Social entrepreneur, writer and climate change champion recognised with university title

James Ellsmoor (27) one of the world’s leading voices on the sustainability of islands and renewable energy has been named as the University of the Highlands and Islands Alumnus of the Year.

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James Ellsmore

Originally from Shropshire, he graduated in 2018 with an MLitt in island studies from the university’s Institute for Northern Studies at Orkney College UHI, having completed the course as a distance-learning student. This award is presented to a former student in celebration of their services to the community, achievements in arts or sciences, business or in public or academic life.

Whilst studying for his undergraduate degree, James co-founded Solar Head of State, a non-profit organisation that works with small island communities to promote solar energy. 

He is also the founder of Island Innovation, a social enterprise which runs the Virtual Island Summit. This established annual event attracts heads of island governments, academics, and industry from all over the world to unite in their drive for sustainability and prosperity for island communities by sharing ideas, good practices and solutions.  The event this year is expected to attract 10,000 island stakeholders from across the world and speakers include Paul Wheelhouse, Scotland’s Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands and Angus MacNeil MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

 Speaking about his award James reflected:

“My experience at the University of the Highlands and Islands was fundamental in shaping my business and trajectory and I am thrilled and honoured to receive this award.

“The university pioneered remote working and studying before it became essential this year, and I am glad to see this has put the university in a better situation than most to adapt.

“I would highly recommend it for the dynamic and vibrant work environment that creates connections across the region. It’s a privilege to have friends and colleagues made through the university partnership now spread across the Highlands and Islands which was enabled by the university’s innovative use of technology to build community.”

Professor Crichton Lang, Principal and Vice-chancellor (interim), said:
“We are proud of the international recognition James has already received for his global reach on climate change and the impact he has made to ensuring opportunities for renewable energy on islands, particularly small island states worldwide, are sustainable and bring prosperity to those communities. 

“His work exemplifies the university’s mission that puts students at the heart of our plans to have a transformational impact on the prospects of our region and its economies, its people and its communities.  He is a remarkable ambassador for the university partnership and I am certain that he will continue to play an invaluable part in realising positive change for all islands around the world.” 

Alison Wilson, Head of Development at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: “We were delighted to choose James as this year’s winner. It is fantastic to hear him passionately credit his time and experience of remote learning whilst studying with us at the university, for sparking the idea for island innovation. 

“James is an inspiring ambassador who shows our current and future students that it is possible to find your own unique learner journey with us, wherever you choose to study from.”

Dr Andrew Jennings, lecturer and programme leader for the MLitt island studies, said:

“James was also awarded the university’s postgraduate student of the year title in 2018, which he thoroughly deserved. He is an outstanding champion for island studies. He’s personable and innovative, using his expertise to help island communities worldwide face island challenges head on.”

The University of the Highlands and Islands has reaffirmed its commitment to island communities with the publication of its first ever islands strategy. The document published on 11 August sets out the university’s plans to enhance its activity across Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.