Sharing our real islands: vibrant, enterprising and busy

Thomas Fisher and Theona Morrison

The Uist Beò website was launched in March 2023, and attracted over 3000 users within two months.  The website in turn boosted Uist Beò’s social media, -- active on facebook, Instagram, , tiktok and twitter since May 2022 - by 50 to 100 percent.  The age of followers and users is significantly skewed towards younger audiences.

The platform, with vibrant branding, is full of stories of enterprising younger people who have returned, settled or stayed in Uist.  It is these stories, as well as information for those thinking of returning or settling, that are attracting the most users.

And the social media and website are playing a critical community role across Uist, from Eriskay to Berneray, sharing events and activities, businesses, community enterprises and jobs, Gàidhlig language and culture, as well as information and support services in the midst of the cost of living crisis.

A platform that reaches young people and builds confidence within island communities, while directly addressing so many public policy priorities, such as population, young people, Gàidhlig culture, cost of living, local food, climate, etc.

So what are the secret ingredients?  The simple ingredients are far from secret.

First and foremost, the platform is run by a team of young islanders in their 20s and 30s, who understand the opportunities and challenges of returning, settling, staying.

Second, the platform is rooted in our local island context, initially triggered as a response to Covid and lockdown, and since developed by islanders themselves with deep insight and experience about our island life and culture in Uist.  The focus on stories continues a long, long cultural tradition.  The intermingling of Gàidhlig and English reflects how these languages are used in our communities.

Third, but by no means least, is the focus on the realities of island life as islanders, especially younger islanders, experience them, and how they want to share them.

The old narrative of “to get on, you need to get off” is countered with stories of the many enterprising young people who are making a life for themselves in the islands, for example running a business (from a 15-year old crofter to re-fitting interiors of campervans with recycled materials, and including music and crafts, food and drink, health and wellbeing businesses), doing interesting jobs (from developing affordable housing to a global alliance manager for a global corporation), creating opportunities in their lives and overcoming challenges (from housing to sports to addiction).

The old refrain that all we need is more jobs is countered by weekly posts about all the jobs available in our islands, and practical information for those in the diaspora or not from Uist who might be interested in those jobs, or who feel inspired by the stories of all the opportunities young entrepreneurs have realised in Uist.

Out are the patronising and romanticised perspectives of islands lost in the mists of time, with empty beaches, ruined blackhouses and sheep as traffic jams, where all we are good for is to meet the needs of stressed city dwellers in search of escape.  Instead Uist Beò reflects the reality of vibrant, dynamic and busy island life, culture and community, rooted in our deep cultural heritage and forward looking.  If you want a fast overview of Uist and Uist Beò then view some of these short tiktok videos here, here and here.

The platform itself was able to draw on such talent within our island communities.  And, yes, this authentic island perspective is attractive for visitors also.  In fact we take pride in how much our lived experience and (inherited) knowledge can contribute towards addressing the global challenges we all face.

Is this just about viewing the glass as half full rather than half empty?  That is a good place to start, but Uist Beò goes further than that in recognising shifting patterns and trends that are drawing more people, especially younger people, to return, settle or stay, recognising that Uist is a great place to live and work with so many opportunities, ... not perfect, and certainly not right for everyone, but great for families, for balance, for community, for culture, for activities, and so much more.

And Uist Beò could not have achieved what it has without the fantastic support of our Digital Designers at Friendhood who not only designed the vibrant branding and website, but also spent so much time and energy getting to understand the perspectives and aspirations of those delivering Uist Beò, and delivered regular weekly support at our team meetings.  And, of course, our funders, not just Scottish Rural Network, but also Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.  A big thank you to all of them.