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NeighbourFood Uist will provide an online platform that will enable customers to buy food and drink directly from local producers

Abigail Taylor

Customers will be able to purchase a wide range of local produce from Beagram Eggs, to Fiona’s Cakes n Bakes, to Downpour Gin.

Funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), with support from Storas Uibhist, NeighbourFood will provide two dedicated host sites, at Tagsa Uibhist in Balivanich and Croft and Cuan in Lochboisdale, where customers can collect their goods on agreed collection days.

There are currently ten local producers registered and any other local producers wishing to be involved should contact ronan.macphee@tagsa.co.uk.

Darren Taylor, Chief Executive of Stòras Uibhist said: “Stòras Uibhist recognises the importance of local produce to the local economy, the contribution towards net zero through food miles reduction, and to the overall health and wellbeing of islanders through eating seasonally and nutritiously.”

Darren Taylor highlighted other upcoming projects that will add value for food businesses: “NeighbourFood is just one of several Stòras Uibhist projects that will help local businesses to thrive. With grant support from the Islands Infrastructure Fund, Ludag waiting room will be renovated later this year into a commercial premises with the opportunity for local businesses to take on the lease of this unit in what is such a special location.

“The longer term Islands Deal project will see the complete transformation of Grogarry Steadings into a local produce facility with a number of commercial units being created. We are delighted to have worked in partnership with Tagsa Uibhist and Croft and Cuan to launch NeighbourFood, and we all look forward to seeing how the project evolves.”

Ronan MacPhee (pictured), 18, from Benbecula, is the Market Host for NeighbourFood Tagsa and is in charge of inviting and helping producers get ready for the initiative.

“NeighbourFood allows customers to place an order online and to then collect their local produce shopping from one spot. So you are going A to B instead of travelling throughout the island; this saves you time, fuel and is good for the environment,” Ronan explained.

He added: “When time comes for opening, I’ll be helping producers unload their goods and updating the website to make sure I have everything I need for each person who has

ordered. Then on Wednesdays, I’ll be welcoming people who come to collect the goods, ‘A click & collect’ type service.”

The hub is based at Benbecula East Camp, in the back of the Bunker. Online markets are already up and running across Scotland.

Ronan said: “It’s great that our Market is in Balivanich as it’s so central. It means that someone who lives in North Uist can come down to me and pick up local goods that would usually be down at the bottom of South Uist. Or someone who can’t drive can walk here and pick up local stuff from around the islands. I just think it’s really going to help people out in wonderful ways.”

Chris MacLullich, Chief Executive Officer at Tagsa Uibhist, said: “Tagsa Uibhist is excited to be part of this new enterprise, which we believe will become part of community life in Uist. There is an abundance of fresh food being produced here and we hope that this venture will lead to more local food being consumed in Uist, as well as providing a great opportunity for businesses. 

From our perspective in Tagsa Uibhist, as an organisation that promotes health and wellbeing, NeighbourFood ticks a lot of boxes – making fresh, healthy food more available, creating new opportunities for people to be active and interacting with each other and providing a new opportunity for employment. We look forward to seeing NeighbourFood customers and producers here in East Camp.”

For more information visit: https://www.neighbourfood.co.uk/markets/tagsa/117

Read your candidates statements here

The next Comhairle nan Eilean Siar election will be held on Thursday, 5th May to elect the 29 councillors who will serve on the Council’s 11 multi-member wards. There are 6 two-member wards, 3 three-member wards and 2 four-member wards.

This election will be conducted using the ‘Single Transferable Vote’ (STV) system with voters in each ward indicating their preference of first, second, third etc. candidates. A quota and formulae system then decides who is elected, based on the preferences as indicated by the voters.

To vote in person you should go to the Polling Station listed on your Poll Card. A list of all the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Wards and Polling Stations are available for each station and can be viewed online.

Polling Stations will be operating with appropriate hygiene and physical distancing measures in place. All guidelines as set out by all Public Health Scotland, Scottish Government, the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Management Board will be followed.

Counting across the country will begin between 08:00 and 09:30 on the morning after the vote, Friday 6th May 2022, and the results should be known the same day.

An electronic counting system will be used, with dedicated count centres in each of the 32 council areas.

Council ward boundaries were changed following Government ministers’ decisions on recommendations from the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland.

The Local Government Boundary Commission is an independent body responsible for reviewing local government electoral arrangements every 8-12 years. The Commission’s recommendations were set out in 32 reports, one for each local authority area.

Changes to the ward boundaries this term mean Barra and Vatersay have become one ward, with two councillors elected to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Previously four elected members represented the single ward that comprised South Uist, Eriskay, Barra and Vatersay.

South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula are now one ward, with three members to be elected to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
North Uist has become a single ward with two councillors under the new ward boundaries.

Five incumbents and three new candidates are campaigning in the new South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula ward for three seats.
Whilst one incumbent and two new candidates are campaigning in the new North Uist ward for two seats.

