New hopes to reverse island depopulation as school saved from closure 3

New hopes to reverse island depopulation as school saved from closure

Argyll and Bute Council has decided against shutting the only primary school on the island of Luing for good, giving islanders a year to prove its sustainability as part of a battle against depopulation.

The local authority’s community services committee voted by seven votes to four on 7 March to hold on to the school for at least another year.

Its reopening is not guaranteed but residents hope their plans for new jobs, housing and other projects will attract new arrivals.

The school was mothballed in 2020 due to low pupil numbers which were not projected to rise.

The Ferret previously highlighted the plight of the school which residents called the “heart of the community”, and feared its loss would push away young families.

Parents currently send their children to schools on Seil island or the mainland – a trip consisting of two buses and a short ferry crossing each way.

Colin Buchanan, chair of Isle of Luing Community Trust said the decision not to close it was “such a relief” following years of campaigning from parents, community organisations and other residents.

“We decided to make a particular appeal to the council today around depopulation”, he said, having challenged the committee to prove its commitment to tackling the region-wide issue.

“Island communities really have to campaign and work and push for what they need.”

Island Depopulation
Flooded quarry on Luing. Photo © Anne Burgess (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Development plans spearheaded by locals include a bid to reopen the iconic slate quarry and employ residents, should a grant application decision, due later this month, prove successful.

It will also bring opportunities to build a range of modern, energy-efficient housing for new residents, Buchanan said.

“We’re learning from a lot of other communities,” he added. “You don’t just wish and hope that somebody’s going to come and live here. You have to make it attractive for people.”

A council spokesperson said the decision would “allow the community more time to demonstrate the sustainability of the school long term”.

Schools and island depopulation

School closures are a current trend in Scotland, which is battling rural and island depopulation in many areas.

Last year, we found that 40 primary schools in mostly rural areas had been closed or mothballed due to dwindling pupil numbers, while 15 more were at risk.

Local residents, including those in Luing, warn such closures will scupper any chance of communities reversing depopulation and balancing ageing demographics.

According to officials analysed by National Records of Scotland, Scotland’s population will peak in 2028 before starting to decline, largely due to lower birth rates.

Should past trends continue, Scotland could have 200,000 fewer children – a fall of 22 per cent – and 300,000 more people over 65 – an increase of 30 per cent – by 2045.

The Ferret visited Bute and Orkney in 2022 as part of an international series on island depopulation, to hear about the factors fuelling depopulation, as well as the potential solutions.

Housing, jobs shortages and the decline of working-age people were the most common issues raised.

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