Remote from what?

Elly Fletcher, Issue 118/02, p15, 01.02.2018
Connectivity comes in many forms
Why would you want to grow up on the edge of the world, remote from everything? One of the first answers to this question that I heard when I was considering moving to the Outer Hebrides with two young children in 2014 was “remote from what?” It made me rethink the question. Remote doesn’t have to be bad, and connectivity comes in many forms.

Children here have access to a wide range of outdoor sports and there’s no end of opportunities for them to benefit from the incredible natural landscape around us. They can participate in a diversity of music and dance every day, and go to art and drama clubs every week in the arts centres.

The local authority has embraced new technologies with its highly innovative e-Sgoil digital learning programme. Not only this, young people from the Outer Hebrides have another important asset integral to everything: their Gaelic language, and all the benefits and opportunities that come from bilingualism.

But there are challenges for island youth. One is around access. Many families live in small villages some distance from arts and community spaces. At An Lanntair we have tried to overcome such barriers by going out into communities. We have Art Labs every week in small centres across the islands of Lewis and Harris, giving young people the chance to develop new skills and explore their creativity with arts professionals close to home.

Another challenge is around perception. Despite the importance of the creative industries as a driver for economic growth in the islands, young people often don’t regard it as a career option.

At An Lanntair, we’re on a mission to support young people to build their confidence, and explore real careers and enterprise in the arts and creative industries. Our new festival for the Year of Young People 2018, Las!/Ignite!, aims to do just that. Young people themselves will programme An Lanntair’s auditorium with gigs, films, theatre and cabaret events. They will curate exhibitions for the main gallery, bar and mezzanine exhibition spaces, and will be responsible for everything from marketing to design, promotion and stewarding.

The biggest challenge facing our islands today is depopulation. Young people still leave for study, careers and business on the mainland – some return, but many don’t. We need strong reasons for our young people to return to their home and make their lives here. As the arts centre in Stornoway, and the creative hub for the islands, we see our role as central to that.

Our programme is becoming more and more diverse: you can see everything from electronica to contemporary Gaelic theatre, to the national ballet on our stage. You can learn to play the tabla or engage with our LGBT History Month programme. Importantly, we have a team dedicated to mentoring and supporting people to develop themselves as artists and creative practitioners. This is work we are passionate about continuing and growing.

Elly Fletcher is the chief executive of An Lanntair, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis

The Las!/Ignite! Festival will take place over a week during October half term. The event, part of the Year of Young People, has received funding from EventScotland. Visit www.lanntair.com

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