Inhabitants of the island of Hrísey are more optimistic about the ongoing ‘Fragile Communities’ initiative in which their community is participating, RÚV reports. The regional development project began on Hrísey 2015 and will end in December 2019; it’s anticipated that it will invest more in marketing initiatives for the island this year.
A project of the Icelandic Regional Development Institute, the Fragile Communities project (link in English) was founded in 2012 with the intention of collaborating with rural communities to address and counteract issues that have contributed to their decline, such as a lack of diversity in the local economy, changes to fisheries access, a decline in farming, seasonal tourism, a “negative spiral” in services, and lagging infrastructural development. Raufarhöfn in Northeast Iceland was the first community to participate in the initiative, which it did from 2012 – 2017. Since then, eight other communities have joined the project.
Hrísey is a small island (7.67 km2 / 2.96 m2) located in Eyjafjörður fjord, located 30 kilometres north of Akureyri and a fifteen-minute ferry ride from the village of Ásskógssandur. As of January 2018, 151 people lived on the island.
When Hrísey joined the project, its stated goal was the establishment of an “inviting and accessible island community, [with] a diverse economy and strong infrastructure.” However, many residents have felt that the Fragile Communities project was yielding few results in its initial years and, in 2017, criticized its implementation. Since then, however, many of the community’s smaller goals have been accomplished says Helga Íris Ingólfsdóttir, the Fragile Communities project manager for both Hrísey and Grímsey island. A new salt production facility was established on Hrísey, for example, as was a guest house and restaurant. An egg production plant, with facilities for 1,500 hens, will also soon open, thanks to funding from a Fragile Community grant. All combined, this has led to a perceptible change of attitude in the community. “I felt like there was more optimism than there’s been before,” Helga said. “People have more of an interest in taking a different approach to the debate.”
Helga said that expectations run high for government-funded initiatives, but that resources are nevertheless limited. “There’s just a few million krónur [ISK 1 million is equal to $8,315/€7,267] that we receive to distribute in grants,” she explained. “So this is more about showing solidarity and the desires of the inhabitants and their vision for the future, rather than there ever being some sort of direct, external assistance.”
This year, the project will be investing in marketing Hrísey. The goal is to attract more tourists to the island and appeal to investors who might be interested exploiting the island’s unique qualities and establishing new business opportunities there.
“Now there’s more experience behind the project, and there’s optimism that this will return real results,” said Halla Björk Reynisdóttir, president of the municipal council.