feels welcome by a positive feeling of belonging to our community, is what we want to achieve in our engagement. We may not be able to achieve significant numbers of engagement with ethnic minorities in Uist, or indeed any engagement at some events, however this cannot be seen as a failure. Success in engagement of ethnic minorities should therefore be measured by:

  1. the degree to which the engagement removes barriers to engagement for ethnic minorities, and those coming to Uist from outwith the UK;
  2. achieving welcoming engagement which promotes a sense of belonging to Uist for all.

“It is important to recognise that membership of an ethnic group is important, and valuing that difference is not a barrier to integration. Someone can fully embrace the indigenous cultures here but that should not be seen to erase who they, or their families were, prior to their story relocating here. Instead it should add to it. The essence of the days event was wanting to remove barriers to participation and it was underpinned by the belief that utilizing diversity allows both old and new perspectives to continue in sustainable ways.

There was also consensus that, if off-island organisations are consulting the Uist community, that local community groups should be given the opportunity to conduct the sessions, in order to understand the local context and history, and to ensure a wide section of the community is reached.  We are tired of externally managed consultations whose only source of information and insight comes from our own communities, but they are paid to get it from us.  Any community engagement we deliver needs to be adequately resourced to ensure it reaches a diverse number of people in our community.

The second challenge emerged from the historical legacy of the oppression of Gaelic.

The participants learnt much about racism, and anti-racism, and how racism is embedded and constantly reinforced in our society, from unconscious micro-aggressions to institutional racism. We understood better how there are many dimensions of discrimination, e.g. under the Equalities Act, obviously including race, but also disability, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion and many other “protected characteristics”. We also got a sense of how discrimination can multiply, especially for those who have more than one protected characteristic. It was concerning to hear that the environmental sector is the second least diverse sector after farming: 4.8% are ethnic minority in the environmental sector compared to 12.6% across other professions.  This is a challenge to everyone in the environmental movement.

The discussions at the event triggered individuals and groups.  Many individuals expressed issues and in some cases hurt they had experienced themselves. The direct learning about racism needs to be there, as do all kinds of processes to challenge racism and institutional racism.  Perhaps there could also be real space for processes to enable people to own their own hurt, and that of their ‘group’, and to recognise the hurt in others and other groups, and to jointly explore how to reach a point of compassionate action.

The headline for the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland, whose work emerged in response to the deep community conflicts, to the Troubles, in NI, says: “In our increasingly divided world, we support thousands of people from different backgrounds to live well together.”  How can we live well together?  How can we best build constructive solidarity across different groups and races?

These issues are of particular relevance to the Gaelic community. This is the slide that was shared by CEMVO to explain the roots of racism.

Participants recognised the similarities to their own historical reality, which saw similar colonial practices and perspectives imposed on the Gaelic world, whose peoples were also regarded as ‘inferior’, ‘dirty’, ‘uncivilised’, ‘illiterate’. Vast numbers were cleared off their land and homes, and Gaelic language and culture rigorously suppressed.

All this does not gainsay that many Scots, among them Gaels, also benefitted from the empire and themselves participated in many rascist views and practices.  Nevertheless, while we are clearly in better times now, the legacy, the trauma, the pain, the grief live on, passed down the generations.  And we face the very real and current threat in our own islands that unless we rigorously assert the value of our culture, and our rights to our culture, and unless we collectively use our language and culture in day-to-day life, it is likely to die.  This can lead to uncomfortable dilemmas, for example how to respond to increasing numbers of outsiders buying up property here, and the impact that may have on the survival, or not, of Gaelic language and culture.

For some the session triggered this connection to Gaelic historical experience so strongly, including within a group many of whom were not Gaelic speakers.  This was very helpful in understanding our own community better, and the deep importance for us all of the Gaelic language, culture and heritage.  It may also, in a small way, open up space for contributing to the processing of the on-going legacy of the deep oppression of the Gaelic world.

