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.