The total number of council members has been reduced from 31 to 29.
Councillors hold responsibility for a range of local public services.
These include education, social care, roads and transport, economic development, housing and planning, environmental protection, waste management, and cultural and leisure services.

Read each candidates statement from Ward 2 – Uibhist A Deas, Èirisgeigh Agus Beinn Na Faoghla

Roddy MacKay

“We have a huge opportunity in CNES to make the most of the transition to net-zero. This is our chance to do things differently, to set ourselves up for the coming decades.

We need to encourage families back to the islands to make the Hebrides
a more prosperous and sustainable community but that potential is at risk of being squandered.

We are facing a crisis in housing whereby local people are priced out. More family housing needs to be provided and existing housing urgently needs retrofitted to be as energy efficient as possible for tenants. We need urgent
action to ensure that Lochboisdale has a reliable ferry service that’s
fit for purpose. These ferries are not a luxury, they are lifeline services
and should be protected as such.

A fresh approach is sorely needed to local government in CNES instead of the constant firefighting and cover-up culture. I strongly believe I and the Uist councillors working together can continue the work we have begun during this past term and bring about the necessary changes needed to give Uist, Benbecula and Eriskay a strong united voice and get the best results for our islands. CNES deserves passionate, caring Councillors who are connected to the community; and that is what I will continue to be.

Our local businesses deserve more support, we need to engender more community spirit working together with local stakeholders to ensure that everyone has their needs met and can live their lives in dignity.”

Iain Murdoch MacLeod

“Over the last decade our islands have seen a lack of resources available to look after the elderly and those in need – we need a cradle to grave approach that protects the vulnerable and those most in need.

We need to build sustainable industries on the islands however we cannot do this without the ability to reliably export our products. This has become a regular problem with our non-existent ferry service from Lochboisdale to Mallaig and the ageing fleet of vessels across the entire network.

This lack of proper connectivity has had a devastating effect on our already struggling tourism economy which has suffered immensely during the last two years of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

We need to ensure that pressure is kept on the government as a Comhairle to address these issues, as we aim to achieve a fully supported PSO on the inter island Benbecula/Stornoway flight – a lifeline service for those in need of medical care. Every year at budget setting time this service is threatened or reduced with it now moving to flights on only three days a week. We also need to continue with our important fight to retain our Air Traffic Control at Benbecula.

Affordable housing is a much discussed topic among various groups and community bodies. This is the key to population retention on an island chain that is suffering from heavy depopulation of its young folk. The demographics of our population is certainly not in our favour and we must stem the exodus of young families from these islands. We need to continue with the pressure on our Registered Social Landlord (HHP) to ensure we have more affordable housing built on these islands.

I will work collaboratively in an open and balanced way with all of the Comhairle to better our communities and engage with you, the constituents, to hear your concerns and take forward ideas.”

Calum Macmillan

“Islanders face crippling increases in the cost of living as a result of energy costs and endure travel problems due to wrong headed Scottish Government incompetence with ferry provision caused by the urban green agenda.

Further, the current Scottish Government urban green agenda madness of forcing Islanders to install air source heat pumps means that homes in Uist will be unheated.

They call this cold comfort, which in reality is no comfort with danger of death, all so that the urban greens can bask in the gory glory of their own reflected virtue signalling of saving the planet by causing people to freeze. We must face up to these sad, mad, bad imposed agendas for systemic depopulation of our Islands and change them to positive policies which work for us and which benefit our communities.

I have had the good fortune to represent the constituents of Uist at Comhairle for the past five years. I have used every opportunity to speak up, to talk, to write and to represent the people of Uist locally, at Comhairle and nationally to the best of my ability on every issue and subject that will improve the lives and prospects of people here. Some claim to ‘choose their battles’ and not be ‘not the loud few’ which is self justification for their inaction and their silence. I shall continue to fight these imposed green agenda excuses to clear people from the rural areas as they try to implement systemic depopulation as our current day Clearances.

The ferry, transport and travel connectivity problems will be solved by installing a fixed link to the mainland road network and this will cost less than the money expended on the two hulks in Port Glasgow. The money to install a fixed link is there and simply needs political direction to make it happen.

I shall continue to commit my energy and time to the fixed link to connect Skye to Uist and your help in changing the current transport system and install a long overdue change in our transport connectivity. The Faroe government has instituted a policy of connecting their islands using fixed link tunnels and we can do the same to have access to and from Skye on a continuously available basis.

I ask for your vote so that this fixed link project and other projects such as the SpacePort can be progressed, to provide work and smart jobs for the people of Uist to supplement the vital jobs provided by the fish farms and the fishing industry.”

Iain Archie MacNeil

“My previous five-term as councillor has prepared me well to continue
in what is forecasted as a further difficult term. At the beginning
of this term the 5 independent councillors for Uist and Barra
formed an independent councillors group.

The group worked well and complemented efforts and the communities we represent. This approach has proven that independent Councillors are strengthened and more efficient when working collaboratively at local level.