Overall this points to the need to take a somewhat different approach to racism and anti-racism within the West Highlands and islands, that acknowledges the oppression Gaelic communities have suffered, without denying our own contributions to racism within our nation and the wider world.  We could hope that the local history of oppression could open up opportunity for compassionate understanding of those who face so much discrimintation today based on their race and other characteristics.

As we stated earlier, we are now seeking opportunities to devise a guide of suitable approaches for engaging with ethnic minorities in island communities that draws on all the insight and learning that has already emerged.

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

Leading an inspirational community enterprise

This Friday (10th May) is the deadline to apply for the Chief Executive’s job at one of the most prominent community enterprises in Uist (see Uist Beò video).  Set up over 30 years ago, Cothrom has a learning centre, an all Gaelic nursery and a recycling/upcycling centre, all in purpose built locally designed buildings.

So if you are looking for an inspiring and rewarding job, that is also diverse and challenging, then why not think of Cothrom?  Some 200 learners attend the centre every year, and it has employed 20+ staff for many years now.  With its deep commitment and understanding of the local community, Cothrom delivers diverse services that seek to provide integrated and holistic support tailored to the needs of each individual learner, by addressing educational, social, economic, financial and housing needs, mental and physical health, childcare, as well as environmental challenges.  Services range from Scottish vocational qualifications to addiction and homelessness support.

You will be part of the vibrant community sector in Uist which won the first Social Enterprise Place Award to be granted within Scotland (see here), and work closely with local businesses and public sector agencies.  And you will be delivering on so many Scottish Government priorities, including enployability, delivering holistic family support and tackling child poverty, empowering communities and addressing depopulation (see CoDeL’s casestudy on Cothrom here).

We have a focus on those with complex learning barriers, like young school leavers and parents looking to enter/re-enter employment.  The best way to explain our approach is through case studies. One example is a young man who joined us in January 2023 having moved to the island and then subsequently finding himself homeless following a family fall out. Within the hour staff had accessed temporary accommodation through our partner network; within 48 hours he had permanent accommodation, staff applied for crisis grants so he could purchase white goods, we completed an application for the hardship furniture fund and delivered it to his new home. He was unemployed and wanted to work in construction, so we enrolled him on our Practical Skills course alongside supporting him to gain his Construction Health and Safety and CSCS card (needed to work on sites).  We then contacted local companies and managed to find him employment. He is still in employment and is now self sufficient with his income allowing him to have a higher quality of life.”

Kevin Morrison, current Chief Executive, Cothrom

To find out more about Cothrom, see the following:

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.

“With the additional funding under this community action project, we have developed a bespoke parent focussed return to work programme and use our on-site nursery to provide funded childcare while parents study. The programme is in place to support parents to apply for higher skilled jobs that will increase household income and bring more families out of poverty.” Kevin Morrison

Bairn Banter: A community play group investing in the demographic future of the area

We arrived early at Lagwyne Hall in Carsphairn, a spacious hall with plenty of light.  While also engaging her own young children, Melissa was setting up equipment to provide a range of activities, exercise and learning opportunities at the stay and play group, Bairn Banter.  And we got to see the lovely snack box that had come from the local Galloway Food Hub – healthy, locally grown, organic snacks. 

It wasn’t long before families started arriving for the weekly Saturday session: 14 children and 11 adults that week.  A few of the adults came early to have a quick discussion with Melissa and others about community work.  And from 10 o’clock the play and the banter among the children and the parents, carers and grandparents was in full swing.

In talking with the families, what struck us most was the diversity of those who had grown up in the local area of Glenkens, returned or moved there recently, and the obvious connection among them, with small groups of activity or chatting in different parts of the hall.  There were plenty of Dads as well as Mums.

We heard stories about the reasons they were there in the Glenkens, from those who had settled recently in the area, to a child back from Austalia (where their parents had emigrated) visiting their grandparents.   The benefits and opportunities for individuals and families, as well as the challenges.

