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July 31, 2019

Islands Revival?

There’s a commonly held view that many people in rural communities – especially young people – find themselves having to up sticks and head for the cities because that’s where the best opportunities for education and employment are to be found. While others may be moving in the opposite direction in order to enjoy their retirement, the overall picture is one of population decline and it’s assumed that this affects island communities more than most. But recent anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. New research is underway to better understand why, on some islands, this trend is actually being reversed.

Ruth Wilson, James Hutton Institute

The Islands Revival project is collecting examples of “green shoots” of demographic recovery from across the Scottish islands with a view to identifying what activities and interventions are helping and how they can be supported by island policy. The project is led by the James Hutton Institute and SRUC, with funding from the Scottish Government-funded SEFARI Responsive Opportunity Initiative and support from third and public sector partners. This comes at an important time for the islands with the development of the National Islands Plan, which offers opportunities for reinvigoration and revival.

Examples of population turnaround are being collected on the Islands Revival blog, which is reaching an audience of Scottish island communities and policy-makers as well as international experts. The contributions so far are as fascinating and diverse as the islands themselves.

We have heard about changes on Eigg since the community buyout of the island 22 years ago, which have seen the population increase from 65 to almost 100. On Kerrera, the population has doubled in seven years.

It is perhaps no surprise that housing (see posts from Rural Housing Scotland, Westray and Ulva Ferry), jobs (Galson, Eigg) and services (Pairc) are emerging as key to enabling people to live and work in the islands, but the range of community-led initiatives addressing these issues, and the strength of entrepreneurial spirit behind them, are remarkable (West Harris, Uist, Bute).

Notably, the heritage, language and culture of the islands – particularly music – are discussed by the bloggers as having a strong pull for young people, providing a reason for staying or returning that is deeply connected to their identity as islanders and brings a sense of vitality to island life.

The Islands Revival blog is also seeking contributions internationally. A perspective from the Caribbean suggests how Scotland’s islands might engage their diaspora to invest time, money and expertise in the islands.

We are currently inviting further contributions to the blog. If you have an observation or evidence from your own island that you would like to share, see the blog for further details or get in touch with any questions.

The blog will inform a workshop at the end of August, which will facilitate discussion between communities, local and Scottish Government, and international experts, culminating in a Workshop Declaration with recommendations regarding how policy can best support island repopulation.