Sarah Jane MacSween – Executive Head, Uist Primary Schools

Discover your inner kindness this Christmas – ‘tis the season to be jolly and kind!

As we approach Christmas, we start to hear the word ‘kindness’ and are reminded that this word is commonly used at this time of the year.

I recently heard that kindness was contagious. It got me thinking, whether this was true and more importantly, is there any evidence to back that statement? My immediate thoughts led me to events and celebrations that unsurprisingly, all occurred within school settings. A school environment is arguably the most likely place to see evidence of natural and unconscious kindness. The evidence can be found on corridor and classroom displays, children’s work and Achievement and Celebration Walls to name but a few. Kindness can also be observed through the caring and thoughtful interactions between adult and child and their interactions with each other. I then asked myself the question, is kindness something that can be learned and how and when does it get taught?

Kindness is more than random acts. Being a kind person is about having an awareness and a willingness to respond to the needs of others.

Children learn from the examples set by the adults that surround them. Some say that they begin to imitate others from the moment they are born. As their first educators, parents/carers have the duty to allow their children to experience kindness themselves first hand and so give them the best possible start in life. Of course schools play a significant role in moulding and creating our future generation. However, it is not just the work of the school; the whole community can shape and influence young learners. Family and friendship groups can also make a significant contribution to the attitudes that our children form.

One of the building blocks of kindness is to understand and respect the rights of others. Across the Uist primaries, we pride ourselves on the quality of our Teaching and Learning about rights. Our schools have achieved silver, gold and reaccredited gold Right Respecting Schools status. Teaching and learning about rights involves whole school community involvement, our curriculum, assemblies, interdisciplinary learning, focus days and weeks and the children’s creative and informative displays within the school.

The Uist primaries will continue their Rights Respecting Schools Award journeys as a means to keeping our young children at the centre of everything that we do. We are committed to putting children’s rights at the heart of our school life. We strive to create safe and inspiring places to learn, where children are respected and learn to respect others. By enabling children to have positive attitudes to themselves and others, we enable them to form relationships characterised by kindness.

The school curriculum aims to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they will need to become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. Underlying these capacities is the capacity to be aware of the needs of others, in a way that treats them with dignity and respect.

Each year our children and our families participate in a number of ways in responding to the needs of others at Christmas. For example, families contribute generously to the Blythswood Shoebox Appeal and a Christmas Swap Shop gives families the chance to find pre-loved party gear or Christmas jumpers. Within our schools, efforts are made to reduce family expenses through the effective use of The Cost of The School Day Toolkit. Families are encouraged to sell unwanted toys/clothes etc. on the schools’ Facebook pages, where all proceeds go towards school funds. Children and their families also reach out to the needs of the wider community by supporting local and national charities, such as WICCI, MacMillan Cancer and Marie Curie.
Another important contribution was when a school and Parent Council purchased electric trikes in partnership with the local care home as part of the Cycling Without Age Scotland initiative.
Across our Uist primaries, themed assemblies and special days highlight local, national and international issues and concerns, ensuring that children are well informed about the needs of others.

A wide range of activities that demonstrate our children’s experiences of expressing kindness take place through the course of the year. These include The Poppy Scotland Appeal, harvest festivals, donations to the local foodbank, panto/concert matinee performances for senior citizens, The Big Scottish Breakfast, sharing of pre-loved school uniform items for exchange free of charge and many other important acts of kindness.

Our schools are very fortunate to have such a high level of generous support and kindness shown to us by our local communities and businesses. Through the kindness of many donors, we receive support for school projects and events such as involvement in Mod preparation, purchases of healthy break time snacks, participation in Remembrance Sunday and sharing in intergenerational activities.

When I reflect on this range of activities in families, schools and communities, I think I can say with confidence that kindness is indeed infectious and alive and well in the Western Isles.

Uist nominees line up

Chaidh sgioba beòthail agus tàlantach ainmeachadh airson 21mh Duaisean Ceòl Traidiseanta na h-Alba aig MG ALBA a tha a’ taisbeanadh na tha de thàlant ann an saoghal ceòl traidiseanta na h-Alba.
Fans of the genre were able to vote for who they think deserves to take home each prestigious award, with the winners announced at the annual glittering awards ceremony at Caird Hall in Dundee on Saturday 2nd December 2023.

Le cànan is ceòl aig cridhe nan eilean, chan eil iongnadh ann gu bheil a leithid as na h-eileanan air an ainmeachadh airson na duaisean urramach a tha seo. Tha na duaisean seo a’ sealltainn an luach a thathar a cuir air na tha a h-uile duine air a’ gheàrr-liosta air a choileanadh fad bliadhna.
Le ath-bheothachadh drùidhteach air a’ ghnè, a’ ruighinn luchd-èisteachd nas fharsainge le fèisean is tachartasan ùra a’ tighinn am bàrr bliadhna às deidh bliadhna, tha na duaisean – air an cur air dòigh leis a’ bhuidheann ‘Hands Up For Trad ‘– a’ seasamh mar theisteanas air tarraingeachd leantainneach an t-saoghail.

From new events and festivals making history to the country’s best bands and composers, the successful nominees represent the past, present and future of a world traditional Scottish music and are located all over the country.

Home grown Meals on Wheels service

Tagsa Uibhist and MacLeans Bakery launch new home-grown Meals on Wheels service in Uist.
Biadh Blasta Uibhist will supply and deliver over 500 nutritious meals to those being cared for at home this winter. The meals have been made with local Uist lamb, venison, salmon and vegetables and will be delivered using zero-emission vehicles.

