The Launch of Securing Fair Isle's Future - a plan for action, Lerwick, Shetland. (L-R) Fiona Stirling, Susannah Parnaby, Ian Best, Fiona Mitchell and Rachel Hunter.
Fair Isle is one of the most isolated inhabited island communities in the UK. Travel to Fair Isle is either a 2.5 hour journey by boat or half an hour by plane from mainland Shetland. There can be spells of bad weather when the island is cut off for weeks at a time. The island is just 5km long and 3km wide and surrounded by impressive cliffs. Its current population is 60 residents.
Fair Isle is a successful small community, owned by the National Trust for Scotland. Most islanders have a croft, supplemented by a diversity of business activity. The island has experienced new developments over the last 20 years, such as creation of its breakwater, new bird observatory and innovative community projects. Fair Isle is renowned for its birdlife and also its knitting (and more recently, the detective, Jimmy Perez, star of the TV murder mystery series, “Shetland”, who hails from the island).
However, in 2014 community reps approached HIE, raising their concerns over changes in the island and a desire to take positive action. Concerns included population decline from a stable 70 to around 55 residents and a changing age structure, with a significant percentage of islanders now over 60. Islanders were also aware of the potential impact of council budget cuts on island services, and a reduction in funding to support a regular programme of capital works and the renovation of crofts as they become available.
HIE, along with Shetland Islands Council, contributed £9,600 to enable Fair Isle Community Association to hire a consultant to help them create a development plan for the island. Following an intensive community development process, “Securing Fair Isle’s Future, A Plan for Action” was a launched in June 2015, at Lerwick’s town hall.
The plan highlighted key concerns and areas for action:
Retain existing services
Extend and improve electricity
Improve care and health provision for ageing population
Upgrade runway and improve capacity/reliability of flights
Address skills shortage in building, construction, and practical skills
Make existing empty houses habitable, build more new houses and maintain existing houses
Fill empty crofts and retain active crofting
Bring in young people with families/ attract more people/ grow population
Create jobs/ support enterprise to attract young people
Reinvigorate community life
Increase craft production (all kinds); retain and expand craft skills and enterprise
Secure Marine Protected Area
Secure the future of boats and retain crew on the Isle while improving comfort/speed
Following the plan, Fair Isle Development Company was formed and Fair Isle was added to HIE‘s portfolio of account managed communities. Our account management approach involves working intensively with communities or social enterprises over a sustained period of time to support and deliver sustainable growth.
Funds of £52,000 for a Local Development Officer (LDO) through HIE’s Community Capacity Building Programme were approved in autumn 2015 and the 2-year post was successfully recruited in January 2016. The aim of the post being to help bring the development plan priorities to fruition and build community capacity for the future.
HIE’s chairman, Professor Lorne Crerar, and chief executive Alex Paterson visited Fair Isle in May 2016. Joining them were Zoe Laird, director of Community Broadband Scotland, and Rachel Hunter and Fiona Stirling from HIE’s Shetland team. Ian Best, chairman of Fair Isle Development Company, and LDO Olivia Hamilton, led the delegation on a tour which provided an insight into its challenges and opportunities and the community‘s efforts to ensure a vibrant sustainable future.
HIE’s previous investments on Fair Isle include supporting the new build Fair Isle Bird Observatory and Guesthouse. This unique social enterprise is the main source of visitor accommodation as well as undertaking important ornithological research.
In parallel to the plan, a community broadband project and a community energy project are also underway.
Community Broadband Scotland, operated by HIE, has awarded the Fair Isle Broadband Company £247,000 to help establish an innovative self-sustaining community broadband solution, which Islanders view as key to attracting population and securing the future.
The Fair Isle Electricity Company supplies the off-grid island with much of its energy needs, and plans to update and expand the island grid, enabling it to cope with modern demands and produce 24 hour power. This preparatory work is funded via the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP) - a new working partnership between the Scottish Government, HIE, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Futures Trust and sector specialists - and is supported by HIE’s Community Energy Team.
Fiona Stirling, Tel. 01595 744928