So often we hear of the importance of jobs for retaining and growing population in rural and island communities.  But nurturing connections and social opportunities are as important, which help to develop community networks, support and resilience, as well as identity and belonging.  And for young children positive social interaction is critical for their development.  Bairn Banter is making a vital contribution on all these fronts.

Sadly, Carsphairn has not been helped by the mothballing of their primary school.  The loss of a local school can be a real blow to the sustainability of a local community: schools are often the very heart of a community.  And by mothballing, rather than actually closing the school, the local authority avoided any consultation with the community about the impacts of this decision, on children, families, the community.

Melissa explains, “As the country emerged out of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, which caused a detrimental effect on rural communities and young families, it was felt by many local parents and grandparents that there was a lack of social opportunities within the local area for pre-school children.  Carsphairn also suffered within the same year with the mothballing of the local primary school, which severed vital connections for young children within the parish. Coupled with the on-going cost of living crisis, social situations seemed to ‘dissolve’ and many young children begun to struggle without their vital socialising needs being met.”

Public policy that is built on managing decline rather than investing in the future is deeply damaging to so many rural and island communities.  This is in spite of so much evidence now that people, especially young people, have different aspirations, for whom rural and island living and working has many attractions … but not without a local school or other services.

Beyond organising the weekly sessions, which are of course at the core of Bairn Banter’s work, the group is determined to do much more.  A small amount of project funding, quickly matched from funding from the local windfarm, has enabled Bairn Banter to purchase a trailer just now to take the opportunities Bairn Banter deliver elsewhere in the Glenkens (they are currently the only pre-school/children’s group operating in the area).  The word is out there in the community that Bairn Banter have the opportunity to be mobile, and the first event is already booked for June 1st. 

With the determination to promote the Glenkens as a great place to live and work, the group is now awaiting quotes from artists to design and decorate the trailer with a unique mural to help promote Bairn Banter and other aspects of the local area such as farming, renewable energy, local community initiatives, etc.  Bairn Banter hopes that when the trailer is ‘on tour’, people will be drawn to the attractive display and perhaps be encouraged to visit and indeed, down the line, settle in the area.

The trailer will allow Bairn Banter to offer more outdoor learning opportunities for children, young people and their families, and connect communities together within the beautiful outdoor environment.  In doing so, they are delivering on the Scottish Government’s commitment, made in Scotland’s National Outdoor Play & Learning Position Statement, to value and expand opportunities for playing and learning outdoors.

Melissa is already working towards achieving a Level 3 Forest School Leader qualification by September this year.  The trailer will become Bairn Banter’s ‘mobile welfare base’ as well as vital storage of equipment such as waterproofs, water, tools, safety equipment, etc., whilst travelling to areas of the Glenkens, especially outdoors, for example in woodlands.

Bairn Banter has enabled many young families, including those who have moved into the area, to meet socially on a regular basis, to enable children and families to socialise with each other, a critical investment for the future population, economy and community in the area.

“I have now been coordinating Bairn Banter since June 2021, and over this time span, I have met a wonderful selection of families from many walks of life.  Both me and my children have developed some long lasting friendships.  Given the current absence of the local mothballed school and the damaging after effects on social and emotional well being from the Covid 19 pandemic, many families have been left feeling socially vulnerable and isolated, as they struggled to meet these essential needs to socialise, and develop vital attachments/social relationships with other peers.  I feel confident that Bairn Banter has provided this community need as we continue to provide a consistent, warm, safe, comfortable play space for these families to attend weekly, without the restrictive ‘barriers’ of an entry fee.  Our volunteer run group also ensures that the children and their parents/carers are offered a nutritional snack during the session, as a ‘means’ to support healthy eating amongst children, and to help with the on-going cost of living crisis and food poverty issues which many families face at present.  Bairn Banter welcomes all ages to attend, and we all have lots of fun indoor and out every Saturday morning.  I look forward to this essential, fun little group growing into the future, including with the new trailer.”

