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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 November 2005, 20:57 GMT
Meet the people of Orkney
Rob Pittam
By Rob Pittam
Business correspondent

Rob Pittam flies to the Orknies
Rob touches down on Orkney
As we lined up on the runway for the world's shortest scheduled flight, the pilot leaned across and confided his ambition to one day fly the route backwards.

It was then that I realized that my trip to the Orkney Islands would be different.

The flight between two beautiful and remote islands, Westray and Papa Westray takes two minutes.

My pilot reckoned in a strong headwind, he could take off and actually get blown backward to the next island before landing.

Memorable experiences

It was quite windy when we flew, but fortunately he stuck to a more orthodox style of flying for our short hop.

It was just one of the more memorable experiences of Working Lunch's visit to Orkney.

In his first film, Rob looks at what makes the Orkney economy tick.

We spent a week travelling round the islands, home to 20,000 people and an economy worth around 200m a year.

Orkney islander Billy Jolly
Billy Jolly used to run a wholesale fishmongers
We found the main industries of farming and fishing in a slow decline, but new industries, particularly tourism, coming through.

Billy Jolly

Billy Jolly took us out in his boat to explain the fortunes of the fishing industry.

Billy is retired now, and fishes for a hobby, but he ran a fishmongers for years before selling up.

Ironically the new owners of the shop, the last fishmongers in Orkney, had just announced it was to close.

"The industry has changed completely", he said.

"These days there is hardly any white fish caught.

Shell fishing

"We used to have a processing factory for the deep sea fishing, but that's gone too.

"On the other hand, the shell fishing industry is holding up and I think that's got a future."

Billy reckoned there were now about 400 people on the islands working in the industry, half the number of just five years ago.

View of fish farming off the Orknies
Fish farming is important to the Orkney economy
Farming is still the main industry, worth around 30m.

Orkney beef has been promoted throughout the UK as a premium brand, selling in upmarket retailers and butchers and trading on Orkney's image as a clean, unpolluted environment.

But Stephen Hagan, the convenor of the Orkney Islands Council and a farmer himself was candid about the problems.

European legislation

"Our two staple industries of farming and fishing have struggled in recent years and there are a lot of question marks about the future, given all the new European legislation that is coming in.

"The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy is particularly worrying farmers.

"On the other hand, tourism is becoming more and more important and we have high hopes of establishing the Orkney Islands as a centre for alternative energy sources like wind and wave power."

He also believes another long-term problem facing the islands, of de-population, may finally be on the turn.

"We are starting to attract people to the Orkney Islands. For years we have had more people leaving us than coming, but there are signs that this may be reversing and on some islands the population is going up."

Nowhere is that more evident than on Papa Westray, the destination for my short flight.


The population here is just 70, but that's regarded as impressive.

A few years ago it was down to 50.

Since then the island's been bolstered by an influx of newcomers, mainly English.

Rob Pittam on the phone
"Is that Orkney Tourist Board? I'm looking for somewhere to stay."
They are attracted by the scenery and the cheap housing - a three bedroomed house with land and a piece of coastline could cost as little as 80,000 here.

So many people are moving here that prices are starting to rise: they're thought to have doubled in the last five years.

Natives and newcomers

The make up of the island is now split almost exactly with half being native Orcadians and half newcomers.

But the locals don't seem to mind.

Builder Alistair Hourston told me that he is now rushed off his feet.

In fact this tiny island now supports two full-time building firms.

"We are happy to see people moving here," he told me.

"It's bringing life back to the place and to be honest if that hadn't happened we would be down to 30 or 40 people and it wouldn't be long before the island became uninhabited."

The islanders themselves went a long way towards rebuilding the community.

Local shop

The local shop is run as a co-operative and they also run a guest house on the island for visitors.

There is also a house that is available for a long-term trial for anyone thinking of moving to the island.

It's currently housing three polish workers recruited to help with the building boom.

Rob meets a couple from Ipswich who moved to Orkney and have set up in business.

Rob with two of the Crocker family
Rob with two of the Crocker family
Englishman Nic Crocker and his wife Jan provided a major boost to the island when they moved there.

They already had three children and twins have been born since.

Their family of seven makes up a tenth of the population of Papa Westray.

Reasons for moving

As we strolled along the beach that came with the property, watching curious seals bobbing their heads out of the water, Nic explained his reasons for moving.

"We were running a care home and a nursing agency in Ipswich and it was just non-stop.

"The telephone rang 24 hours a day and I decided there had to be something better than this." Jan spotted a house in Papa Westray on the internet and Nic was dispatched to check it out.

But before he got there, Jan had already gone ahead and bought it.

But if they moved to the island for a quiet time it didn't last long.


After accidentally shrinking one of Nic's jumpers, Jan decided to turn it into gloves and a hat and a felt-making business was born.

"You don't throw anything away in a place like this," said Jan.

"I really enjoyed doing it and suddenly I found I had a business on my hands.

Rob looks at how the tiny island of Papa Westray is attracting new inhabitants.

"The next thing was to get some supplies, and now I've got a contract with Oxfam to take recycled clothes that I can turn into felt."

Her company, Island Felt is doing so well that Jan is extending the house to make room and plans to take on workers to cope with demand.

Cameraman Chris
Cameraman Chris
The family has come a long way since leaving Ipswich, but they insist they have no regrets.


"The airport is always a tearful place for us," admitted Nic.

"We say goodbye to family and watch them fly 800 miles south. When we come away from that, we're crying.

"But we take one look at everything we've got here and we're soon laughing again."

Orkney - Film 1

Orkney - Film 2

Orkney - Film 3


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