The Isles of Scilly have the highest rate of employment in all of the UK:
“There are very few people on St Agnes that are employed by someone else,” he explains. “There’s a culture of wanting to work and wanting to be self-sufficient. Until tourism took off around the 1970s, most people were either a farmer or a fisherman and that’s what you did. It’s hard work, but this place gets into your blood and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. My commute to work every day is getting on my quad bike for three minutes. You can’t argue with that.”
Scillonians’ self-sufficiency is so renowned that they still have a reputation for wreck-scavenging when ships run aground on the archipelago’s lethal rocks. After the MV Cita sank en route from Southampton to Belfast in 1997, islanders were enthusiastic in helping with the “clean-up” of a windfall of car tyres, tobacco, house doors and even women’s summer shorts.
That culture of thrift even extends to business ideas. Helen Shave, 38, works in a shop called Rat Bags, which was created after her sister and brother-in-law started keeping offcuts from sail-making and turning them into canvas bags.
She says it is part of being an islander: “Anything that’s scrap people will recycle. Nothing is wasted.”
In the chandlery shop by the seafront, John Read, 73, is serving a mixture of local boatmen and immaculately dressed visitors fresh from their yachts. “I’ve been self employed in printing most of my life and now in retirement I’m employed,” he says, sifting through rows of bolt trays.
“I’m supposed to be part-time but I work 33 hours a week. People also work hard because a lot of employment here is low-paid.”
And the secret?
Mike Pender, 69, a lobster fisherman from Bryher who has come in to get bolts for his boat, chips in: “This is the first day off I’ve had in ages. We don’t let people in unless they can bloody work.”