Holyrood loneliness inquiry comes to Islay


Social media savvy young islanders, a ground breaking housing project and a ceilidh attended by more than one-hundred senior citizens are set to help MSPs understand how to tackle loneliness and isolation in remote island communities, when the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee visits Islay this May.

The Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee’s two-day visit comes as it continues its age and isolation inquiry.  

Since launching its inquiry at the beginning of this year, the Committee has heard views from young and older* people across Scotland, experiencing loneliness, and the organisations working to support them. The Committee’s Islay visit aims to understand the unique challenges that can come with living in a remote island setting.   

As well as a formal evidence session with local people, the Committee will meet more than one-hundred local people at a ceilidh; travel to a unique development on Jura that helps older people continue living on the island with as much independence as possible; and host a relaxed, informal pizza lunch at Port Ellen’s Cybercafe, where local young people are invited to tell Committee members about the issues that matter to them. 

Recent studies on living on in remote rural areas have shown that:

  • Scottish rural populations are spread over a very wide geographical area: 95% of Scottish land is considered ‘rural’, with around 1 million of the Scottish population living in rural areas.
  • 89% of the population of the rest of Scotland live within 6 minutes of the nearest bus stop, while 11% of the remote rural population do not have access to a bus service at all.
  • 23% of the rural population are over retirement age compared to 18% in urban areas, and the proportion is expected to rise. The cost of providing social care to older people in rural communities is higher than in urban areas, with many local authorities providing care only to the most needy in rural areas, compared to urban.

Margaret McCulloch MSP, Convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee said: 

“Everyone is welcome to come to Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle, Bowmore on Monday 11th May at 10am and watch the Equal Opportunities Committee as we continue to tackle the very serious issue of social isolation and loneliness.  

“The key questions for the Committee are: what is the impact of loneliness and social isolation on people in remote island areas, is this an escalating problem, and how can it be tackled effectively?”

Ms McCulloch continued: 

“If you are an older or younger person and experiencing loneliness, we understand that the effects can be devastating. We know that wherever you live there can be stigma around admitting you are lonely, and sometimes this can be a barrier to seeking out social groups and services that could help.

“But we also know that far more people living in remote rural areas cite ‘friendliness’ as something they really like about their community, compared to urban areas, and more people living in remote rural areas give up their time to volunteer than in the rest of Scotland. 

“Could the Committee learn from people and organisations in Islay on ways to tackle loneliness? Are there innovative projects that help people in Scotland make the kind of social connections that many of us take for granted?  We want to hear about the challenges faced by people living in remote locations.” 

On Sunday 10th May, more than one-hundred guests are expected at Ballygrant Hall when the Committee hosts a ceilidh in partnership with Kilmeny Ceilidh Club. The traditional Islay ceilidh, with singing, instrumental music, dancing – and a cup of tea - had virtually died out until Andy McCowan, an accomplished tenor, returned to the island. Since starting out in 2011, the Kilmeny Ceilidh Club has become renowned for bringing together people of all ages, with older people bringing their knowledge of Gaelic song, musicians and singers coming from age groups, and young people being given the opportunity to perform before an encouraging audience. Other areas of the island, encouraged by Kilmeny’s success have started ceilidh nights of their own, adding to a strong and growing ceilidh scene in Islay. 

The Committee will travel also to Jura, to meet staff and residents of a first-of-its-kind development that helps older people to continue living on the island with as much independence as possible. The Jura Progressive Care Centre houses six permanent and one respite resident in their own flats, close to their friends and families, while being supported by a range of professionals at a nearby health centre. Previously, many of these residents would have been compelled to leave Jura.

Port Ellen’s Cybercafe will host a relaxed, informal pizza lunch where local young people are invited to tell Committee members about the issues that matter to them. The Cybercafe provides a safe place where young people living in Islay can socialise, and access good food and facilities such as computers and snooker and pool tables in a drug- and alcohol-free environment. 

On Monday 11th May the Equal Opportunities Committee will continue to tackle the very serious issue of social isolation and loneliness.  

All local people are welcome to come to Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle, Bowmore at 10am to watch the session.  

Current research points to social isolation and loneliness and its potentially devastating effect on mental and physical health, particularly in older and younger people. Recent studies have shown that:

  • Loneliness can double the impact of obesity, and extreme loneliness can increase an older person’s chances of premature death by 14%
  • 59% of adults aged over 52 who report poor health say they feel lonely some of the time or often
  • Lacking social connections can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day

Visit information

Equal Opportunities Committee meeting: local people living on Islay are invited to watch the Committee at work as it takes forward its inquiry at Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle, Bowmore, Monday 11th May, 10am - 12.30pm. 

Ceilidh: in association with the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee KILMENY CEILIDH CLUB Is holding a CEILIDH on Sunday, 10 May 2.30-4.30pm, Ballygrant Hall. Find out about the Committee’s current work and how you can feed in. The Committee looks forward to hearing your views in a relaxed, informal setting. 

Fear an tighe: Andy McCowan

Music for dancing: Clare Jordan 

Tea, coffee, dumpling, cakes 

Admission: Free 

For transport information phone Islay and Jura CVS 810743 

Cybercafe pizza lunch: on Sunday 10 May 12 - 1.30pm, Committee members will make an informal visit to meet with young people at Port Ellen’s Cybercafe. Lunch and refreshments are provided.

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