An Unintentional Community
This project explores community and sustainability on the Isle of Eigg, one of the four small isles of the Scottish Inner Hebrides. In February 2020 I visited the island and found a welcoming and determined community whose values align with much of what I feel is important. It is a community that harvests, respects the environment, is resourceful, and is considerate of others. Indeed, as we become more reflective on our way of life and consider the impact of our actions on our infrastructure and the environment, it seems we could all look to communities like Eigg as a source of inspiration. Perhaps now more than ever, considering the affects that Covid-19 pandemic is having on our society, we could benefit greatly from adopting a similar attitude to the people I met from Eigg.
My interest in the island was sparked by my flatmate Rhona Brown, a product design student, who was researching Eigg’s ocean waste. The aim of her project was to empower the community by finding value in the materials that washed up on their shores. She had asked me to accompany her to document her trip (and probably provide a bit of moral support during the interviews she had planned!) This prompted me to invest some time into my own research which led me to learn about this truly unique island.
The island came to be community owned in 1997 after a crowd funding project and the support of a mystery benefactor. Since then, the island has developed the infrastructure to generate and supply their own energy. Due to this success, they are no longer connected to the national grid and 95% of the energy they produce is renewable. This means they are self-sufficient without relying on mainland energy supplies, which I believe is a great example of their values and spirit.
Living on an island comes with unique set of issues, some of which we learnt a lot about through meeting with locals. For example, the community organise beach clean ups finding ways to collect and recycle or dispose of waste that washes up on their shores, mainly from fishing boats. Only residents are allowed to have vehicles on the island and it isn’t very easy to get a new one over there. This means nothing working would be left unused. In fields and beach-side, there were old vehicles that had clearly been repeatedly repaired but had finally been cannibalised for parts.
The care shown for the island, and the environment in general, is infectious. Volunteers come from all over the world to spend time working with islanders on environmental and conservation projects. I met Andreas, from Germany, who was working with Catherine and Pascal at their willow farm. Their craft sees them busy all year round, growing and harvesting willow to make into wicker baskets to sell internationally.
One thing that resonated with me during a conversation with one of the islanders, is that most of the people who have moved there have not done so to live with the other individuals on the island. She described them as an ‘unintentional community’ who happen to share the island. They don’t always agree but they work it out and move on. A few people said to me that to live there, you don’t have a choice but to speak your mind, or else you’d go mad. I found the people to be honest and down-to-earth. They were humbly aware that they could not be, and wouldn’t want to be, the mouth piece for every islander because everyone had something different to say.
This project is still very much in development, I had planned to return to Eigg to continue my research, but unfortunately I had to cancel due to the lockdown. Such a unique island could not have been captured in just one trip and so the project is very much on hold with a view to finishing as soon as I can return safely. Presented here is a selection of my photographs from my visit in February. I am excited to expand on this work and hope to eventually make a book that would document this unique place and inspiring community.