For Jane Ellison and Paul Hudd, sustainability underpins everything they do, both in their home life and in business.
Indeed, it’s hard to separate the two – work and domesticity rolled together in one hectic but happy bundle.
The pair live with their young son Harry in the homeliest of homes, part of the village that surrounds the Earl’s Palace in Birsay. With the 16th century remains on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, it’s not a bad spot for gathering some perspective.
JP Orkney (that stands for Jane and Paul, in case you hadn’t guessed) is a three-fold business.
They create fabulous produce, with a focus on locally-sourced and in-season ingredients. The honesty box at the end of the house has become legendary, with tablet, chocolate brownies, jams and preserves regularly replaced to keep up with demand. As with many other producers they’ve seen a significant rise in online sales during 2020.
As well as treats, they provide tours of Orkney in an electric vehicle, with food and drink tours being the house speciality.
But, most strikingly, they also offer what’s believed to be Scotland’s first electric camper van rental service. ‘Spoot’ (the Orkney word for the razor clam, something of a local delicacy) is a familiar sight on local roads.
"We had the idea of maybe renting out a vehicle," says Paul. "But we weren’t convinced that a large diesel RV would be the right way to go. Luckily we found a company that was running prototypes of converted Nissan e-NV200s."
The vehicle is the same model used for their tour bus. Fitted out by Derby-based company Hillside Leisure, it’s a fabulous example of how to make the most out of limited space through ingenious design. "People have been overwhelmed at how compact and efficient Spoot’s been," says Jane. "We’ve had people wanting to experience Spoot as a camper van and we’ve had folk just wanting to experience electric vehicles. A lot of people have no idea these even existed. He’s very affectionately-known – people wave at him as you drive around the island!"
We’ve arranged to take Spoot out, to be filmed touring around local roads. As he passes by it’s striking how unobtrusive the camper van is, partly due to its compact size, and partly due to the quiet nature of electric vehicles.
And that sensitivity to the surroundings, to finding less impactful ways to exist, is central to this couple’s ethos. Paul shows us the large battery unit installed in the boiler cupboard. It’s part of the European-funded SMILE project, harnessing excess power from a local wind turbine.
"It’s all about working on curtailment," he explains. "When the wind turbines are standing still doing nothing, that’s because there’s no demand for the power. This project is about making sure that no power is wasted."
The battery units allow that excess electricity to be stored and used again later when needed. The couple also hope to install a smart vehicle charger, which would see their two EVs become part of this network.
The couple's commitment to maximising resources and minimising waste is also apparent in the food side of the business. Jane is busy packing boxes of jam for online customers, with shredded copies of last week’s local paper, The Orcadian, providing the protective padding. It’s just part of a strict policy of recycling and reusing, including a returns scheme for jam jars.
"I’m very keen on not wasting anything," says Jane. "Even if I'm using a recipe that has apples, I make sure the skins are used so nothing's wasted. Things have been created using junipers that have been through the distilling process already. They’re still full of flavour, even after the gin’s been produced."
"Even more so!" Paul jokes.
Young Harry helps his dad collect eggs from the hen house. An inherited brood, the birds live partly in the garden, partly on the adjoining foreshore. It’s an impressive haul, carefully stacked in the basket. But having their eggs spread across various baskets appears to have been a wise decision for this business, given the effect that COVID-19 has had on the local tourism industry.
"The whole concept of green tourism is something we were very much pursuing, and we became part of Promoting Green Tourism and gained a Silver Award," says Paul. "We were all set for 2020 and trying to promote that the best we could. When that wasn’t going to happen, we focused on looking at how we’d send the produce out more sustainably."
Jane and Paul are clearly an exceptionally hard-working couple, but you can also see how much they enjoy what they do. The idea that you can live well, while also living sustainably, is clearly not unrealistic.
It just requires imagination, and no small amount of effort.
The Promoting Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.