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.