Melissa Ade

Bairn Banter is another example of great things being delivered in rural and island communities by energetic and committed volunteers, in this case a group of dedicated parents led by the intense investment of time and energy by Melissa and her family.  This is all part of community resilience and cohesion, but exacts a significant toll on rural and island people.  Dependency on volunteering also limits how much communities can do.  Funding to pay some hours to volunteers who deliver on so many Scottish Government priorities could have a dramatic impact on services and cohesion within rural and island communities, and invest in their long-term demographic, social, cultural and economic future.

All the actions supported under the ‘Community Action in Uist and Glenkens’ project clearly demonstrate how even small amounts of funding for locally rooted community intiatives can trigger significant action: the returns on the investment are large when communities are enabled to deliver on their priorities, what they are passionate about.

This was demonstrated so clearly in practice during the pandemic, but since then funding has often reverted back to the much more highly controlled and outcome-driven processes, with outcomes so often determined by distant policy-makers or funders, rather than by communities themselves.

The recent Addressing Depopulation Action Plan (2024) “endorses the importance of local leadership and seeks to exemplify the maxim ‘local by default, national by agreement’. We know that a place-based approach to applying national, regional, and local policies will be essential to sustainably and effectively address depopulation.”


To find out more about Bairn Banter, read this casestudy.

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.

Uist Beò: Come Home to Uist

vibrant and dynamic island life

Over 60 stories of inspirational individuals, mostly young, running a local business in Uist or working for a local community organisation or business.  Up to 50 jobs being advertised every week.  At least 23 families who returned or settled in Uist last year.  Numerous events, activities and clubs, including for children and families.  Engaging videos and reels on social media (facebook, instagram, tiktok) that can quickly attract thousands of views from a young local audience. 

Uist is a vibrant, enterprising and resilient community of some 4500 people across 7 inhabited islands.  Yes, we have our big challenges (as does every community).  Yes, we live in a spectacularly beautiful place.  But the heart of life and work here is in people, community and culture, all deeply rooted in place, land and sea.   Gàidlig language and culture is core, rooted in traditions that have and continue to evolve over generations.  And we have people from different parts of the world, both near and far.

So not a sleepy backward island community lost in the mists of time.  Instead the Uist Beò digital platform (website and social media) seeks to provide an authentic perspective on island life and work in Uist, as seen by local islanders, especially younger people.  And not the typical tourist perspective of wilderness and empty beaches, ruined blackhouses and sheep as traffic jams, that airbrushes out people and community, except for a few quaint or friendly ‘locals’.

Uist Beò (Uist alive) is targeted primarily at informing local people, and encouraging young people and families to return or settle, by demonstrating the reality that for many the islands are a great place to live and work.  A significant shift in aspirations and values within younger generations around the kind of lives they want to lead, as well as significantly improved connectivity, is providing motivation to reverse population decline. 

It is not surprising that insirational stories of young people and families that have made a life for themselves in the islands, the numerous events and the many job opportunities, are some of the most popular elements of the platform.

“As a business owner, Uist Beò has provided me with valuable opportunity to promote my Business, Island Dreams, not only to highlight the work that I do but to attract new customers. I was very fortunate to feature in one of their stories which enabled my business to reach audiences that I may not have been able to reach otherwise.  What’s more, my own story of how Island Dreams evolved has gone on to inspire many other young islanders to pursue their own dreams and aspirations of setting up a new business.  I am incredibly grateful for the support Uist Beò has given my business and I thoroughly enjoy reading about other people’s stories.”

Sharon MacRury

Visitors and tourists can of course benefit from gaining authentic insights into island life and community.  Local accommodation providers share Uist Beò with their guests, to give them an understanding of the place they are visiting that is rooted in local community experience and perspectives.  Some are inspired to consider moving to the islands as a good place to live and work.

