The salmon farmer, together with local landowners Haydn Jones and Nick Lyde of Willowstream, are to build the homes within the secluded hamlet of Mill Bay on Eday, one of the smaller Orkney islands with just 76 habitable properties for a population of 129 people.

Costing £0.75m, the new development will create four new homes for employees of the nearby salmon farm, helping overcome the lack of available accommodation, with a further two homes available to rent by islanders or visitors.

Scottish Sea Farms’ Phil Boardman, Farm Manager at Eday, said: “We’ve been farming on the island for over seven years now and while the conditions for growing salmon are superb, the remote location has made recruitment difficult.

“Unless employees live on one of the nearby islands such as Sanday, they face a two-hour commute by boat from Orkney mainland, then have to stay over on one of the islands until their next weekend off, leaving little time for family, food shopping or looking after home and garden. The result is that we have seen valued employees leave with every crop cycle – they loved the job, just not the logistics that go with it.”

For Farm Manager Boardman, whose first degree was in construction followed later in life by a postgraduate diploma in Sustainable Aquaculture from the University of St Andrews, something had to change.

“Step one has been to introduce a two-week on, two-week off shift pattern which is enabling the team to balance farm life and home life. Step two, and equally critical, will be building these high spec houses for the team to go home to after each shift, sparing them the commute to other islands and ensuring they have a good quality of life.

building these high spec houses for the team to go home

“We gave the team the choice of multi-bedroomed communal homes or single-dwelling and the decision was unanimous – they wanted their own space. The bonus of having the two rental homes meanwhile is that there will also be somewhere for visitors, contractors and auditors to stay.”

For all Eday is remote, it’s very much at the centre of Orkney’s renewable energy sector with a Surf n’ Turf project underway to convert surplus power from the European Marine Energy Centre’s tidal test site and the community-owned 900kW wind turbine into hydrogen gas that can be stored and used on demand, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Keen that the new homes build on these ecological credentials, Scottish Sea Farms and Willowstream have created a development that’s every bit as green, featuring:

  • Modular-style accommodation designed by Retreat Homes & Lodges, who were featured on More4’s Impossible Builds, and manufactured on the UK mainland to cut down on travel miles during construction
  • Sustainable cedar wood cladding to help insulate and reduce overall energy use
  • Living sedum roofs which help reduce rainwater run-off, minimise erosion and absorb noise, while also increasing biodiversity by providing a habitat for wildlife
  • Packaged sewage treatment system and reed beds to separate and capture waste from water, offering a more ecological alternative to a septic tank
  • Wind-generated power from existing turbines along with air source heat pumps which absorb warmth from the air outside and use it to heat homes.

Helping ensure that the compact 1.5 acre development blends into the landscape has been Orkney architect Leslie Burgher whose graduated design will see the homes stepped into the hillside. There will also be extensive planting to help absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, along with polytunnels and a communal outside space with seating made from locally-sourced stone.

One of the first Scottish Sea Farms’ employees to benefit from the new accommodation will be 28-year old Charlotte Owen: “The two-week on, two-week off shift pattern has already made a huge difference, ensuring there’s sufficient time around work to leave the island, see family and friends, and generally catch up on all things life. The only downside is that, during my two weeks on, I’m having to stay in shared accommodation with colleagues, so the days of going home to my own space at the end of each shift can’t come soon enough.”

shift pattern has already made a huge difference

Groundworks for the development – which will be known as Millhaefen, Old Norse for sheltered inlet and harking back to Orkney’s history with Norway – will begin immediately, with a view to the new homes being ready for occupancy in early Spring 2020 in time for the next stock of salmon.

Local landowner and co-director of Willowstream, Haydn Jones, commented: “We’re really looking forward to getting things underway on site, particularly in terms of applying the experience we have gained improving our own land to help breathe new life into this remote bay and to Eday as a whole. Both have been long-held aspirations of ours, but both are reliant on the island having jobs and homes.”

Support locally for the new homes has been strong. Concludes Boardman: “From the architect, Orkney Islands Council planning team and local SEPA office, to the contractors we’re using and our logistics partners Northwards who will help transport the homes to the island, local partnerships have been key to making this project happen. Get it right and this eco-friendly development could be the start of things to come for remote communities such as Eday.”