During the previous term I have had a mixture of roles, such as a member of the Transport and Infrastructure and Sustainable Development committees, Licensing Board and Local Review Board.

As well as Chair of the Uist Economic Task Force Working Group, I participated in The Hebrides and Argyll, Lochaber, Skye and Small Isles Ferry Stakeholder Groups, Western Isles Development Trust, Western Isles Citizen Advice Service, Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership and Locality Planning Group.

I chaired the newly formed Uist and Barra Housing Group and member of the South Uist and Eriskay Forum Group, Resilient Uist and Uist & Barra Community Energy Forum.

If re-elected l commit to be a full-time councillor representing the communities of Eriskay, South Uist and Benbecula.

I fully support :
• Local housing initiatives
• The second phase of Lochboisdale Port of Entry
• The development of Sustainable Energy projects across the
islands
• The full development of High Speed Broadband, ensuring
businesses and homes have high speed broadband, including
mobile coverage.
• The development of full mobile network coverage.
• The completion of the spinal route.
• A bridged section on the South Ford causeway.
• The strengthening of Gàidhlig and the preservation of our rich
cultural heritage.
• Affordable electricity tariffs for island households.
• Improved pay and conditions for social and home care workers
• Coastal protection of our soft coasts.
• PSO flights from Benbecula, continuing the good work in
safeguarding Air Traffic Control jobs.
I oppose:
• Increase in rented accommodation housing.
• Rises to electricity and fuel costs.
• High transport fares – we desperately need affordable flights
and ferries for business and leisure travel.
• Government quangos without islander board members.
• Centralisation of services and decision making
• Crofts for care home costs.”

Donnie Steele

“I am standing as an independent Councillor so I’m able to make decisions based on our local communities and residents needs. I have previous experience as a Councillor and as a senior shop steward, where I was very proactive and vocal in representing our communities and residents.

The next term of Cllrs are going to have a really tough job on their hands. That’s where I come in, never afraid to speak up or fight for my ward. I am passionate about the local community and I believe I can make a huge difference to the quality of life of local people and improve the way local issues are dealt with.”

Paul Francis Steele

“It has been a privilege to represent the people of the South Uist, Eriskay, Barra and Vatersay Ward of the Comhairle since 2017.

The Ward area has now changed from Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeidh
agus Uibhist a Deas to Uibhist a Deas, Eirisgeidh agus Beinn na Faoghla. I would like to thank the people of Barra and Vatersay, Eriskay and South Uist for your kindness and support during the past 5 years. I am now kindly asking the people of South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula to consider voting for me in the forthcoming election on 5th May.

Throughout the last term my main focus was on representing the people who voted for me to ensure improvements through policy and decision making. As an elected member I was involved in significant decisions throughout the islands with my fellow councillors.

This type of collaborative working is necessary in order that the Council’s resources are fairly distributed. At the outset of the last Comhairle I was elected as Vice-Chair to the influential Communities and Housing Committee and last year my peers elected me as Chairman of the Education, Sport and Children’s Committee.

While this was a great honour it was also very demanding in helping the Comhairle navigate their way through the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure all our young people received the best education possible in sometimes extremely challenging circumstances.

Some priorities:
Recruitment to the Social Care Sector. We know we need improved
terms and conditions to attract and retain a workforce to look after
our people
Sport and Recreation – I have a strong interest in sport and recreation.
One of my priorities is to improve access to sporting opportunities
by removing barriers that prevent participation, be that cost or availability of facilities. I want our community to be active and healthy.
Support to the North Uist & Benbecula Partnership to achieve their
priorities.
Culture and media.
Gaelic language and culture are so important to our islands. It also provides opportunities for employment and can help us retain and attract people to live here.

Gaelic media is an area I have actively promoted over the last few years and I would hope to promote investment in those areas.

If re-elected I will continue to work collaboratively with the community, councillors and Comhairle staff to provide the best services possible for the people of South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula.”

Susan Thompson

“The Western Isles has a great tradition of women’s involvement
in all levels of politics and the current situation, of no female councillors
in the Comhairle, is not normal or beneficial to the communities
served by the Comhairle.

While I’m all too aware of the additional challenges facing women in standing for election, the unequal representation of women won’t end unless women are supported and encouraged to do so. I have been, and continue to be, supported and encouraged, by my local community and by the SNP, so when I was asked, I thought that I had a responsibility to
stand.

People should see themselves, reflected in their elected officials. From local to national government, the people who are elected to represent a community should share the concerns and aspirations of that community.

Whilst people acknowledge the challenges that are facing the Comhairle in the coming years, not everyone will have the same experience of living through those challenges.

Women and children suffer disproportionately from poverty, from
the effects of climate change and as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Having councillors with different lived experience makes for more robust and nuanced debate and deliberation. The result of this is informed decision making and better policy.

I’ve chosen to live and work here, to raise my family here and I’m
committed to making it the best place to do that. I’ve always been interested in politics and for a large part of my life I’ve been active in politics too as an activist.