As a platform run entirely by local people, Uist Beò can respond quickly to local needs and circumstances, helping employers to address specific recruitment gaps, sharing community events, promoting locally owned businesses, providing practical information for those who might want to return or settle, helping those who have secured a job to find accommodation with the tag line (about to be launched) ‘Find me a home Fridays’.  Uist Beò also has a close partnership with the Repopulation Zone that the local council runs in Uist, with Scottish Government funding.

However, Uist Beò is far more than a community information portal.  The creative writing that goes into each story, the high class photos, videos and illustrations, the vibrant branding developed by an agency that spent so much time with the Uist Beò team to understand our aspirations and values as a community, and the clear  overarching narratives, messages and values that are discussed and further developed at weekly team meetings,  … all contribute to engaging and inspiring content.

Uist Beò has done very well in reaching those islanders in their 20s and 30s.  Since the beginning of 2024 the platform has been seeking to increase reach with the next cohort of young people, including those who have recently left school.  Uist Beò features stories of young people who have left school and found exciting local jobs; highlights opportunities for jobs and apprenticeships, placements and internships, as well as events and activities; celebrates the many contributions of young islanders; engages with young people such as members of the Youth Café or pupils taking foundation apprenticeships in media.

While Uist Beò is primarily targeted at local islanders, or those who may want to return or settle here, it also provides an answer to the question us islanders are asked so often by those from off: “what do you do here?”  In fact so much, that we rarely have the time within our busy island lives to think about it.

This points to a deeper issue, the perspective of outsiders that rural and island communities are backward, sleepy, empty.  The Scottish islands have the highest density of community enterprises per population of anywhere in Scotland, created and sustained by so many enterprising individuals and groups (for social enterprises in Uist, see here).  We are asset rich communities, economically, socially and culturally.

And, those of us in Uist do not buy the suggestion that we are unique, the exception that proves the rule.  We know so many rural and island communities that are just as dynamic and committed, as so clearly demonstrated during the pandemic, and as reflected in recent blogposts of ours, for example from Glenkens in Dumfries and Galloway. 

Of course the value of some of our key economic assets like wind energy is extracted and exploited by economic interests far beyond our shores, and islanders continue to be excluded from some key decision-making structures, like the board of the ferry company that serves all the islands off the west coast of Scotland.  At the same time we are seeing increasingly assertive younger generations who are using the self-confidence of islanders to fight for greater recognition, voice and practical influence.

Another emerging stage of Uist Beò’s development will be to support other island and rural communities elsewhere to set up their own platforms, rooted in their own specific needs, opportunities and aspirations.  If you are interested for your community, do get in touch.

To find out more about Uist Beò, read this casestudy.

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 local food in Glenkens and Uist to global markets

It is local organisations that are driving the local food agenda in both Glenkens and Uist.  While we await the local food plans that every council is mandated to create under the Good Food Nation Act, community organisations are moving ahead swiftly, delivering the innovation and practice needed to ensure that the local food agenda can work in their own specific context.

We visited the Galloway Food Hub in Dalry on a Friday morning, when 2 staff and 8 volunteers were packing all the produce.  Boxes covering different tables for different delivery runs, … local producers dropping in throughout the morning to deliver their diverse produce, fruit, vegetables, eggs as well as bread, jams, honey and even pasta, that would be delivered that afternoon, … the small packing room, in an old school, was bustling with energy.

The Galloway Food Hub is creating a thriving, producer led, community involved, sustainable, not-for-profit local supply chain. The Hub enables local communities to have fair access to good food, which is produced ecologically and sustainably, offers the producers who supply the hub ready access to a local market, increasing resilience of their rural livelihoods. The Hub shortens food supply chains and improves community resilience.

The Hub sales and delivery system is designed to provide the freshest, seasonal, most local produce to consumers with little or no food waste. Produce is pre-ordered online which means the Hub holds no stock and has no food wastage. Vegetable producers harvest to order. Baked goods are made on delivery day.  You can’t get fresher than that!

