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.

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