I’ve seen first hand what happens during campaigns and in the political world day to day. I have learned that honesty and integrity transcend party
political allegiance. People may not, always, agree with every decision,
but they understand and respect the elected members who
act in this way.

That is the model of a politician that I aspire to. I believe in scrutiny and political accountability. The decisions made by the Comhairle and the basis for those decisions should be made available for public scrutiny quickly and be as accessible as possible.”

Andrew Veitch Walker

“I am seeking election to the Comhairle on 5th May as I believe
I have the personal qualities, knowledge, and experience of Local Government to best represent the interests of the Ward. My lifetime employment was as a social work practitioner and manager in both the statutory and voluntary sectors. I am standing as an Independent candidate with political affiliation supporting Independence for Scotland.

It is important at this time to recognise the difficult economic climate
prevailing, and undoubtedly continuing, and to ensure that priorities of services as delivered in this Ward are maintained and the most vulnerable protected. A major task is to differentiate between global, national and local issues, and whilst we can wring our hands about the enduring Pandemic, Brexit, Ferries, cost of living, inflation and increased taxes, my role as councillor will be to advocate for constituents, support other issue-based groups, and to ensure that every single £ is spent wisely.

My previous tenure as a Councillor highlighted my forensic ability to peruse Council Committee reports and to seek answers from Officers on behalf of constituents. My mantra “to follow the £” when budget setting, will be even more astutely actioned if I am elected.

My knowledge of Health and Social Care issues will continue to
question how one third of the Comhairle budget (£30m) devolved
to the Integrated Joint Board, Health and Social Care is being utilised, with particular interest in our invaluable Care at Home services. Statistically, our islands are noted for the highest number of over 80’s living alone, often in remote locations, many also experiencing social isolation and fuel poverty. I am proud of my record since 2018 in fighting the need to maintain the three local Dental Practices, rather than the IJB proposed centralisation.

If elected I will be open and transparent in communicating with
our constituents, hold monthly surgeries in different venues as I
did previously, and attend meetings of Community Councils (the
eyes and ears of local townships). The role played by other relevant
voluntary bodies is so invaluable now as statutory provision diminishes.
As a previous Director of Tagsa Uibhist, UCVO and W. Isles Development Trust I can vouch for their significant contribution in promoting best possible social welfare outcomes.”

Read each candidates statement from Ward 3 – Uibhist A Tuath

Kenny Barker

“My four local priorities for Uibhist a Tuath are as follows:

Social housing – I would be looking for Hebridean Housing Partnership
to bring houses up to a better standard before letting out houses as new tenants would not be expected to fix up their allocated house before they occupy them.

Roads, paths and roadside drainage – sadly, some of the roads and
pathways in Lochmaddy have been neglected over the last few
years. The Comhairle must seek a greater commitment from the
central government to allow resourcing to fund our road network.
There are also problems with the roads and drainage systems that
run parallel to the roads in other areas within the ward that need
attention.

Health and social care – I believe the Council and the NHS need to
work together to maintain a high standard of care. I would be looking
to the NHS to ensure Uist and Barra Hospital re-establishes
the services lost during the pandemic such as scopes services and
local chemotherapy services.

Strong local representation – I promise to hold regular monthly surgeries
throughout the ward. I strongly believe that local representation
by any councillor should be proactive and immersive within
the community they represent. If elected, I shall be a strong voice
for the people of Uibhist a Tuath.

If I am successful in being elected as a councillor for North Uist, I
would work alongside the other councillor, Community Council
and local groups to bring about effective positive change to the island.
This could be achieved by working on issues which matter
most to the community.”

Mustapha Hocine

“I am putting myself forward as a candidate as I believe I have the
personal qualities, knowledge, and experience to best represent the
interests of North Uist. I aim to be an honest representative for the
community, standing for the interest of North Uist and working
constructively with others to deliver our priorities.

My experience in both the statutory and voluntary sectors and my knowledge of Health and Social Care will help me play a constructive
role in formulating the council’s agenda and deliver positive
outcomes for our community.

Housing – Housing is key to the future prosperity of our Island. Good quality affordable housing is a cornerstone of any strategy for North Uist to remain an attractive and a prosperous place to live.

Health and social care – I will work to improve health and social care services to ensure those working in and those receiving health and social care will carry on benefiting from a high-quality service that is designed around the needs of the community.

Keep North Uist moving forward – I will support the council to invest
in new infrastructure to help new and existing businesses to develop and thrive.

Tourism – Encourage a more diverse and sustainable tourism industry,
built on quality and innovation to make North Uist an allyear-
round destination.

Democracy and Accountability – I will advocate for an open and
democratic local council which welcomes scrutiny and brings decision
making closer to local communities.

Education, Children and Young People – I believe that education is a matter of fairness and that all schools should give the same high standard of education. I support an education system that is inclusive and provides a firm foundation for the success of our children and young people.