As many Uibhistich will understand, a bottle-neck for further growth of the Galloway Food Hub is transport costs – both in terms of expansion of delivery routes and in making delivery affordable during the current cost-of-living crisis.  A little funding, through CoDeL’s community action project, is enabling the Food Hub to understand better the needs of their customers during the cost-of-living crisis.  The Hub has been trialling free deliveries, discount vouchers and free boxes of staples to see what impact it has on their customers.

The first free delivery order cycle was a great success with 88 orders (more than for Christmas), with 65 of them getting free delivery. And it prompted people who had stopped ordering to reorder again.  The Hub is now engaging with these customers to assess how influential the free delivery option was in their choice of ordering.  The Hub is also getting quite a few people coming in for the discount vouchers and free box of food staples, demonstrating how many people want access to quality local food but may struggle to make ends meet, financially and time-wise.

Tagsa Uibhist is equally committed to promoting local food production, using a multi-pronged approach to tackle diverse challenges for food systems in the islands.  This includes activities to boost local food production and markets through to campaigning for the right of islanders to access adequate and nutritious food.

There is a strong call, by our community researchers, for immediate and progressive action by national and regional authorities to address these difficulties in a meaningful way. Action which promotes a truly dignified island food system; one where everyone is food secure, with access to adequate, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food, without the need of emergency food aid. It is one where the right to food is understood as a matter of justice rather than charity and allows for a Good Food Nation in which every community’s health and well-being is paramount and no-one is left behind. Our island communities demand nothing less because, of course, a right to food is a right for all.

We will share more in another blog post.  Meanwhile, with our focus on local food systems, let us not forget that 70 percent of the world’s population is still fed by small farms, not by the highly processed foods and/or the just-in-time global food systems we are so familiar with from supermarkets.  Perhaps only two generations ago, many island households here were fed from local grain, vegetables and fish, importing only sugar, tea, some fruit and such like.  We cannot, and would not want to return completely to those days.  We do need to grow much more of our own food locally.

It is estimated (here) that Wales would need only to farm 3% of its land for fruit and vegetables to feed its population with five portions a day.  And Our Food 1200 is seeking to secure 1200 acres of land in 3-10 acre plots across Bannau Brycheiniog (formerly the Brecon Beacons) and Powys for young farmers especially to engage in modern, regenerative fruit and vegetable farming for local markets.

“… we need to address a number of thorny issues. Why has small-scale fruit and vegetable farming, which is the bedrock of any local food economy providing the weekly basics, all but disappeared in Wales? How does locally grown fruit and veg sold direct to customers end up costing more than supermarket produce? Why has food and drink consumption in a deeply rural area like Bannau Brycheiniog become its biggest source of carbon emissions, way in front of the usual suspects, home energy and driving? And finally, why are we surrounded by thousands of acres of green fields suitable for growing fruit and veg while having a waiting list of experienced farmers unable to access any of it? (Our Food 1200, here)

Likewise, Scotland could easily feed itself, in grain, meat, vegetables and fruit.  Unfortunately we import over 40% of our food, while 80% of our own grain is used for the whisky industry and animal feed.  And with the rapidly emerging carbon markets, so much good farming land is being switched to tree planting, as we stated in our previous blog post from Glenkens.

J R Tolkein said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”  As we confront the climate and biodiversity emergencies generated especially by corporate entities pursuing gold, whether liquid gold like Uisge Beatha, or profits from carbon credits created through the wave of a magic wand, is it not time to refocus on how to feed ourselves locally in ways that have been known for so many generations and are deeply rooted in our culture, embracing crofting and small scale farming as much as tunes, songs and poetry.

You can find a full casestudy on Tagsa Uibhist’s local food initiatives here. We will put a link to the casestudy on the Galloway Food Hub in our upcoming post on Tagsa Uibhist. The activities of these two initiatives, one rural, one island, may be different but share the same passion and vision for a better future in practice, on the ground within our communities.

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.

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 (CAP) 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 8 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.   As is enabling communities to gain more of the returns on local assets, such as renewable energy (see here).

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.

For a full casestudy on community action in Glenkens see here.  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.)