Fair Isle means in Norn the Isle of Sheep, which were the mainstay of what was once an isle with a population of four hundred, now down to thirty seven people who each do a variety of jobs to keep the island viable. Sheep farming is important, though the fleeces now are worth little, and the islanders try to be self-sufficient in vegetables. There was a wind turbine that generated electricity, but it was damaged by a lightning strike and has had to be repaired, though there have been delays in the process and thus expensive diesel oil has had to be used, but even then the power goes off at nights and people have to use oil lamps or candles. At that latitude the winter nights are long and the locals have to fill in their time doing crafts.
Like Foula the children have to go and board at school at the age of eleven, which puts stresses on family life, and sometimes it is difficult for the children to return for family visits, as the island is sometimes during the winter season cut off for several weeks. So stocking up on supplies is vital strategy. Access is by a plane or a ferry, which brings in the heavy goods. The National Trust, which owns the island, tries to maintain the community makes housing affordable, but maintaining properties in such a damp climate is difficult.
If there is one product that defines Fair Isle it is hand-knitted woollens [hats, jumpers,gloves, scarfs and socks] each of which has a pattern. The industry developed in the seventeenth century and provided a good source of income supplying polar expeditions at times. The islanders still spend the Winter nights knitting and sell their products on to visitors from cruise ships, often wealthy Chinese or Americans.
The future of Britain's loneliest inhabited isle is probably secure, as its people want to maintain their community, but they are trying to attract extra community members, for they know that if there were the loss of three families population decline might be fatal to community survival. A group have formulated an action plan to attract new people.
One woman is trying to industrialise the process of knitting Fair Isle woollens by introducing commercial knitting machines, but she is meeting resistance on the grounds that the distinct character of the product is that it is hand-knitted. It seems likely that the hand-knitted tradition will survive, but a cheaper , industrially-knitted version might come onto the market, possibly for sale through the on-line-shop that she hopes to open.