The closure of Ulva Primary on Mull… how bankers blew up island life

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.

Ulva Primary school logoBut 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.

7 thoughts on “The closure of Ulva Primary on Mull… how bankers blew up island life”

  1. Quick update. I spotted this story “Rural school closures: is 45 miles too far for children to travel?” after Debby Thorne aka @wildfreckle tweeted it. It’s a piece in the Guardian which goes into much greater detail on the significant knock-on implications for island life if schools are closed.

    As the piece states, “Some believe the Mull closures could spell disaster for the future of this island of fewer than 3,000 inhabitants, which needs young people to settle here.

    James and her husband, Chris, run the Torosay Castle estate, which is currently on the market. “Everybody who has come to see the estate has asked about schools,” says James. “People aren’t going to move in if they know their children will have to travel all that way.”

    For the community living near the school, it will be a huge loss. “There’s lots of involvement with the school from the locals,” says James. “Older people are invited in to the school to give talks, they have regular events there such as coffee mornings and book sales. It’s integral to the community.

  2. Just to make it clear, the article in The Guardian was about the children from Lochdonhead Primary School on Mull who will be expected to travel to Salen.

  3. This is from a comment on a Guardian piece:

    “Just been familiarising myself with what’s going on with the threatened schools on Mull and this story has shed a lot of light, as well as reaffirming my doubts about the sense in closing rural schools.

    One thing I’d be particularly concerned about is the fact that schools in rural parts of the country play a much more pivotal role in village life. The same goes for post offices and pubs. Their loss can have a much greater effect on the community than the equivalent happening in a densely populated urban area.

    Particularly impressed with Ulva parents’ efforts in using the web, blogs, facebook and youtube to make their views heard. It’s the one thing that could never have happened had this occurred 15 years ago. Good on them.”

  4. Hi Ralph,

    Thanks so much for your blog on Ulva and the dire situation we will be in as a community if the school is closed. 10 years ago when the school was under the same threat there were 2 pupils – now there are 8. 5 of the children currently at the school come from 4 families who have chosen to move into this area because of the school, proving what an important part the school plays in keeping a community youthful and alive.

    We are keeping our fingers crossed that the Councillors see sense and halt the process tomorrow.

    Thanks again.

  5. Hi Carolyne

    I think your point’s very well made. The school is a key part in the jigsaw for maintaining the vibrancy of rural island life and a closure such as this would simply diminish the prospects for keeping Ulva viable for the future.

    I read that the council hope to make a saveing of some £1.9 million in closing a number of schools, but I’d really like to see the repercussions of these closures on the wider economic productivity of the places affected. I’d bet the loss of earnings from the knock-on effects of school closures, would paint this move in a very different light.

    The council needs to take a holistic view of what it’s doing and not allow one department to reduce it’s costs if the resulting short-term savings lead to overall rural degradation. It simply means more money would need to come out of a different pot in some other department of the council. Where’s the sense in that! This is far too short-sighted in its thinking.

    In this day and age we know that these are complex issues and such decisions can have rally significant wider repercussions. A decision to close a rural school like Ulva can never be made lightly as it has an order of magnitude larger effect on the community than a decision to close a school in a dense urban area with many nearby facilities.



  6. I spotted this other video by the Oban Times on Youtube, which lets the people affected say in their own words what the effects are of this plan to close schools.

    I’m very glad that we now live in an age where people who are geographically remote can use email and web tools to get their message out to a wider public. That was never the case before the web was around…

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