Introducing the Digital Workshop

What do you think the future holds for the islands? As flower farming and other traditional industries are squeezed by ever-growing competition will tourism soon be the only business? Or maybe there’s a future as some kind of idyllic home-from-home for the super-rich? A few locals could stay on to keep the fields looking pretty and add a bit of rustic colour. But seriously, where are the alternatives?

I should lay my cards on the table. My name’s Charles Armstrong and I’m an outsider, probably the last person you need sticking his nose in you business. I first came to the islands 15 years ago with the Truro School choir and like so many people I somehow got hooked. This year, though, I’m trying to do more than just chill out for a week or two. After five years working with interactive media in London I’ve become a student with the School for Social Entrepreneurs, an organisation set up a couple of years ago by the same guy who created the open University (now an 83 year-old Lord). I’m spending a whole year here, seeing if I can use my experience to open up some new options for the Islands.

Over the last 50 years there have been all kinds of reports, desperately trying to identify businesses that might work on the Islands. Time after time they come to the same conclusions: the extra costs of getting raw materials over here and exporting manufactured goods back to the mainland are an insurmountable handicap. Harsh! But right now this situation is changing. A whole sector of new businesses is emerging where the raw material is human creativity and the products cost nothing to export. I’m talking about the Digital sector, including businesses as diverse as web design, animation, computer programming, research and audio production. The list goes on (and on and on). These businesses can be run from anywhere on earth, projects can be taken on for clients who are anywhere else on the earth. What’s more, these are amongst the best-paid and fastest-growing businesses around.

But hang on a minute. Before we get too carried away aren’t there a couple of problems? First of all, to put it bluntly, nobody’s doing any of these things in the Islands. Secondly, do we really want to see a future for the Islands where people spend their time sitting in front of a computer?

I’d like to address both issues together. The very fact that there’s a clean slate is a chance to find a new way of approaching these businesses. A way which fits the Scillonian way of life. Almost everyone I know here is multi-skilled. Why not imagine a future where you spend a bit of time farming, a bit of time looking after visitors, a bit of time making craft goods and a bit of time designing record sleeves on your computer? Keeping a good balance has the additional advantage of keeping your options open. As farmers will tell you, over-dependence on a single crop can be a recipe for disaster.

But is it realistic to believe that the Islands could get into all these new businesses?

I don’t see any reason why not. Nobody should expect it to happen overnight but I reckon within 5 years a lot could be achieved. I’m currently working to set up the Scillonian Digital Workshop, a community-owned organisation to provide hands-on training and support as well as trying to bring in work. Alongside this the schools and the RATIO centre could open up opportunities in relevant skills and there are various ways the Council and Duchy could provide support. Some of the Islands’ Objective 1 money could be used to provide facilities on each island, apprenticeship opportunities, improved telecoms and a venture capital fund to help get things moving. There’s no shortage of top-notch professionals who are willing to work on projects out here and train apprentices in the process. This means the Workshop can guarantee the highest standards from the very beginning whilst maximising learning opportunities.

I hope this introduction provides food for though. At this stage it would be really useful to hear from anyone in the Islands who’s alrady got relevant skills or is interested in getting involved and developing new skills. I’d also like to hear from anyone who’s reading this beyond the Islands if you can contribute in any way. Basically ideas or comments of any kind are welcome. You can email me directly on , phone the Workshop on 422412 or write to Scillonian Digital Workshop, c/o Normandy Farm, St. Mary’s. The Workshop’s website is a

As for the future, who knows what might be possible?

For more stories

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