The population of the Isle of Fetlar in Shetland has grown by a remarkable 45 per cent following the first year of a successful regeneration project led by the islanders.
The news has been welcomed by Chair of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) Willy Roe who, with fellow board member Craig Spence, will visit Shetland to meet local business, community and council leaders tomorrow (Wednesday, June 9).
Communities in fragile areas of Shetland have employed local development officers to help them draw up ambitious plans for driving forward projects which will help build sustainable economic growth.
As a social enterprise set up to focus on regeneration, Fetlar Development Ltd (FDL) is pursuing a range of projects to regenerate the island over the next five years. Current plans include developing housing and renewable energy potential on the island, as well as running a café in summer.
Since regeneration efforts began in 2008, the population has risen from 48 to 70 inhabitants and the community has aspirations to reach 100 inhabitants within the next nine years. The increase in population is attributed to a number of factors, including people moving in for work and young people returning to the island.
Robert Thomson is the development officer employed by FDL to co-ordinate and drive forward projects that have been prioritised by the community. He said: “The success of population growth to date has certainly inspired us to continue to develop our regeneration projects with increased vigour. The whole community has a much improved outlook and it is possible that the island can once again become a thriving community with more ability to meet challenges which no doubt face it in the future.”
As a former Initiative at the Edge area, the community of Northmavine, which is still regarded as one of the most fragile and peripheral areas on the Shetland mainland, has also developed a number of projects over the past six years. Northmavine Community Development Company (NCDC) recently refurbished and opened the Hillswick Shop which they purchased with assistance from HIE last year and now also earn income from renting an adjoining house. Efforts are now focused on sourcing additional funding for the conversion of the outbuildings into workshop or office space for lease.
“Sustaining our more fragile communities is a vital part of what Highlands and Islands Enterprise does, and achieving economic progress in the fragile areas of Shetland is one of our core ambitions,” said Mr Roe.
“The projects which have been achieved in these fragile areas of Shetland would not have happened without the support of their local development officers and a huge amount of voluntary effort. In particular, it is very encouraging that the population in Fetlar has increased considerably. The communities themselves have control of development and HIE has been working along with Shetland Islands Council to sustain rural fragile communities to take forward projects to develop and diversify regeneration. We are very pleased to have been able to work with the community in their efforts to regenerate these islands, and we look forward to playing a significant role in future developments.”
Mr Roe and Mr Spence will be accompanied by HIE Regional Director Carroll Buxton and HIE Area Manager for Shetland, Stuart Robertson.
As well as visiting the Hillswick Shop in Northmavine the group will visit the Lerwick Port Authority, Shetland Islands Council and Mareel, the creative industries centre which is shaping up to be a real centre of excellence in the islands' capital.