By RYAN TAYLOR
SUPER fast internet connections will soon be a reality in Yell, helping workers tired with the daily drudge of commuting to Lerwick put in a day’s work without leaving their home area.
Faster broadband will soon be installed in the Initiative at the Edge office in Sellafirth as part of the Pathfinder Project, which aims to link up offices across Shetland by giving better internet coverage.
Members of Shetland Islands Council have spoken in the past of creating hub offices around the isles as part of a drive to encourage decentralisation of council services.
Earlier this year the council released a workforce travel plan, which contained a survey of SIC employee commuting habits.
Poor internet access was seen as the fly in the ointment which prevented many employees from working closer to home.
Now, Pathfinder’s imminent installation in Yell is seen by many as the key to helping far off communities remain sustainable.
As well as preventing a mass exodus to the town on weekday mornings, the move could also reduce Shetland’s carbon footprint, as fewer people travelling causes fewer emissions.
Local development worker at Initiative at the Edge, Michelle Morris, said better broadband could only be good news for the island.
“When they started this we asked if we could be included in it. We were told there wasn’t enough funding, but we’ve been lobbying for better broadband anyway,” she said.
“We got a phone call from the head of IT at Shetland Islands Council, who agreed we could be included. It will mean more people will apply for jobs now, whereas before if they thought they would have to go to Lerwick every day of the week it might have put them off,” she said.
“This way if people can work here for maybe two days a week it would be so much better. The SIC has a new remote working policy, so it all works in well with that.”
Established in Sellafirth four years ago, the Initiative at the Edge is a multi-agency funded body designed to provide regeneration in areas that might otherwise be left behind.
The Scottish Executive-backed Pathfinder Project was introduced three years ago as a way of connecting schools and businesses at a minimum speed of four megabytes faster than most current connections.
Ms Morris said a worker from the council’s finance department had stopped using the initiative’s office when the internet connection proved too slow.
She hoped the worker would take up the chance to work closer to home again, and that others would follow in her footsteps.
“I think it will have a big impact here. We have one regular user who comes every week, and we will hopefully get the one back that we lost.”
The news has been welcomed by community leaders who say it could reverse the trend in falling population figures.
Chairman of Yell Community Council Daniel Thompson said Yell had faced as big a population drop as Unst – even without the high profile RAF pull out of a few years back that had caused so much worry in the northernmost isle.
“There are three things that concern folk in Yell – jobs, transport and housing. Everyone needs somewhere to live, as well as affordable transport and to get a job,” he said.
“Young folk have been needing to move out to get work, and folk that move in tend to be older people. There was a dramatic drop in population in Unst after the RAF pulled out, but in Yell it has been just as great – it’s just been over a slower period of time. There aren’t a lot of job opportunities for young folk and anything that could relieve that must be good. You only need to go down to a certain level before services start to suffer.”