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.
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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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