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Theme six: A place to live

Cuspair 6: Àite Tàimh

Visitors to Coigach and Assynt often ask, ‘What do people do for work here?’ It is an understandable question; there aren’t the conventional ‘workplaces’ that you’d find in a more populated area, nor the conspicuous signs of ‘busyness’ such as rush-hour traffic and pavements of harried grey suits.

The truth is that this is not an easy place to make a living: there are few conventional ‘9-5’ jobs, so people are multiskilled and often make their living from several part-time occupations – as the original Crofting communities had to.

Many people produce food for our communities or beyond: small boats fish for prawns or lobsters using creels (pots), or dive for scallops. Others work in the fishing industry, on salmon farms or at the harbour. Many crofts are grazed by sheep or cattle for part of the year, whilst others produce fresh vegetables in spite of the sometimes-hostile weather.

Of course, tourism provides substantial – but seasonal – employment: looking after holiday cottages; working in cafes, restaurants and hotels; or providing experiences such as adventures on land or sea. Even before the Pandemic, there were many people working remotely: architects, accountants, stock-market traders. Now almost anyone can work from almost anywhere.

These are caring communities, and many people look after others: in healthcare, emergency services, schools, or informally caring for relatives or friends. Others are caring for this very special place – working for environmental projects or supporting the many community projects. Dedicating time for the benefit of the wider community is a welcomed part of life…and is the source of fun at the boisterous ceilidhs, gatherings and games.

It is no surprise that creativity thrives in this spectacular place: so many artists, musicians and craftspeople produce work that is deeply rooted in the landscape, treasured by visitors and residents, and admired throughout the world.

Childhood here lacks some of the structured activities of a ‘conventional’ upbringing, but the children are hardy and resilient, with a fierce sense of identity and embedded in a real community. In tiny primary schools, children of all ages work and play together. For teenagers travelling to Ullapool for High School, the two-hour daily bus-ride on winding roads demands a different kind of resilience, especially in the long dark winter months.

After High School, some stay to continue their learning remotely, take on an apprenticeship or join the local workforce. Others leave to work or study in a big city and experience life ‘out there’. Some return eventually and bring – like the many, diverse incomers – fresh perspective and entrepreneurial spirit to add to the cultural melange. Overall, however, the populations are aging: we need more young people and families to help the communities thrive.

This is a place with a strong connection to its rich history, but it is not a museum. Visitors may perceive this place as ‘living on the edge’ – but to those for whom it is home, this is the centre of the world.

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