“Young people are our future and the future of those Islands”

Youth empowerment – The views of young people need to be at
the heart of the decision-making process.

North Uist is my home and I am seeking to represent you –
my colleagues, friends and neighbours – at the next council election.
I am ready to work on your behalf, to deliver the priorities of North
Uist residents.”

Uisdean Robertson

“Our islands and its economy are particularly dependant on having resilient and reliable transport connections. The greatest economic
threat that our islands face is in the haphazard delivery of our lifeline
ferry services.

The time is now surely long overdue for a complete overhaul of Scottish Government ferry policy that places islanders at the heart of every decision made in regard to these services. We need to see the introduction of new free bus travel concessions for young people extended to ferry travel for young islanders.

An argument has to be made for a two ferry service between Lochmaddy, Uig and Tarbert particularly in the Summer.

Benbecula/Stornoway PSO needs more financial support from Scottish Government. The next Comhairle Capital Program must set aside a sizeable budget for road maintenance and improvements.

A new Care Home for North Uist must also be included in this Program. More needs to be done to get practical solutions to the housing crisis for local young people.”

Council candidates asked to consider care

Mel Groundsell

The Western Isles Community Care Forum (WICCF), a registered charity representing Third Sector care providers across the Western Isles, has written to candidates to set out the financial pressures that local care groups are under.

The letter details an average 66% gap in funding, with some organisations receiving as little as 10% of their funds from the statutory bodies responsible for social care delivery in the Western Isles.

WICCF Chair, Morag Munro, said: “While members are grateful for the financial support they receive from the IJB, Comhairle and NHS, the gap between this support and their expenditure has increased dramatically over the years. This is due mainly to the fact that there has been no uplift to the amount received since 2013. In the meantime costs have increased and demand continues to increase due to our ageing population, more people being cared for in their own homes, an increase in the number of people with dementia, a reduction in the number of family carers and extended family and a lack of workforce in the care sector.

Organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to access funding to close the gap. We are very dependent on the generosity of our community, but they are also struggling. Funders are generally reluctant to fund core costs or services which they perceive to be the responsibility of statutory services and are often only interested in new initiatives.

Fundraising puts a great deal of pressure on organisations and involves staff in spending a large proportion of their time in trying to make ends meet – time which could be better used for the benefit of the vulnerable in our communities.”

Mrs Munro also raised the issue of funding cycles, highlighting the difficulty of forward planning when funding allocations are delivered on a year to year basis.

Another local group, the Disability Advocacy Collective (DAC), has invited candidates to a series of ‘zoom hustings’, to share their members’ concerns and to hear for themselves what prospective councillors have to say on cuts in social care service delivery, respite services and assisted transport.

The DAC is made up of the Speak Out Group (18 adults with a learning disability), Advocacy Western Isles, Autism Eilean Siar, Enable WI Branch, Harris Disability Access Panel, carers and service users. In its letter to candidates, the Collective highlighted the significant underspend in social care, stating: “In the last reporting period, there were 444 care hours undelivered every week as a result of carer shortfall, leaving desperate families across the WI without the full support they need.”

The IJB’s own meeting papers state: “…projected underspend of £217k in the homecare services. This is mostly due to the level of vacancies held, net underspend of £614k, offset by projected agency costs of £342k. The budget already assumed a £250k saving from vacancy so the underspend in staffing is actually £864k less the agency cost.”

Both groups have addressed their pleas direct to the candidates standing for office in the hope that if elected, they will prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable in our society.

A helping paw to our feline friends

Abigail Taylor

The organisation looking our for Uist’s wild living cats are celebrating two years of committed effort from hardworking volunteers.

Uist Cat Rescue aims to control the wild population with an active neutering service and to re-home wild cats in need. The group relies solely on financial donations to pay for vet treatment bills, as well as food and litter donations, blankets, towels, unwanted cat beds and toys, all of which help to care for foster cats and enable as many animals to be cared for as possible. 

Speaking to Am Pàipear, Cathy Braim, a member of the Uist Cat Rescue committee, said: “We were immediately challenged by the pandemic which prevented us from fundraising. Although we have been amazed by the support we have received from far and wide, which has enabled us to follow our dreams of helping the wild living cats in Uist.”

She added: “We are also grateful to Western Isles Support for Cats and Kittens in Stornoway, which originally provided encouragement and advice in setting up Uist Cat Rescue following the withdrawal of Cats Protection in Uist. Our Stornoway colleagues share their trapping licence with us and are still very much a guiding light and support to us.”

The team looking fostering cats in their own homes is small, with limited capacity, but as Cathy says: “They are all dedicated to caring, loving, and finding the best homes for our charges.”

Cathy added: “I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported us in so many ways to help the cats and kittens, and those who have provided loving homes in the short time we have been in existence.”

All adult cats and those kittens over six months are neutered or spayed before rehoming, and all potential adopters of all kittens are asked to sign an agreement to vaccinate, neuter or spay their new pet once they are old enough. 

