This report from Orkney by cellist Gill Tennant is specifically aimed at Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, but will be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about this remote Scottish community.
A Warm Welcome
Orkney has always been a welcoming community. I have friends here who are Orcadians by heritage of many generations, but also Norwegians, Americans, Ukrainians, Polish, and English friends. I’ve set up a local support group of people willing to welcome Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, into their homes, and many who can’t open their homes but will open their hearts, and offer their help, support, and skills. I’ve already been approached about teaching an adult Ukrainian the cello, which she has always wanted to learn.
Many Ukrainians imagine their chances of employment will be greatest in London. I was born and brought up in London and I’m afraid that the emotional remoteness of people evident in much of the London area, because of the need for privacy, the very high cost of living and of accommodation, the pollution from a large industrial city make it among the worst places to wish to settle for the majority of people. Its streets are not paved with gold!
My Own Journey to Scotland
I couldn’t wait to leave and settled with my family in Wales. A different culture, a different outlook on life, and a beautiful place to live. The roads are paved as they are in London. Dirt tracks that I saw were common even on the outskirts of Budapest, when I was there a couple of decades ago, are not evident except in the most remote areas of the United Kingdom.
Good schools and education are pretty universal, with more teachers per head of population being of Welsh and Scottish origin than numbers would suggest. Education is valued in both Wales and Scotland.
I moved to almost the most northerly part of the UK ten years after I retired when our smallholding in Wales was becoming too much work on hilly land. I now live in Orkney, a group of islands off the north coast of Scotland, about an hour’s ferry journey from mainland Scotland.
Four Seasons in a Day
Is it arctic in climate? No. Washed by the Gulf stream, its average temperatures are comparable with those of Wales. It has a maritime climate, and the main difference is in some very high wind speeds. Mostly we get very changeable weather – we say four seasons in a day, at times, and little snow lays so that we’re warmer in winter and a bit cooler in summer than mainland Scotland.
Orkney was in Scandinavian ownership from the time of the Vikings until a Danish/Norwegian King Christian defaulted on the wedding dowry of his daughter Margaret. and in 1468, Orkney was handed to Scotland. There are still strong links to Scandinavia.
Norway may give London a Christmas tree, they give Orkney two each Christmas!
My group of potential hosts and those the council have listed are all undergoing accommodation checks and checks for potential records with the police etc., so that we can welcome families, many of whom will have come via the Scottish Super Sponsor Scheme, which arranges their travel to one of the welcome hubs in Scotland and then arranges hosts that are appropriate, and free onward travel to their destinations.
Along with Shetland, we are the cruise ship destination of the UK – six times Orkney’s population visit during the season from April to September, and another peak around Christmas and the new year. So seasonal work in the hospitality industry and the opportunity to start a craft business are both very realistic here.
We have one of the partner colleges that make up the University of the Highlands and Islands in our two main towns, Kirkwall and Stromness, a secondary school in each of those and seventeen primary schools, of which six are on the outer isles, the rest on what we confusingly call Mainland Orkney.
We hope to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for those Ukrainians willing to throw in their lot with us.