How support from island residents kept local businesses in Orkney thriving during lockdown

As the Scottish hospitality industry prepares to reopen at the end April, these Orkney businesses have reflected on a year that has turned out to be their busiest yet thanks to the unwavering support of island residents.

When lockdown was announced in March last year, the fate of what would happen to small businesses across Scotland was left hanging in the balance.

However, in Orkney – an island with a typically booming tourist trade – many quickly discovered they had nothing to worry about as residents made an exceptional effort to support local as the new ‘stay at home’ message was enforced.

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“Our success has such a community base” – Little House Larder

Natasha Sclater runs Little House Larder from her kitchen in Stromness, Orkney, specialising in delivering high quality cheese and charcuterie boards right to residents' doorsteps.

She started the business in 2018, focusing on making preserves, but after a year branched into her signature grazing boxes.

Her business adapted to cater for events, including weddings, birthdays and baby showers – an industry that took a huge hit during the pandemic.

Ms Sclater said: "We had so many weddings cancelled. It was Mother’s Day weekend that lockdown was announced, so we were full and everything had to be refunded.

Support from island residents kept these three Orkney businesses thriving during lockdown.

"I was worried because it’s just me running the company and I didn’t have anything to keep it going, but then I thought there would be no harm in seeing if people would be interested in the boxes if we did no-contact delivery."

Ms Sclater described the following few months as being "absolutely crazy", saying the business just “took off”.

She continued: "Our success has such a community base. People in Orkney would try to support local businesses anyway, but I definitely feel like there has been a huge wave of support prompted by the pandemic bringing us all together.”

Asked if she has any concerns the trade she has enjoyed may die down as hospitality reopens, Ms Sclater said: "It might tail off slightly as more places are open for eating, but I do hope that we've established ourselves enough now, and people know the quality and the service we provide, that we’ll continue to thrive."

Natasha Sclater, founder of Little House Larder, with her daughter Ella.

“The love and support has kept me going” – Orkney Sourdough Co.

Swedish chef, Karin Jonsson, started her business, the Orkney Sourdough Co., after moving to Orkney in 2018 and realising how much she missed the bread she grew up with.

Ms Jonsson said: "Being new on the Island, it was great meeting a lot of people through baking.

"We had been to the UK before, but living here is a completely different thing, and the Orcadian community is just incredible.

Graze boxes available at Little House Larder.

"The locals here are extremely supportive and encouraging of small businesses, I'm really grateful for that."

Before the pandemic, Ms Jonsson supplied two shops and some restaurants in Kirkwall with her bread, as well as doing some private orders.

Following the announcement of the lockdown, the number of people ordering privately to enjoy her products at home increased dramatically and Ms Jonsson found herself busier than ever.

She continued: "I have very loyal private customers, but I also got so many new people ordering, especially in the first lockdown. I think people just wanted a treat and maybe even more then than normal, they would think 'Oh, Karin is a local baker, we want to support local so we'll buy from her'.

"I was just so happy and so humbled that I could still run my business and I got a lot of really positive responses from the community.

"All of my family are in Sweden, so I haven’t seen them in such a long time and it’s been really hard, but the people here, the love and support they have shown me has kept me going.”

Another graze box by Little House Larder.

"We tried to think outside the box and things just took off” – Eviedale Bakehouse

Philippa Porritt and her husband Ian, owners of Eviedale Bakehouse in Kirkwall, have gone above and beyond to think outside the box during the pandemic.

Ms Porritt said: "Previously we ran a very successful little bistro with sourdough pizza, in a woodfired pizza oven.

"We were fully booked nearly every night and we were just getting ready for the new season when lockdown happened and we thought 'Oh golly, what now', so we decided to create a pizza drive-through."

Customers pre-ordered and drove to the door of the restaurant where the boxes were passed into the car on a pizza peel.

She continued: "That worked really well and we were fully booked for the three nights a week that we were open.

"You sort of had to think outside the box a little bit. We just tried to keep creating new products and things really took off.”

As winter approached, the Porritts developed a range of 'cook-at-home' pizzas, which went "absolutely crazy".

Since launching the service, they have developed it even further by doing pizza by post.

Ms Porritt said: "We pre-cook the sourdough base, then we vacuum-pack the cheese and the toppings and send it by special delivery.

"We've sent those all over the country, would you believe."

The Porritts are waiting on planning permission to build a stand-alone bakery, which will allow them reopen their restaurant while continuing with their new ventures.

Ms Porritt continued: "Hopefully we'll sort out the new bakery soon, but for now we're happy.

"The ongoing support has been amazing. A lot of people in Orkney have said that we kept them going – I think it was having that kind of treat to look forward to.”

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Karin Jonsson of Orkney Sourdough Co. with some her products.
Sourdough pastries made by Karin Jonsson at the Orkney Sourdough Co.
Philippa Porritt and her husband Ian, founders of Eviedale Bakehouse.
A pizza made by Eviedale Bakehouse.
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