“We’d like to thank those who have taken pity on strays in their areas, and have been happy to allow them back to the wild and feed them once we have taken away the worry of an exploding population by neutering/spaying. We are sure there has been more than one adult cat gradually trusting those feeding them who has gone on to make the transition into family life! And thanks also to those who have found vulnerable wild cats or kittens and handed them in to us,” Cathy added.

Cathy expressed her gratitude to the Southern Isles Veterinary Practice for fitting in neutering and spaying operations into their very busy schedule.” 

Apart from the limited accommodation for fosters, the size of the area covered provides a challenge.

A group of volunteers has made the task easier, but anyone who would like to volunteer is being encouraged to do so. Cathy said: “With so few of us, and most of us working and with other responsibilities, we are unable to monitor traps and refresh food any distance away from us. We have depended on a few kind people to do this for us.”

In 2020, their first year of operation, 44 kittens were brought into care, 22 kittens were born in care to pregnant mothers, 8 males were neutered and 17 females were spayed. In 2021, 47 kittens were brought into care, 13 kittens were born in care to pregnant mothers, 11 males were neutered, and 15 females were spayed.

Cats and kittens come from across the islands even reaching Barra. Cathy said: “We took care of one rescued kitten diagnosed with meningitis until he was well enough to go back to Barra. We also took in Jojo from Barra who had been found with a damaged jaw after going into a car engine – he was fostered during his treatment by one of our group who actually ended up keeping him. We also fostered two females who had already been spayed but never claimed and ended up happily rehomed.”

Cathy concluded: “We do have to stress to people that we are only volunteers doing our best for the wild-living cats. We are often stretched and overwhelmed, and have very limited facilities in our own homes. But we do the very best we can in the circumstances. If anyone would like to help us with fostering, we provide all the necessary equipment, food and litter. We would also appreciate it if anyone would like to do a fundraiser for us.”

Staff old and new celebrate 20 years of service

Mel Groundsell

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the official opening of Taigh Cheann a’ Locha, (The Data Centre) in Lionacleit.

HIE relocated the organisation’s administrative and financial functions to the Outer Hebrides in 2002, which helped to disperse public sector jobs to more rural areas. HIE’s chief executive Stuart Black was at the Benbecula celebrations, along with Area Manager Joanna Peteranna , but the real guest of honour was Isabel Macdonald, who retired from the Data Centre in in 2008.

Mr Black said: “The success of the Taigh Cheann a’ Locha with its skilled workforce over the years, demonstrates that island communities are great places to locate public sector jobs. It’s an excellent example of how administrative functions can be relocated to more rural parts of the Highlands and Islands, helping to strengthen community resilience and boost population”.

“We are currently exploring ideas for creating more quality jobs across the Outer Hebrides including at our offices here in Benbecula. For example, with more of our staff working on a hybrid basis, there may well be scope to diversify the use of the space for use by other tenants.”Taigh Cheann a’ Locha was officially opened on 22 April 2002 by former First Minister Jack McConnell, when it employed 19 people to provide administrative and financial support to the entire organisation. 

Since then, it has been the workplace for around 60 people in high quality roles. Four of the original staff are still employed by HIE (3) and Skills Development Scotland (1). Four out of eight people in HIE’s current finance team came through the modern apprenticeship route and were all offered permanent contracts. Staff maternity leave over the years has also seen the arrival of 27 new babies into the community.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) There are two vacancies for HIE presently being advertised in the Outer Hebrides – head of enterprise support at Benbecula or Stornoway and senior development manager in Benbecula. Two more vacancies will be coming up soon between the finance and the area teams.

Green appeal for North Uist Distillery new blue bottle

Abigail Taylor

Award-winning gin-producers Kate Macdonald and Jonny Ingledew have launched a new premium bottle for their flagship Downpour Gin as part of exciting growth plans for 2022. 

The new bottle features a bold and eye-catching design, with several nods to the company’s Hebridean heritage. ‘Island Life Distilled’, the brand’s strapline, is embossed on the neck of each bottle, with the body featuring the Downpour logo surrounded by the brand’s signature rain pattern, which wraps around the new bottle. 

With a focus on increasing environmental consciousness, Kate and Jonny enlisted high-quality Italian glassmakers Vetroelite to produce the new bottle, designed by Glasgow based Jamhot Design. 

The new bottle uses 38% less glass than the original Downpour design, has a natural cork stopper with a wooden top and uses biodegradable inks, ensuring the whole thing can be recycled alongside clear household glass making it as environmentally friendly as possible. 

Kate said: “We are delighted to launch a new bottle for our original Downpour Gin during what is an exciting time for North Uist Distillery. We wanted to create a new bespoke bottle which would enhance our brand while representing our Hebridean heritage and the Downpour Gin inside. Each bottle is distilled, bottled and labelled on the island to enable the business to have a long-term benefit for the community. We currently employ ten people and will look to continue to add to our team in the future.” 

