Happy campers

The camps provide a supply of slave-labour for six weeks of the summer. For the price of a bowl of s

On Wednesday, after an unscheduled overnight stay in Shetland due to the weather, the first of this year’s work camps arrived in Fair Isle.

Most years there are three work camps that come to the island during the summer. Two are “Thistle Camps”, organised by the National Trust for Scotland, and the third is run by the International Voluntary Service (IVS). The groups come (as the name implies) to work – helping out on the crofts, clipping sheep, building fences, gardening, painting, and any other jobs that need done at the time. Sometimes they will be involved in large-scale projects that require the extra hands, and sometimes they will be working on their own with the crofter. The work can be hard, physical labour; it can also be dull, repetitive and menial.

Why, you might well ask, would anyone want to come on a holiday like that? And what’s more, why would they pay for the privilege?

Most of the people who come to the camps do not live in the countryside. Many of them come from big cities; they work in offices, banks, shops. They have little or no experience of life in a remote place, and so they come to get a taste of a place that is very much different from their own home. The trips are certainly not laidback or relaxing (I suspect many people feel like they need another holiday by the time they return home) but they must be truly enlightening to some of the people who come, and who suddenly discover that there is a completely different way of life that they had never considered before.

Of course, there are others who do know what to expect, and who come for that very reason. There are a few hardy work campers who return year after year because they love the work, or the island, or possibly even the people. I have noticed from comments left on some of my previous blogs that quite a few people reading these articles regularly are previous work camp visitors, who clearly have retained an interest in the island, and a desire to keep up to date with life here. Not every place can have that kind of effect on people.

Part of this effect, I guess, must be the result of working so closely with the people here, and being able to feel a part of the community, if only for a short time. Each day the workers go to one or other of the crofts to spend the day with islanders – working, eating and speaking with them. While they are here there is usually a dance and a barbeque organised, so the groups also have the opportunity to socialise with Fair Islanders. All of these things must add to the uniqueness of the experience.

The benefit to the island of the work camps is, in a way, very similar. For a place that is as geographically isolated as Fair Isle, the groups are a wonderful opportunity to meet new people, and, with the IVS groups in particular, to find out about other places. There have even been some relationships (and marriages) between work campers and islanders over the years.

But the main benefit, of course, is that the camps provide a supply of slave-labour for six weeks of the summer. For the price of a bowl of soup you can have someone weed your garden, clip your sheep or even paint your house. Which is exactly what I did last year, when four work campers and I managed to whitewash the outside of my house in just a day and half – a job that would have taken me a week on my own. And for that help I will always be grateful. Thanks guys!

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
Getty
Show Hide image

Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.