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The centre of Balivanich

Families thinking of moving to Uist are to be offered a “trial the Isles” to determine whether they would like to move there long-term…and words like 'remote' and official photographs of empty landscapes will be discouraged.

Details of the scheme to help tackle depopulation in the Southern Isles have yet to be finalised.

But it aims to entice economically active families by offering them a house for a set time period to discover if they and Uist are a good fit. If they choose to stay long-term, they must have a job offer or set up a business.

The scheme is unveiled in a report being presented tomorrow (Tuesday, April 23) to the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee meeting in Cnoc Soilleir.

The initiative is just one strand of a raft of measures to address the acute depopulation in Uist by addressing the challenges of attracting and retaining economically achieving people.

A Uist Repopulation Zone work group, comprising the public and private sectors and communities, have been collaborating to support short-and long-term actions to reverse the decline. 

Housing has been consistently identified as the key issue, impacting all aspects of the plan, whether it be house sizes, their location in relation to employment opportunities, or the cost of purchasing or building.  

Work is currently underway to restore four houses within Balivanich to domestic use, which would be used for ‘Trial the Isles’ families.

A report coming before the Sustainable Development Committee states that Uist Repopulation Zone partners are focussing on connectivity issues, developing visioning plans to develop areas with their needs and wants in mind, developing infrastructure plans, and opportunities to develop skills.  

Notes the report: “This is all executed with sustainability and environmental issues in mind whilst also ensuring that the essence of the vibrant local Gaelic culture is retained.”

Another important plank in the charm offensive is ensuring all the stakeholders are on the same page with their messaging.

“Partners, including the Comhairle, have also agreed to align their island messaging to ensure that we are all promoting a vibrant place to live and work rather than portraying empty – nevertheless beautiful – landscapes,” comments the report.

It adds that the word ‘remote’ to describe the islands is discouraged as it “conjures ideas of the islands as being inaccessible, unconnected and empty.”

The committee is asked to note the report and agree to discuss future funding options for tackling housing issues in Uist.