North Uist Distillery has been plastic free since inception, using only cardboard in their postal packaging and the distillery is also aiming to become B Corp certified.

B Corp Certification is a designation that evidences a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.

As well as the bottle’s design for the environment, the neck has also been crafted to be easily used at the new refill station at North Uist Distillery’s home at Nunton Steadings and the distillery is working towards launching a postal refill system later this year for off-island customers.

Kate added: “Our original bottle had a very heavy base which required a lot of glass. As part of the redesign, we have made sure that the new bottle is more lightweight and uses less glass than our original bottle. We have also designed it to fit into the refill station at Nunton Steadings, where anyone can come along and get their bottle refilled. This is an important development which will help us go some way to achieving one of our major goals which is to become more sustainable as a business. We believe we now have a bottle which more people will want to keep and one that will also encourage refills at our Nunton Steadings shop.” 

North Uist Distillery has proven to be a hit not just locally, but with tourists alike. The opening of the Downpour Shop in May 2021 attracted over 10,000 visitors over its first summer of business. The small team are keen to increase that figure this summer, and will welcome the return of tasting sessions and tours which were also launched in August 2021.

Selling out in the first week of the launch, the new bottle has been received as a success.

New bottles will be launched for the remaining flavours of Downpour, creating a collectable quartet. Customers can look forward to a new ‘Island Life Bar’, for visitors to enjoy a Downpour gin and tonic, in the courtyard of the steadings, if the Uist weather allows it. 

Bornholm island trip provides food for thought for local producers

Abigail Taylor

Ten people from food and drink businesses in the Outer Hebrides have returned from a week-long learning journey to the Danish island of Bornholm.

The trip was funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise as part of the agency’s support for the region’s food and drink sector.

All businesses that took part are members of Eat Drink Hebrides, the regional food group that aims to grow a thriving food and drink network for the islands.

It includes food producers, retailers, chefs, restaurant owners and front of house staff from businesses such as Harbour Kitchen, North Uist Distillery and Eriskay Community Shop.

Julie Sloan, project manager with Eat Drink Hebrides, said: “I carried out a lot of research into places that represent best practice when it comes to food tourism. I also wanted to find a location that reflects our island communities. Bornholm is such a good fit; I am delighted to have taken our group there.” 

Bornholm shares many similarities with the Hebrides as the tourism season is relatively short and supply chains are challenging. There is also a shortage of young people and difficulties associated with keeping and selling locally grown products.

The visitors spent time meeting and learning from the experiences of food and drink companies on Bornholm and how they have met the challenges they have in common.

During a packed itinerary they visited a food market, a farm, breweries and a smokehouse. They also visited a pasta maker who uses locally grown durum wheat, an organic ice cream maker, a grilled cheese pop up café and a new tourism experience that aims to educate visitors about the ocean and where food comes from.

Funding allowed Eat Drink Hebrides to employ a consultant who spoke with businesses across the spectrum, from producers to retailers, to better understand how supply chains need to evolve sustainably.

Joanna Peteranna, HIE’s area manager for the Outer Hebrides, said: “Collaboration is important in any sector. It sparks ideas and innovation, which in turn fuels growth across the sector. That’s what this learning journey was all about and together with the work carried out by the consultant, we can expect to see more positive things happen in the Outer Hebrides food and drink sector.”

The consultant’s report supports Our Atlantic Larder 2021-2030, a plan to make sure food and drink from the Outer Hebrides is widely recognised as high quality, artisan, and rich in heritage and culture.

Catriona Walker, Manager of Eriskay Shop, said: ”I went on the trip wearing three different hats: firstly, as a food retailer, secondly as a Board Director for Storas Uibhist and thirdly as a crofter, and in all three cases, there was so much to learn. The Bornholm group really strive for self-sufficiency and that gives them some security when it comes to food supply. Here in the Uists we are so reliant on food coming in and between the global food supply crisis and our own very local problems with the ferries, we just don’t feel resilient and as a food retailer, that worries be. I was also stuck by the trust they had in each other, and their commitment to working collectively for the greater good – that’s definitely something id like to see more of here in the Uists.”

Kate MacDonald, who attended on behalf of North Uist Distillery, said: “I have been hugely inspired by our visit to Bornholm. It was a wonderful experience to share alongside other food & drink producers from the Outer Hebrides. Seeing the creativity, innovation and collaboration between the Gourmet Bornholm producers has given us all ideas for how to further enhance our food & drink offering within the islands.”

Food resilience heads the agenda for visiting MSP

Abigail Taylor

Ariane Burgess, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, visited Uist this month holding meetings with community groups across the islands.

Speaking with Am Pàipear about her time here, Ariane focussed on food resilience and the cost of living on the islands.

She said: “In the coming months, Parliament will agree on the Good Food Nation bill, which if consented to, will require the Scottish Government, Health Boards and Local Authorities to create Good Food plans. I was heartened by the conversations with people across Benbecula and Uist to learn that local people and communities are already leading the way.

