March Island of the Month- Yell

Kate Lonsdale, North Yell Development Council.

For the month of March, we selected Yell, Shetland as our Island of the Month. We had the pleasure of interviewing Yell Resident Kate Lonsdale on her work and current projects with North Yell Development Council. See our casual chat about all things Yell below:

JH: Hi Kate, I was wondering if we could start with a little bit of background about yourself, have you always lived in Yell?

KL: My partner and I moved here about six years ago now, we moved from Hampshire, England. My parents relocated nine years ago, and when we visited them, we fell in love with Yell. We moved too and I have now ended up with more jobs than I know what to do with. I teach yoga, I work in the school, and I work for the development council and my partner, previously a baker now works for a mussel farm.

JH: What made your parents decide to move up?

KL: It was somewhat impulsive. One day, my mum called to announce they were moving to Shetland, having never visited before. They adore it and have no plans to leave.

“I think if the island is right for you, then it just is”

The island community welcomed us warmly. If you’re willing to engage with the community and share your skills, they’re eager to welcome you.

The Carbon Neutral Islands (CNI) project aims to assist six island communities in achieving net zero by 2040, including Raasay, Barra, Islay, Cumbrae, Hoy, and Yell. As part of this project, Yell developed an action plan, currently available on their website here

What sort of progress do you think has been made within the Carbon Neutral Islands project?

It’s been remarkably successful, exceeding expectations I think. Our big main flagship project for the last year has been the Resilience Hub Network which is something that is very important here. We have seven resilience hubs across the island so when there are storms, power outages (which happen frequently) or any kind of emergency then there’s facilities and there’s a place that people can go where they can be safe and have access to food and resources.

We are hoping in the next year to put together a pilot project to survey the housing stock in Yell and potentially on other islands as well to see what houses are suitable to trial air to air heat pumps.  This kind of dry system is much easier to retrofit than a wet system and if we can locate the houses that have suitable insulation then we could arrange for work to be done on a lot of houses all in one go.  We could then monitor the energy use for a year which would give us some valuable data.

We are also planning to set up a demonstration hub in Yell were people can come and see the different options for heating, renewables and transportation available and how they can access it for themselves.  We are hoping that some of the other CNI islands will start a similar project that can grow into a network which each island having a different specialty.

We are also moving forward with out community growing spaces with plans already underway for one in Cullivoe.  We are hopeful that we will be able to include some in other areas in Yell as well.  This will allow people to rent space in the polycrub, like an allotment, and encourage more local food production.

“With the Carbon Neutral Islands, what’s been really successful, is the mix of the big important projects and small community wins”

The Resilience Hub is a big project and now really valuable for the whole community. The Peatland Survey and ground truthing, really valuable from a climate perspective as it allows us to have an accurate picture for the carbon emission in Yell. But then we also have smaller projects, for example we were able to give out 100 energy monitors to people’s houses. We’ve also been able to put on workshops, recycling, reusing craft workshops for people.

Then they’ll come and say “how come this workshop is free?” “How come we’re allowed to do this?” and it’s because of the Carbon Neutral Islands Project.

“What’s really great about the Carbon Neutral Islands project, is how closely the islands can work together”

Raasay have their home improvement project, so we are able to talk to them and see how it worked/is working.

Same with our Resilience Hub project, other islands in Shetland and the CNI project are now thinking they want a similar project, so we’re able to help each other out. It has worked really well that the six islands have been in such close communication with each other.

JH: How many people utilise the resilience hubs?

I run one in Cullivoe in North Yell. The initial idea for the project came in 2022, when we were left with no power, no internet  and no mobile signal. The roads were blocked with snow and we had absolutely nothing. On that day, we were able to take a hot meal to a hundred people in North Yell alone.

We knocked on the door of 100 households house to say, “are you okay? Have you got food?” If there were these hubs throughout the rest of Yell, then it’ll mean that we can cover most of the island.

In our resilience hubs, we’re trying to account for a situation like we had a few years ago, when we had no means of communication in an emergency. We now have radios that we can contact the other hubs and we can raise the emergency services if we need to.

JH: In Yell, do you have an issue with loss of second homes or empty homes?

