We’re pretty fortunate that loads of people visit Mull, not just in the summer but all year round. But for locals the more mundane aspects of everyday life still have to be completed. As an island, simple tasks such as shopping, transport and access to services like health and education can be a bit more challenging. It’s just the reality of island life.
But as we complete the first decade of the 21st century, you’d think that forcing kids to commute for over an hour to get to school would be a little much to expect when they already have a perfectly functional classroom in their community. Yet that’s precisely what’s about to happen as the Ulva Primary School (which is on Mull but right next to the island of Ulva) is slated for closure, meaning kids will now have to take a school van up hill and down dale to go to the next nearest in Dervaig, itself eight miles from Tobermory.
It’s a fairly arduous daily task for both driver and kids. Potentially over two hours of round-trip commuting to and from the school via a route that Argyll and Bute Council thinks will be passable in winter — which is a whole debate in itself.
View A Route: Kellan to Dervaig, via Burg in a larger map
This issue has been very smartly highlighted by the Save Ulva Primary School campaign, who decided to illustrate the issue by filming (and speeding up) just what’s involved in transporting kids all the way from their homes up to Dervaig… and it was captured on a good day with little traffic. What would it be like, you have to wonder, when it’s snowed under or there’s a lot of traffic on these single track, poorly maintained sections of road?
Now let’s just think about this from a cost/benefit perspective for a second. There’s the cost in fuel and in paying for the time of the driver. That must all surely add up? There’s also the loss of part-time employment to the area of three staff. Then there’s the environmental and very obvious safety issues of sending a van full of small kids up and down a less than ideal road. Then there’s the question of how the loss of this amenity will affect the local community it currently serves. That’s one that’s impossible to put into financial terms.
It does make you wonder if the council, in its enthusiasm to close a vital rural school to ‘save money’, may actually just be shifting around the numbers from various spreadsheets but, in the end, not actually saving enough to justify the closure of a vital community resource? It may save on the education budget, only to pop up on the transport one or some other line item in other departments. Have the wider implications of this decision really been thoroughly considered in this plan?
OK, so this isn’t so much about why the island of Mull is a beautiful holiday destination (which it is!). But part of Mull’s popularity lies in the people that choose to live there and have helped to make the island the appealing holiday destination that it is. If the council takes a short-term view on ways to save money and cut costs — which may be smoke and mirrors in any event — then it could be damaging a vital part of what helps maintain the vibrancy and appeal of the island for residents.
Maintaining services in rural island communities is always going to be more expensive than in a densely populated city. But if we want our islands to have a healthy future, it won’t be helped by short-term cost-cutting of services that are a vital lifeblood and part of the solid foundations of wider island life where the knock-on effects of any cuts will be much more keenly felt.
Anyway, if you’ve ever visited the Isle of Mull or you agree that there’s real reason for Argyll & Bute Council to reconsider this closure, you should head over to the campaign website and sign the online petition, which is currently at 395 signatures.
And all because some bankers wanted to make a quick buck and very nearly brought our economy to the brink of disaster. We now own these banks but have no money to pay people who actually contribute something to society and our future generations. Everyone else is footing the bill, including, it seems, the kids of Ulva Primary School.