Scilly’s Isolation Has Advantages Says Academic Study

Report describes off-island shops as "simply phenomenal."

Bryher Shop: The study describes off-island shops as “simply phenomenal.”

The way the Duchy manages its housing stock prevents Scilly from becoming a playground for rich retirees, and poor interisland transport means the off-islands have thriving shops.

Those are two of the surprising findings of a detailed academic paper published recently in the Journal of Marine and Island Cultures.

Written by Danishman, Adam Grydehøj and Australian Philip Hayward, the article compares Scilly, an archipelago of five inhabited islands, with the Isle of Wight, a large island with several distinct communities.

The authors used census data, as well as official reports, like the recent Council study comparing us to the Scottish islands, to reach their conclusions.

And they admit that while the numbers of people involved are very different in the two island communities, their results are still valid.

Both Scilly and the Isle of Wight have a reputation for being “playgrounds for the wealthy” says the paper, similar to the Channel Islands.

But they say that’s partly due to the way we’ve been portrayed in the media, going back to the days when Prime Minister Harold Wilson used to give press conferences while on holiday here.

The authors say the Council’s insistence that Scilly is one of the poorest areas in the country, based on low wages and high house prices, doesn’t show the full story.

There’s a large ‘informal’ economy here, they say, with exchanges of services and ‘unregistered’ payments, while many businesses provide staff with accommodation.

And although they acknowledge the serious problems faced by the poor transport and lack of housing, the authors say this limits the number of rich retirees who can come to the islands.

The Duchy, which owns a large proportion of the housing here, tends to offer it to people working on the islands.

More surprisingly, the relative lack of interisland boat services seems to have made the off-islands much more vibrant communities.

Among several factors, the authors compared the relatively small size and range of St Mary’s Co-op store, with the “simply phenomenal” local shops on Tresco, Bryher and St Agnes.

They say Scilly’s off islanders possess “exceptional retail opportunities” considering the size of their islands’ populations.

They conclude by saying that our isolation and lack of infrastructure has actually made us much stronger socially and economically than the Isle of Wight.

You can read the full paper here.


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