A bit of both. In North Yell, we are just starting our scheme to build community housing. There are people who want to move here who need houses. We hope to be buying houses, renting and building houses. We get a fair number of the kind of Airbnb second homes, but I think with the new legislation and high taxes on second homes that will start to change and we hope will make a difference in people being willing to sell their homes to somebody who wants to live here full-time. We have a problem with an aging population and attracting younger people to the area is a bit of a challenge. That’s our main goal- when we have our housing projects up and running we can kind of prioritize who accesses them.

There’s also plenty of jobs. I always say to people well if you if you don’t much mind what your job is, if you’re happy to just have a job, you’ll get a job no bother.

Do you many of your young generation stay on the island or do you get many returners?

I think that is always the hope. The problem is, where can they go? A lot of people say to me, I’d love to move back to North Yell, but there’s nowhere to live.

JH: I’ve been told you also have been heavily looking into the feasibility of tunnels across the islands?

Tunnels is our big long-term goal. We have the Unst Tunnel Action Group as well as the Yell Tunnel Action Group, who are working quite closely together. The ferry is only five to ten minutes between Unst and Yell and 15 to 20 minutes between Yell and the mainland, so super short and perfect for a tunnel, the first step for fixed links in Shetland.

They have a tunnel report which is based on their trip to Faroe and how tunnels would be feasible for the island. I think, initially, 20, 30 years ago, people were concerned that it would be bad for the islands to be linked. But now the community is on board that it is the way to repopulate. It’s the way to get better infrastructure, more people, jobs and business. The ferry fleet that we operate on, some of them are 50 years old, so they are frequently off for maintenance.

The weather lately has been bad. In January we had only six days that were below a force eight gale, which meant that the ferries struggled to run a full timetable. The only way to get off Yell is a ferry to the mainland and the only way to get off the mainland is either the flight or the North Link boat, which takes you to Aberdeen.

Do the Development Council have any other current projects and what is your role?

I do all of the social things for NYDC, every Tuesday I run the community lunches a free two-course lunch where anyone young or old can come. It’s a lovely place for people to socialise and if somebody’s new to the island I always say come along to community lunch and you can meet people. We’ve been running this now for 18 months and we average 67 to 69 people every week who come and get their lunch. This is huge considering our population. I also do a North Yell youth group which runs separately from the council run Mid Yell Youth Club. We meet weekly through the winter for games and activities and do summer holiday trips. Last summer I took 47 kids to the cinema to see Super Mario Brothers and got pizza. It was brilliant!

We have a lot of community events that I think just make it a lovely place to live”

North Yell Development Council started after World War II. There was a need to build a new pier and people in the community got together to raise money. In the end, the council built the pier for them and they had this pot of money, then used as seed money for the Development Council, meaning they could use that money to develop the area. Since then we’ve built an industrial estate and extension to it, another new marina, we’ve got a wind farm with five turbines that we use the income from to fund everything else.

JH: Do you have a lot of EV/ electric cars?

KL: It’s something that we’re trying to push now with the next round of Carbon Neutral Islands funding.

There’s EV points throughout Shetland and we’re hoping to get a community renewable energy transport project running where we could get an EV minibus that could be used for community use.

“I think island communities are the perfect place to have an electric car because you can’t really drive that far

How was Up Helly Aa this year? Did Yell have their own?

Ours is based in Cullivoe. We will actually have the first ever carbon-neutral Galley Shed, which is a big deal. This is where they build the galley that they burn, every area that has an Up Helly Aa Festival has its own galley shed. Cullivoe Up Helly Aa used carbon-neutral islands funding to make improvements to the Galley shed’s insulation so that they could then access the Let’s Do Net Zero funding.

The shed is kind of focal point for Up Helly Aa, it is where the Jarl Squad all meet, where they build the galley, where they have some of their events.  The Cullivoe Galley Shed opens in the summer, during tourist season with an exhibition showcasing past Up Helly Aa events.

Their next goal is to have the first ever carbon neutral fire festival. They could offset their Galley building and torches by planting trees. Next Year the Guizer Jarl is Alice Jamieson and she’ll be the first female Jarl for Cullivoe Up Helly Aa.

It seems music is a big part of the whole of Shetland’s community and culture?

It’s a lovely part of the community here, and we have the Shetland Folk Festival, which is a Shetland wide event so whilst the main parts are based in Lerwick, they also do concerts throughout different islands. In Yell, we have the Cullivoe Fiddlers, a traditional fiddle music group as well as many more local groups and bands. Last year, we hosted Sail Yell, which was part of the International Tall Ships Festival, a fantastic three-day event of music, food, ships coming in, activities.

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