By Greg Russell
WITH its stunning scenery and a good choice of pubs, residents of the Orkney Islands know only too well they have the best quality of life in Scotland. But now new research has confirmed that they also have the best quality of life in the whole of Britain.
The islands have taken the top Scottish spot in Bank of Scotland’s Rural Quality of Life Survey for four years in a row, but this year they shot up from 46th in the UK to number one, for the first time.
Orkney scored strongly in terms of its employment rate, average earnings and average spend per pupil on education, as well as low anxiety levels and crime rates.
According to the study, its employment rate is 87.6%; the population has the lowest anxiety levels in Britain; primary and secondary schoolchildren benefit from the highest spending – £9,281 per pupil, double the British average of £4,622; crime rates are the lowest in the country, with a break-in rate of just 2.3 per 10,000 people, compared to the Scottish average of 27.2 and 28.7 for the UK.
There are just 142 cars per square kilometre, compared to the British average of 9,617 and for their leisure time, Orcadians have a large number of pubs to choose from – 20 per 10,000 adults.
Although there is plenty of space, Orkney has some of the smallest houses in Britain with an average of 4.5 habitable rooms per home.
Shetlanders have the second best quality of life in rural Scotland, having taken this spot since 2012 when the islands dropped from first place. Shetland is the only other Scottish local authority district (LAD) to appear in the top 20 for Britain as a whole, coming in 15th, while the Western Isles are in 50th place.
Graham Blair, Bank of Scotland’s mortgage director, said:
“The Orkney Islands is a stunning part of Scotland with some beautiful scenery. Pair this with one of the lowest population densities and traffic levels in Scotland, as well as the lowest levels of anxiety and highest life satisfaction ratings, and it’s not surprising that Orkney offers a quality of life that is unmatched elsewhere in rural Britain.”
“The Shetland Islands and Western Isles continue to dominate the Scottish rural quality of life top three for another year, ranking well in a lot of similar categories to Orkney. If it’s a rural life you are after, then nothing beats being up north on one of Scotland’s many islands.”
The accolade didn’t surprise Orkney resident Fiona Grahame, who said:
“Orkney has wonderful ever changing skies and ever changing weather. It is said that there are only two hairstyles in Orkney – an easterly and a westerly.”
“In Orkney it is certainly the case that the pace of life is slower (except when cruise ships are in and we have over 140 coming this year). The wildlife, the beaches, the historical sites – all these are amazing.”
“For children, education is very good and for the elderly and vulnerable our care workers are the most dedicated you will find anywhere.”
However, she added that there were some buts:
“We have the highest rate of fuel poverty in Scotland and it is even higher for people in their 70s.”
“This is a combination of draughty houses and high electricity/oil costs. For teenagers it may be too small a place, too many people who know you and your family, so difficult to express yourself as freely as you might do in an urban setting…”
“In everything there is balance. So you weigh up – against the buts – the beautiful scenery, clean invigorating air, and a sturdy people who work hard and talk plain but embrace music and storytelling, our many festivals are a reflection of this.”
And writer Tim Morrison added:
“Coming back to Orkney to live has certainly been one of the best decisions of my life. Moving to Sanday from Stromness, even better. “
“A huge contrast arriving at the college by boat as opposed to London Bridge or Waverley Station. Sometimes, when I am bored I listen to traffic reports in the big cities.”
“The other night, the racket of geese on the loch and watching the Northern Lights. There are downsides – there must be – surely.”