Quality of Life on the Isle of Shapinsay

Toni Giugliano, Age Scotland’s Policy Engagement & Campaign Officer, recently headed to Orkney as part of his work around quality of life in later life in partnership with Stirling University. 


Earlier this month the Quality of Life Project took me to Shapinsay in Orkney. It was a unique opportunity to gather the views of older people about what makes a good life in later years in a rural and remote part of the country.

I was humbled by the extremely warm welcome I received by the organisers and participants. I was picked up from the ferry terminal in the community electric car and whisked along to the “Boathouse” – a fantastic community space where we were protected from the ultra-strong winds (which locals told me were not, in fact, that strong at all!).

In total, eight residents took part in the discussions, which explored several themes, including health and wellbeing, the importance of a close-knit community, relationships, care, transport, personal independence and the role of older people in society.

Below are some statements that came out of the discussions:

“Befriending services are a lifeline – even if you have a close family, often you feel like you don’t want to impose on them. You want to be independent, and a befriender won’t pass judgement.”

“Pass times are so important once you reach a certain age – they give you a focus, a purpose in life, a reason to be on this world.”

“As you become older, you enter a different category. You are likely to become slightly invisible.”

“Many people who once had a social status during their working life tend to lose it once they reach a certain age.”

“Older people still have a lot to contribute to society.”

“There should be incentives for volunteers to take on home care visits and spend some time chatting to people. The home visits you get only last 15 minutes – it’s just not enough. You want to get to know a person and have a chat with them. With the current system they just don’t have enough time to do that.”

“The cost of the ferry is too much; it’s not affordable. Other islands (local authorities) get a better deal”.

“We’ve had to fight hard on this island for the services we have. We need to stay on the ball and continue to do that if we want to keep them.”

It was particularly interesting to hear about the work of the Shapinsay Development Trust and the activities and services it runs to improve the lives of people on the island, including social activities to combat loneliness and isolation. The Sew Shapinsay project, for example, is a great social activity bringing many people together.

The Shapinsay focus group discussion, like all other focus groups that have taken place across the country, will soon be analysed by our researcher teams (who themselves are older people). The project seeks to: (i) explore what older people believe the essence of a good life is; and (ii) lobby decision makers to improve policies that support older people as they age.

Whilst in Orkney I took the opportunity to visit the Age Scotland office in Kirkwall to discuss the Scottish Government’s Social Security Consultation and how the proposed changes are likely to impact older people. We received a number of responses which helped shape our submission. For more information on this, see the relevant pages of our website.


The Quality of Life Project is funded by the Life Changes Trust. To find out more about the project, visit our website.

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