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June 23, 2010

Population drives prosperity

For some of the very small island communities, population trends are seen as the main measure of the community’s prosperity. The progress of the Isle of Eigg towards a carbon free and sustainable future has been well documented. Since the community buyout in 1997, its population has risen by 50%.   But if Eigg’s steady recovery over 13 years is good, something pretty spectacular has taken place in just twelve months on Fetlar in Shetland

Louise Thomason, Shetland Times

Fetlar’s population increase of 45 per cent in the first year of a regeneration project led by islanders was hailed today. The remarkable rise was first reported by The Shetland Times in March after several new families moved into or back to the isles.

One of these was the St-John Smythes, who had moved from the Midlands with their two daughters Jade, 13, and Imogen, four, in October last year.

Fetlar man Brydon Thomason had also moved back with his wife Vaila and young son Casey, and taken his business in the form of Shetland Nature Cruises, which is now based in the isle. Since then, another family with 18-month-old twins has moved in.

There are now 70 people living in the island compared with fewer than 50 a year ago.

Fetlar is just one of the areas in Shetland which, being demographically fragile, has employed a community development officer to try to ensure a future for the island.

Robert Thomson was taken on by Fetlar Development Ltd (FDL) to co-ordinate and drive forward projects that have been prioritised by the community. Current plans include developing housing and renewable energy potential on the island, as well as running a café in the summer.

He said: “The success of population growth to date has certainly inspired us to continue to develop our regeneration projects with increased vigour. The whole community has a much improved outlook and it is possible that the island can once again become a thriving community with more ability to meet challenges which no doubt face it in the future.”

Chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise Willy Roe, who visited Shetland this week along with HIE board member Craig Spence, regional director Carroll Buxton and HIE area manager for Shetland, Stuart Robertson, was in Shetland this week to meet local business, community and council leaders. He said the news was “very encouraging”.

Mr Roe said: “Sustaining our more fragile communities is a vital part of what Highlands and Islands Enterprise does, and achieving economic progress in the fragile areas of Shetland is one of our core ambitions.

“The projects which have been achieved in these fragile areas of Shetland would not have happened without the support of their local development officers. In particular, it is very encouraging that the population in Fetlar has increased considerably.

“The communities themselves have control of development and HIE has been working along with Shetland Islands Council to sustain rural fragile communities to take forward projects to develop and diversify regeneration. We are very pleased to have been able to work with the community in their efforts to regenerate these islands, and we look forward to playing a significant role in future developments.”

The group from HIE visited the Hillswick Shop in Northmavine, set up by the Northmavine Community Development Company (NCDC), as well the Mareel site and the Lerwick Port Authority, but not Fetlar.