Community services in Orkney: Love Islands?

LGiU Scotland’s Kim Fellows blogs about her trip to Orkney, the stunning sights she saw there and the superb involvement of Orkney Council with the community and the services they provide.

 “In ‘culture circles,’ there is a tendency to look upon artists as the new priesthood of some esoteric religion. Nonsense—and dangerous nonsense moreover—we are all hewers of wood and drawers of water; only let us do it as thoroughly and joyously as we can.” George Mackay Brown, Orcadian and life-long lover of Orkney

It was fitting that in the week the Islands Bill received royal assent, I arrived, after a smooth flight, in beautiful Orkney.  I didn’t realise that from the HIAL owned airport in Orkney you can fly direct to Bergen as well as other places in Scotland. After a mild hiccup with car hire, the helpful man at the airport came to my rescue, and I was on my way. My first day was spent walking a stunning cliff top walk followed by minor foraging for food. I rented a little self-catering apartment and was impressed with wee samples of local produce from chilli jam, via cheese and milk to biscuits and crackers. What more could a girl wish for? Well, in my case, a cold local brew and some stunning fish from an impressive range of local shops.

Day two started with a must-see visit to Skara Brae – nothing quite prepares you for the site and with the sun shining, the neolithic remains just blew me away. Staff at the café were lovely and again eager to showcase local food. I nipped back to the flat for lunch then went on a walk to Ayre point – it was nice to see Orkney Council signs, curious cows and a great welcome to tourists from camping sites to little cafes. The big sky, green & yellow fields and straight roads evoked one of my favorite painters, Richard Diebenkorn, who painted California, but there is a strong likeness and it is clear that the landscape has an influence on local artists including Cursiter. Many local museums and galleries run courses for aspiring artists of all types.

Days three & four were spent on bike, ferry and foot exploring stone circles, burial mounds and more cliff top walks including impressive sea stacks. It was fun to experience the excellent council run ferry service to Hoy. Cycling was interesting and felt like I was always going uphill, but that could have been the blustery wind. People I met along the way were unfailingly helpful and clearly proud of their islands. I saw an advert for Orkney men’s shed – those sheds are getting everywhere.

On day five, I got chance to chat to the council and explore some of the opportunities and challenges that face Orkney Islands Council and understand the ways in which LGiU Scotland services can help.  The topics that we covered included digital services, economic development, finance, welfare benefits and “learning” in a practical way from the UK and internationally. All of those topics we will revisit with briefings in 2018. In addition to this, we talked about how the good work of local politicians could be given a higher profile and how communities can better understand, value and appreciate local government services – a theme LGiU Scotland plan to work on this year. Thank you to Gillian and David for meeting with me.

Finally, as I left the island it was clear to me that Orkney Islands Council is very much part of the community from running a wide range of vital services – for example ferries, harbours, airports, social care services, hostels and swimming pools. Of course, all councils are very much part of the community they serve, but I noticed Orkney really brand their involvement and sometimes have to fill the gap when no one else will step in.

There was a distinctive vibe during my visit, a proud and creative feeling that values the environment, and its ability to feed us and there is a sense of place that is key to everyone’s lives.  So, au revoir Orkney, I hope to return soon.

Photo Credit: M McBey Flickr via Compfight cc