The effects of the devastating Coronavirus pandemic have been far reaching and even places where there have been no confirmed cases, the impact is being felt. The Isle of Islay in Argyll to date has not seen any positive tests for COVID-19, however the crisis threatens the livelihoods of many of the residents and businesses reliant on the visitor economy.
The Islay Community Recovery Group has been set up to address the challenges posed by the pandemic following lockdown and consider the path to a phased reopening of life for residents, organisations and businesses, in line with Scottish Government guidelines. Many aspects of life are represented on the group from churches, education, health, transport, landowners, fishing, farming and of course tourism.
Islay followed the Scottish Government’s lockdown guidelines and there was a huge community effort to support everyone, we are now building on this amazing work to ensure our island emerges together and more resilient into the new normal.
It was clear that a balance needed to be struck between the challenges of dealing with the fears that some islanders have about the opening up of Islay and the requirements for businesses to begin operating again.
Openness, transparency and goodwill are essential for the group to achieve its aims and to reassure the community that everyone is working safely together in this extraordinary time.
A group with so many diverse interests requires a lot of teamwork but the result is providing reassurance to the community.
Among the practical measures introduced include signage reminding people to keep physically distanced, to wear face coverings and to wash their hands often.
Bus stops will have sanitising units attached to them and volunteers are being sought to “adopt” a bus stop - to ensure that the sanitisers are kept refilled.
Both these projects have been funded by the Islay Covid19 Recovery Fund and the SSE’s Resilient Communities Fund. The sanitiser is being provided by Bruichladdich Distillery and Spirited Soaps, Bunnabhainn Distillery and Diageo.
ICRG also intends to make face-coverings available at certain locations across the island.
Emma Clark runs Glenegedale House, a VisitScotland Thistle award winner, chairs Explore Islay and Jura and is a Director of Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative. She represents tourism on Islay Community Recovery Group.
Explore Islay and Jura created a pledge or visitor charter in which it addressed local concerns while also educating the visitors on what to expect. The Resilience group were fantastic at supporting this and it has now reached over 75,000 people.
We have also arranged with the local doctor and a fantastic lady from the health-board for three safe-houses on Islay and Jura to be arranged (as well as the other 21 inhabited islands) where a visitor can be moved to isolate away from their accommodation provider to minimise the risk and indeed loss of business. We have arranged for extra tests for visitors to be available and then the process of them taken away to the lab and for shopping to be delivered for any visitor who then has to isolate.
I also sit on the ferry committee for tourism and we campaigned to get the longer booking system as people would make an accommodation booking without being able to plan and secure their journey.