Skip to main content
highlands view
highlands view

The Essentia Foundation - A Journey to the North: The Highlands and Islands

The Essentia Foundation, in partnership with Foundation Scotland, is embarking on a journey across Scotland through a series of exploratory reports and blogposts, which will examine the regional issues that young people across Scotland are facing and the ways in which Essentia grants are tackling them. Here is some of the work the Essentia Foundation has been doing - and funding - in the Highlands and Islands.

Highlands and Islands

The Highlands, Islands, and the wider North is a highly rural region made up of small communities and the larger outposts of Inverness, Fort William and Aberdeen. According to a recent study by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), young people make up 17% of the Highlands and Islands' total population, and this represents a deficit compared to Scotland as a whole which sits at 21%.

Whilst the Highlands and Islands population is projected to remain largely stable to 2041, the number of 15-30 year-olds is expected to decrease substantially by 15%. This decline has primarily been driven by a multitude of factors, including a lack of affordable housing, sustainable job opportunities and higher education placements. In light of this, the HIE survey found that there has been a sharp decline in the proportion of young people agreeing that their community is a place where young people's needs are being met (from 54% to 37%), with this being lowest in Caithness and Sutherland (19%).

Whilst growing up in this region poses several logistical challenges, childhood and early adulthood in the Highlands and Islands hold a multitude of benefits. Access to the outdoors and areas of outstanding natural beauty, engagement in community events and activities and comparatively low crime levels mean that this region is attractive to families and young people.


Over the years, The Essentia Foundation has supported countless projects across the Highlands and Islands over the years. Each project is unique in its own right and aims to tackle a wide range of issues that affect young people living in rural communities. Let's take a look at some key facts and figures below:



Since 2020, the following organisations in the North of Scotland have been supported by The Essentia Foundation:


The following sections will examine some of the regional priorities the Essentia Foundation has supported through grant-making.

Climate Action

The climate crisis is a regional and national issue that has become increasingly urgent in rural communities over the last decade. According to Climate Central, Scotland will be hit by rising tides in 2050 if dramatic action is not taken to halt climate change. Areas of the Highlands and Islands, particularly the Outer Hebrides, will be susceptible to irreversible damage.

For the younger generation, climate change is a growing concern. A global survey led by Bath University illustrates the depth of anxiety many young people feel about climate change. Nearly 60% of young people approached said they felt very worried or extremely worried. More than 45% of those questioned said feelings about the climate affected their daily lives. In light of this, it is no surprise that funders have seen an uptick in the number of climate-related projects from community groups.


Thanks to our support, one such project is taking place in the North-West Highlands. In 2022, a grant of £3,000 was awarded to Ullapool Sea Savers to support a youth-led project to support climate action in the region. Ullapool Sea Savers was initially formed in 2016 when local children were involved with the Scottish Wildlife Trusts (SWT) 'Living Seas' project, which was set up when the local Marine Protected Area status was assigned. This work with schools led to a group of children being particularly motivated and inspired to do more about local conservation, leading to the Plastic Straw Free Village project in 2017 and setting up Ullapool Sea Savers.

The primary project activities will include peer-mentored pod sessions per month, accessible boat trips and remote beach cleans. All project activities will occur within the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area (MPA) – based in Ullapool but benefiting all communities around the shores of the MPA. USS state that up to 1,700 young people stand to benefit from project activities directly, and this represents the local youth population of this highly rural area.


Mental Health

Access to statutory services, whether social care, education, or employment, is another common obstacle in the North of Scotland. The provision of GPs, hospital appointments and complementary healthcare services is a growing concern, especially regarding mental health and well-being. According to a SAMH (Scotland's Mental Health Charity) report, the Highlands and Islands experience elevated levels of poor mental health. It is estimated that 25% of the population in this region will experience a mental health problem each year, and 24.7% of the population waited over 18 weeks for psychological therapy in 2020 (compared to the 22% national average).

The rate of suicide is also far above the national average (14.1 per 100,000) and sits at 19.6 per 100,000 residents. From a youth perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 55% reduction in referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the Highlands at a time when children and young people needed more support than ever. Many communities in this region seek to solve this local health inequality, thereby reducing the need for extensive travel and waiting times.

mental health

One such example the Foundation has supported is Ewen's Room. Situated in Lochaber and serving vast swathes of the West Coast, this organisation was established by the parents of Ewan Gillespie, a young man with a long-term mental illness and diagnosed schizophrenia. In 2008, Ewan sadly ended his life at the age of 29.

The organisation's purpose is to spread mental health awareness within the West Highlands. Ewen's Room offer community-based support in several villages to ensure counselling, support groups and one-to-one advice can be offered locally. In 2022, a £9,000.00 multi-year award was awarded to develop a developing a Well Being Heroes programme for young children up to the age of 12. Four Education Officers will deliver this six-session programme from Ewen's Room team to teach young children the key skills and tools to support good mental health and well-being through self-regulation and resilience building.

These simple, age-appropriate methods will help the children to manage big feelings, emotions, and body sensations. The sessions will take place in at least 18 primary schools in Lochaber, and family groups, to allow teachers and parents to support the children in their care better.

conversation prompts

Hidden Deprivations

Like the rest of Scotland, communities in the Highlands and Islands are not without hidden societal issues. These can include substance abuse, rural and fuel poverty and domestic violence, to name a few. Since its inception, The Essentia Foundation has gone some way in tackling these inequalities. Over the years, particular problems have come to the forefront of its grant-making. One such issue is the prevalence of young carers.

According to The Carers Trust, an estimated 800,000 unpaid carers are in Scotland. This includes 30,000 young carers under the age of 18. The value of unpaid care carers provide in Scotland is £12.8 billion annually. Three out of five of us will become carers at some stage in our lives, and 1 in 10 is already fulfilling a caring role. A young carer cares for or is affected by someone else at home – usually a parent or sibling – who suffers from physical or mental ill health or substance misuse issues. Most young carers go unnoticed or unrecognized until there is a crisis, and in rural areas like the Highlands and Islands, these young people can often fall further from view.

unpaid care inforgraphic

Caithness KLICS is a charity that has received support from our grant funding. Caithness Klics support young carers aged 5-18 who care for a parent or sibling due to a short or long-term illness, a disability, mental health issues, or drug/alcohol misuse. The organisation's key targets are supporting young carers at school, giving them opportunities to reach their potential, and supporting their families to support the young carers better. Activities include group work, drop-in sessions, respite breaks, days out, outdoor activities, arts and crafts, sports, after-school clubs, and one-to-one support and counselling. Referrals come from schools, social work, other agencies involved in caring for the young person and their family, or from families themselves.

The charity fills a service provision gap in the region. It alleviates pressure on statutory services (Local Education Authority), especially during school holidays when existing support networks (teachers, support staff) come to a halt. In 2021, a survey of children and parents/carers showed that: 92% would recommend the service, 87.5% said it is a reliable service, 84% said they were satisfied with the service, and 100% said there is a need for supporting Young Carers.

In 2022, we supported Caithness Klics with a grant of £1,500.00 to support a series of well-being art sessions for young carers living in Wick and Thurso. A local artist will hold sessions for young carers and their families throughout the year at the group's Wick premises. This will include sessions during the school holidays gathering materials from a local beach to create art, acrylic art sessions and an outdoor workshop. It is anticipated that 80 young people aged 5-12 will directly benefit from grant monies and will gain the opportunity to build new social networks and support systems as they navigate the obstacles of caring for a family member.