From the great Community Food Growing project at TAGSA to the Neighbour Food initiative that will connect local producers with people wanting local produce, I am optimistic that food resilience is being taken seriously by everyone I met. It was also exciting to hear about ideas in the works from a community kitchen to even more formed projects like the Food Hub at the Grogarry steading that will provide space for people wanting to set up local food production from bread to cheese and of course a micro-brewery. It would be fantastic to see local people being able to eat affordable, locally produced food in the near future.”

Jemma MacVicar, development officer for North Uist and Benbecula Locality Partnership, also hosted the MSP, following previous online meetings. She said: “It was fantastic to have the opportunity to meet Ariane in person and chat around a number of topics important to the community. The topic of resilience moved quickly onto food production and there are such a number of fantastic growing and production initiatives on these islands which in coming together could create even more opportunities in feeding our own communities and benefitting from the export of products to elsewhere in Scotland.  

There is also a huge opportunity to do more with the potential food waste, food items which can no longer be sold but are perfectly safe to eat could be transferred to a community kitchen to be cooked and bring people together to share a meal, tackling both carbon reduction and social isolation. I do hope that by working together we can make these ideas realities in the near future.”

OVO Energy commit to resolving meter issues following MSP meeting

Abigail Taylor

Following an article in the last edition of Am Paipear, OVO Energy met with Alasdair Allan MSP with regards to the meter issues faced by many across the Western Isles.

OVO Energy took over SSE Energy Services, the part of the SSE Group that supplies energy, in January 2020.

It is understood that OVO energy took all of the concerns raised by Dr Allan on board and asked that he send over all the cases he had of people who had been experiencing delays so that these could be addressed. 
Customers are waiting to have essential new meters installed or have repairs or upgrades carried out on existing meters, with back logs leading to delays of over a year.

An ongoing signalling issue, which is preventing OVO Energy from installing meters as fast as they would like, is in the process of being rectified. They have said since the meeting that they are investigating the wider issue and that they will be back in touch with Dr Allan soon with further comments and actions.

Alasdair Allan MSP said: “I recently sought a meeting with OVO because of the number of people who have been in touch with me trying to get meters installed. The company engaged constructively with the issues discussed. OVO have said that they are in the process of rectifying a signalling issue, which should help them install meters faster than they have been able to do until this point, and that they are currently fully investigating the issue of timely meter installations and repairs in the islands.

I am appreciative of OVO Energy’s commitment to tackle this growing problem, particularly given the current energy bill crisis which is disproportionately affecting island communities. People need to have working meters in their properties, and also to be able to make use of smart meters to help measure their energy use.”

Tighean Innse Gall has compiled a list of 50 individuals waiting on meter appointments, stretching from Lewis to Barra. Broken down this equates to 44 percent owner-occupiers and 56 percent social housing tenants. 18 requests have come from Lewis, five from Harris, four from North Uist, 10 from Benbecula, eight from South Uist and five from Barra.

It is believed additional properties could be affected but not included on the list maintained by Tighean Innse Gall.

Islanders asked to help shape the future of the Air Ambulance
Service

Mel Groundsell

The Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) is holding a public consultation on its air ambulance provision ahead of a re-procurement exercise expected to start in early summer.

The air ambulance division is funded by Scottish Government and provides a crucial service to remote and rural communities, transferring patients requiring emergency and urgent care to hospitals on the mainland.

The service also provides air ambulance support to the ScotSTAR retrieval teams and responds to 999 calls in a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) role. The service is delivered through a managed contract of two helicopters; one based in Glasgow and one in Inverness and two fixed wing aircraft; one at Aberdeen Airport and one at Glasgow Airport. In addition to the four government funded aircraft, the service is supplemented by two helicopters provided by Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance.

The current contract has been held by Gama Aviation for the last thirty years and is is due to expire in May 2024.

SAS Local Team Leader/Paramedic, Maurice MacDonald, said: “Having been involved in many air transfers, it is clear from the gratitude and thanks being offered how patients and their family members view the air service . It is imperative that maintaining the current level of availability is a minimum expectation in the re-procurement process.”

The air ambulance service is called to the Western Isles an average of 450 times a year. Mr MacDonald explained: “The frequency in which the air service is utilised can go unnoticed at times, with the first hint being a yellow plane on the runway or a noise in the sky at night, but it is not unusual for the local ambulance crews to be involved in transfers on a daily basis or even several times a day.’

Andy Moir, Air Ambulance Re-procurement Programme Director at SAS said: “This wide-ranging consultation will provide us with the opportunity to help shape the future of the Air Ambulance Service, ensuring a sustainable, modern service which delivers high-quality care for the people of Scotland.”

The consultation opened on 14th April and the closing date for submissions is 31st May 2022. Those wishing to contribute their views or opinions about any aspect of the air ambulance future service have been asked to complete an online consultation form on the SAS website or email sas.airamb@nhs.scot.