Tag Archives: Community

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.

Mull’s new(ish) swimming pool on Britain’s Best Buildings

Britain’s Best Buildings is a website that pretty much does what it says on the tin. A variety of commercial, industrial, public and domestic buildings are listed on the site and you can select the number of stars you want to give to each.

Isle of Mull Community Pool, CraignureI spotted that the pool that was built in Craignure and opened in 2008, just next to the Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry Terminal, is now listed on the Britain’s Best Buildings website. Go take a peek and click some stars — it’s currently at 3 out of 5.

There’s a lot of history behind this project. Islanders spent nearly three decades trying to raise funds to make the idea of a public pool a reality. They raised many thousands but it just wasn’t quite enough. The Pool cost £1.8 million to build and quite probably would never have happened if there hadn’t been financial support from the Argyll and Bute Council, Argyll and the Islands Enterprise, SportScotland and a hotel group which also uses the pool’s facilities as an amenity for guests.

Perhaps because it is a shared use facility with the hotel, it’s of a very high standard. It’s not just a pool but also has spa facilities, hair salon, steam rooms and more. It’s definitely not your typical council-style affair. That said, it’s only 16 metres in length so if you’re a serious swimmer you might find it a little frustrating compared to a standard 25m pool.

But, that criticism aside, it’s in an ideal spot, pretty much exactly half way between Bunessan and Fionnphort to the south and Tobermory and Dervaig to the north of the island. And with the weather never a certainty on Mull, it’s a great fall-back plan if you are on holiday with kids and at a loose end.

You can see exactly where Isle of Mull Community Swimming Pool is located on our map.

Ralph
Twitter: mullescape

Mull’s Ferry may be put out to tender

This one’s for anyone who has a particular love for the Isle of Mull. According to a recent report in Am Muileach, one of the island’s local weekly papers, the Scottish Government is asking for input into the Scottish Ferries Review. The consultation closes on the 30th of September so if you have a view on how Mull (or other islands) are serviced by ferries, this is your chance to make your views known.

The paper explains that the Review document can be found online and warn that it’s quite a lengthy document but has links to the online questionnaire. You do not have to answer all the questions however, so if you have a view, whether as a local, or as a past, present or future visitor, please take a moment to take part.

Ferry routes between Oban and Craignure may be put out to private tender.The big question is what happens to the vital lifeline of the Oban to Craignure route? In this review the Scottish Government has apparently suggested that they are specifically going to consider this single service being put out to tender. The whole point of tendering is to try to get competitive bids, but the reality is that there aren’t many island ferry routes that a private contractor would jump at — they’re just not profitable. The Mull route is however. So, for me at least, even the notion of breaking up the Caledonian Macbrayne routes seems ill-judged. If you take away one of the profitable routes from CalMac, they have even less cash to service the unprofitable island routes.

At the same time, the cost of getting to Mull, which for a standard car and passengers is about 80 pounds with two adults and two kids at the moment, might simply go up. After all, if it were to be tendered successfully the whole point of tendering for the bidder is to secure a route where they believe there’s money to be made. To secure it they need to keep costs to a minimum in the tendering process. The government can then absolve itself of the responsibility to the community of maintaining the vital lifeline to the mainland by getting a bid that takes that burden off its hands. But then the successful private company is going to be looking to make up its low tender offer by squeezing more profit from travellers.

In other words, I can’t see how the Oban to Craignure run can be hived off from the rest of CalMac’s routes without it being bad for tourists, which would then be bad for Mull’s local community. There’s a bigger picture here which says that for Island life on Mull, and elsewhere, to thrive the Scottish Government has to accept that it needs to treat Ferries as a vital utility that must be maintained in order to make these beautiful parts of Scotland viable over the long term. Short term cost-cutting through tendering off profitable ferry routes will, I think, ultimately depress other economic activity on Mull and make it a less appealing destination for tourists. No-one, surely, wants that?

We pay taxes so Goverment and local government can maintain our roads and motorways. Ferry routes are the highways to the islands and, as such, Government must be charged with maintaining them for the benefit of tourists, trade and locals. So, until it can be proved otherwise, it’s probably a case of… better the devil you know!

Ralph
Twitter: mullescape