Islands of Opportunity: The Orkney Project

A Transformational Research Hub

Building on Robert Gordon University’s (RGU) strong connections to Orkney which have developed over many years through a wide range of collaborative projects, The Orkney Project has now established a transformational research hub in Stromness to drive and support collaboration and innovation.

The Orkney Project is aligned to strategic priorities identified by Orkney Islands Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, including the Orkney Community Plan 2018-2021, with a focus on smart islands, creative innovation and a sustainable quality of life.

Some challenges which have been identified include depopulation, an ageing population, inefficient housing, connectivity and access to services.

RGU’s Orkney Development Manager, Elsa Cox, grew up in Orkney and said the project is about “putting the community first and responding to local needs”.

Elsa Cox RGU

Describing her role as the project development manager, Elsa said:

“Based in the new RGU office in Stromness I work with stakeholders in Orkney and colleagues across RGU to develop collaborative projects designed to overcome some of the challenges of island life.

“I meet with a wide variety of people in order to better understand local priorities and how these relate to RGU expertise whether research, teaching or student activity.

“An important part of my role is in establishing the place of RGU in Orkney and demonstrating commitment to the islands, while also encouraging creative thinking within RGU in response to local needs. In relation to this I also explore funding streams to support project development.”

RGU’s research funding manager Kelly Fraser said there are a number of reasons why RGU has decided to focus on delivering solutions in Orkney

She said:

“There is a real entrepreneurial and innovative spirit in Orkney and this is actively supported by local authorities and regional bodies.

“There is also an abundance of cultural heritage and a strong sense of community and identity. Orkney is a place where we can see RGU’s research offering fitting well and by working closely with local partners, we can deliver transformational and meaningful results.

“Importantly this is about listening and responding to local stakeholders to develop relevant and applicable solutions.”

RGU is working in collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands and the Heriot-Watt University International Centre for Island Technology while also exploring areas of research and student development currently underrepresented in Orkney.

Elsa added:

“With three higher education institutions now in Orkney, we can all work together to promote the islands as a place to undertake research and to innovate.

“The Orkney Project effectively opens up RGU’s expertise to local stakeholders to work together to enhance Orkney as a place to live, work and study.

“Multidisciplinary in nature, current initiatives include circular economy projects, housing solutions for elderly residents, the history of Orcadian tweed, digital tourism applications and graduate apprenticeships.

“RGU is one of the most popular universities for school leavers in Orkney so there is enormous potential to create pathways which allow students to return to Orkney to live and work following graduation if they wish to.

“It is exciting to see another higher education institution in Orkney and I am very keen that this project should increase opportunities for young people to return to Orkney to develop their career. I have first-hand experience of the difficulty in finding viable opportunities to return home so I am particularly interested in the potential to support the economic sustainability of the islands.”

The new RGU office is based at 69-73 Victoria Street, Stromness, and Elsa is interested in hearing from anyone with ideas for collaborative projects including research, teaching, and student placements, or just to find out more. She can also be reached by e-mail at

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