Aideen Shields, island resident, Kerrera Tea Garden owner and Isle of Kerrera Development Trust Project Manager
The Isle of Kerrera is a rugged wee gem, situated at the mouth of Oban Bay. The island is around 7 km long and around 2 km wide. There are stunning views, ample nature and wildlife to be spotted and great walks, helping the island to attract upwards of 15,000 visitors annually. Amenities are limited- at the north end of the island is Oban Marina, with the Waypoint restaurant. At the south end, close to the ruins of Gylen Castle is the Kerrera Tea Garden and Bunkhouse.
In 2011, the national census had the Kerrera population at 34. By 2015, the population increased to 44 (34 adults, 10 children), then in 2017 another increase to 55 (42 adults, 13 children) . Another jump to today, June 2019 and the island has a full time resident population of 68 – 49 adults and 19 children. When you add the part time population (two second homes, returning grown up children and care home staff and teenage residents) the figure goes up to 84, and then when seasonal staff and overnight guests are included- a full head count on Kerrera could go up to 115 people. This figure harks back to times past, when in the 1700’s, Kerrera had a population of almost 200.
This shift in our demographics is a positive challenge for the island. The population has grown by 100% (100%!!!) in the last seven years and we have experienced a mini baby boom with 25% of the population now under 16, along with an increase in the number of multi generational families living on island. We are also an unusual island in having a very low percentage of second or holiday homes . These factors taken together create an atypical small island demographic which is currently driving a feeling of vitality.
There are exciting developments regarding the community purchase of the old primary school building in the centre of the island and the plan is to turn this into a multi purpose community centre. The Isle of Kerrera Development Trust secured funding from the Land Fund for the purchase and now have a Project Manager in place to secure the funding and oversee the renovations.
However, currently- there are no facilities on the island; to access shops, fuel, banking, post office, health services, school and education, the islanders go to the mainland. The marina run a private boat service during the summer season, but the last public Calmac ferry is at 6pm. There is no connecting road between the north and south of the island. Some of these issues are viewed by the community as challenges and some of these are simply differences to the mainland, which are valued by residents. The island population may be small, but the community is energetic and passionate and residents are keen to protect the island’s unique character.