When Is A Home, Not A Home?

By Bernie Bell

We were talking with someone we know who lives in Stromness, who told us that lock-down has shown him just how many empty houses there are, around him. They are mostly owned by people who use them as holiday homes, or who rent them out for holiday accommodation, so, at the moment, many of them are empty.

I hadn’t realised that the situation had got so bad.  He says that, as soon as a house comes up for sale – especially those along the water side – they are snapped up and become holiday accommodation of one kind or another.

As folk haven’t been allowed to come for their holidays, the houses are standing empty.  He says he can stand at his door, look around him and think – “Empty – empty – empty.”

It is for the best, definitely for the best, that those people weren’t allowed to come to Orkney at this time, but it brings it home, just how much Stromness is being ‘taken over’ by people who …don’t actually live there!

It’s also not a great situation for him – to realise that he doesn’t have neighbours at a time like this.  It made him a bit uncomfortable to realise that most of the houses around him, are empty.

He’s a pretty self-reliant person, but – it shook him up a bit, when he added them all up.

Our neighbours have been great – stopping  for  ‘keeping our distance’ chats as they walk their dogs past the house when we’re in the garden, and there have been offers of doing shopping if needed – we haven’t needed them to, but the offers were, and are, there.

Mike had a lunch which consisted of an omelette made with fresh eggs from a neighbours ducks, and fresh asparagus from a neighbours veg patch!  This works by – neighbour leaves item on doorstep – knocks on window, we exchange ‘thumbs up’ sign, neighbour steps well back, we open door, and can have a chat, whilst keeping our distance.   This works both ways.

We all keep an eye on each other, and ask after each other. I’m sure many people in Orkney have appreciated having good neighbours.

The other aspect of this situation is…..people actually need houses to live in, and more are being built, covering the land, while the holiday homes stand empty for part of the year, every year.

Yes, Orkney needs the visitors, and the visitors need somewhere to stay – unless they’re passing by on a cruise liner – but is looks like something has gone out of balance, in Stromness.

Stromness 6 Bell

Stromness Credit: Bell

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9 replies »

  1. I was talking with a neighbour about this, and he told me that he knows a fisherman, who commented that – coming into Stromness in the winter, in the evening, he used to be able to see the lights of Stromness, shining from all the houses. Now, not so much – many are empty in the winter.

  2. And all those houses can have postal votes to be used in local/Holyrood elections – and Indy Ref.

    • Hmmmmm…I hadn’t thought of that aspect of it. So, if someone owns a house, somewhere – they can have a vote based on that address – so, can, as you say, vote in local elections, and national elections? Or – not bother to vote at all. Thereby affecting the lives of the people who do live in those places.
      I didn’t know that was so. I thought you could only vote, where you are registered to vote – your ‘home’ address – though that is a fraught issue, these days!

      There are layers on layers connected with this.

  3. Hello John Mowat
    I’m not on Facebook, so I can’t respond to you there, but……

    Former Council houses, now air B&B’s, standing empty?

    There are so many things wrong, in that sentence.

  4. How many of the houses you refer to are owned by Orcadian entrepeneurs and how many are owned by non residents ?

    • Hello Ian – I have no idea – I was just telling, and reflecting on, the tale.
      You could probably find out, if you choose to.

      I’d say that who owns them, is part of, though not entirely, the point.

  5. The holiday home / second home / AirBNB problem just gets worse and worse. It’s killing communities around the world whilst putting nothing back into the infrastructure of those places. Governments should be preventing this or at least having quotas for what percentage of residential property isn’t a permanent place of residence. Building new property is not the answer.

  6. In some islands in Scotland, there are whole villages lying empty.

    Some rural communes in Sweden have got round this invasion of the 2nd homeowners by imposing rules, like: you can get a grant to build a “summer hut” but you can only live in it from June to September and you can’t rent it out. If you decide you want to live there all year round, you have to make structural changes – at your own expense – or sell it to the commune and apply for permission to build a permanent home. Planning permission for new builds is not easy to come by.

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