Plan to boost Fair Isle community
New houses, the refurbishment of empty properties, and finding ways of attracting up to 10 new people within the next five years.
Those are the ambitious proposals set out in a far-reaching action plan for Fair Isle, which will be unveiled at Lerwick’s town hall today.
The proposals have been put together to help secure the sparsely-populated community’s long-term future following a recent drop in the population figures.
Last year numbers in Fair Isle dipped to their lowest level, of 55 people, in several years.
But today the vision for the island’s future will be outlined in a development plan – Securing Fair Isle’s Future, a Plan for Action.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Shetland Islands Council have provided financial assistance to support the plan, along with some funds from Fair Isle Community Association.
The plan’s proposals for developing the island include, attracting up to 10 new people to the island in the next three to five years; as well as creating and improving properties in the isle and improving the lifeline ferry service.
The island is renowned for its knitting as well as for its birdlife. The presence of a bird observatory, with the brand new building opened in 2010, has been a key factor in ensuring Fair Isle remains viable.
Fiona Mitchell, chairwoman of Fair Isle Community Association, said: “The production of the development plan has been a very positive process and we are now looking forward to working with stakeholders to realise the development outcomes and aspirations of the community.”
Island resident Jimmy Stout said: “Ideally we would need a couple of young families to come with young children because there are a lot of elderly living on the island, as there are in many other places in Shetland.”
HIE’s Fiona Stirling said: “We have been working with the community association to support their plans to increase the population on the island. It was important that this work was carried out to identify economic and social development opportunities to secure the future of Fair Isle.”
The community is also being supported by Community Broadband Scotland (CBS), a Scottish government plan to help develop a community led project that will provide improved broadband to residents and businesses.
CBS director, Mark Tate, speaking from Fair Isle on Wednesday, said: “I have experienced first hand this week the frustrations caused by very slow internet speeds on the island. We are working with the resourceful community on the island, Shetland Island Council, Shetland Telecom and others to bring transformational broadband to the island. Delivering faster broadband to this iconic and beautiful island will have a transformational impact on the way people live, work and learn and support the islands ambitious development plan.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said Fair Isle is a dynamic, welcoming and strong community and he backed the development plan.
“The first time I visited Fair Isle the mist rolled in and a day trip lasted a weekend. I had a great time with a community dance, a church service and great conversations with islanders on local and international events. Fair Isle is a wonderful place with a dynamic, welcoming and strong community. I have no doubt the island’s new development plan will succeed. There are so many positive reasons to live in Fair Isle and I am sure many people will embrace the potential of a life on the island.”