Tagsa’s Local Food Development Manager, Alex MacKenzie said: ‘These delicious meals are all made using local Uist meat, fish, and vegetables. The Tagsa staff and volunteers have been working with local crofters, the North Uist Estate and with local salmon companies and have grown huge amounts of potatoes, carrots, onions, and rhubarb here at Tagsa and in the community. The meals are traditional, healthy, and nutritious and have been prepared, packaged and blast frozen by MacLeans Bakery, meeting all required food safety standards. We will start our deliveries in the week of the 20th of November, reaching a total of 23 Tagsa clients over eight weeks.”

Allan Maclean, Director of Maclean’s Bakery, said: ‘We were delighted to be asked to help our friends at Tagsa Uibhist with their project as we share a passion for local produce and community gardens. We are lucky in Uist that there are so many excellent food producers and we are strongly supportive of any project that highlights their good work. We wish them every success for the future.”

Tagsa’s CEO, Chris MacLullich added: ‘A recent study carried out by Tagsa shows that the cost of food in Uist is 28% higher than on the mainland and that the availability of fresh, nutritious food is limited due to erratic deliveries and the lack of large supermarkets. These factors combined mean that eating fresh, nutritious, and healthy food can be very difficult for many in Uist, particularly those who find it difficult to prepare fresh meals themselves. We are grateful to the Comhairle for a grant of £2,500, which goes some way to making this pilot project possible. Our hope is to do the same and scale up in the coming years.”

Biadh Blasta Uibhist will initially run for a period of eight weeks but the hope is to establish the service on a permanent basis.

Prestigious ‘charity MBE’ for local charity

In November, members of the SHARE/ Daliburgh Thrift Shop were thrilled to learn that they were recipients of one of the first prestigious King’s Awards for Voluntary Service (KAVS).
Equivalent to an MBE, KAVS is the highest Award given to local voluntary groups in the UK and champions the outstanding work of groups of volunteers working in their local community. SHARE was one of just 262 organisations across the UK to be honoured in this way.

Avril Campbell, Chairperson of SHARE said:

“We are delighted that the hard work and commitment of our loyal team of volunteers over many years has been recognised with this award. The thrift shop has carved out a unique and special place in the heart of the community and is truly something created and enjoyed by one and all.

“Indeed the entire community deserves this recognition. SHARE acknowledges that their success depends not only on the hard work of volunteers but also on the continuing support of their loyal customers and the generosity of people in the community who donate so many wonderful high quality goods for sale.”

The first seeds of the thrift shop were sown nearly a quarter of a century ago by the then Church of Scotland minister, Rev James Lawson, who had the vision to realise that the Church Hall could be used for the benefit of the whole community. After much discussion and canvassing of the views of members of the community, it was decided to develop the first thrift shop and tea room. By June 2005, the thrift shop was constituted as SHARE (Sharing, Helping, and Reaching Everyone) and charitable status was granted.

Funding for the renovation of the Hall was secured and on 15th March 2007, the thrift shop reopened and of course it seemed only right that Rev James Lawson returned to Daliburgh to dedicate the building. Since then, SHARE has gone from strength to strength.

SHARE currently has a team of 35 volunteers, a number of whom have been with the organisation since it started. The SHARE volunteers make for a happy team, says Avril:

“The hard work and friendliness of the whole team mean that all customers, both local and those visiting the islands, can be assured of a warm welcome. Indeed there are so many lovely comments to that effect.”

“Every Thursday and Saturday many people go along to the thrift shop from 11 am to 1 pm to enjoy a friendly chat over tea, coffee and home baking and to find bargains. We pride ourselves on offering great value for money especially in these tough times of hardship. Once running costs of the hall are deducted, all proceeds from sales and teas are donated to local charities and good causes.”

Since 2008, SHARE has donated an impressive £86,478 to over 75 organisations.

Libby Learmond

Service Manager – Penumbra Western Isles


What do you think of when people mention mental health or wellbeing? These phrases are thankfully more commonplace in our everyday language these days with many more public conversations taking place. It feels like there is less stigma in talking about how we are feeling. This has to be a good thing, hasn’t it? And it is to an extent … but I worry that this could have the unintended consequence of almost masking the immense impact on lives when someone experiences mental ill health… There is hope though. With care and support the impact can be minimised, and wellbeing restored. Recovery is possible.

My lived experience is of having a family member being very seriously ill and needing intensive medical and psychological support for over two years. She is well now and did get amazing care, but it changed the lives and perspective of our whole family. We were lucky, I had a very understanding and flexible employer. I also, to put it bluntly, had the money to take her to Stornoway on a weekly basis and to Inverness to receive treatment. A person’s access to the support they need should not be dependent on their ability to afford the transport costs or the time from work to get to the help they need.

During the pandemic, (I’ll get to the psychological impact of the pandemic in a moment), we were all taught about the value of preventative care. For a physical, potentially serious condition you can take precautions, washing your hands, keeping your distance, staying at home and taking lemsip or suchlike if you feel unwell. There was an emphasis on how to look after ourselves and knowing what we could do to get through the symptoms. The seriously ill got treatment, most of us had a grotty couple of weeks, others needed ongoing help or hospitalisation, some, sadly, died. We need to take the same proactive, recovery focused, approach to our mental health and for there to be the support services available to enable us to do so.

The statistics tell us that each year in Scotland, one in four people have a mental health issue. Some are medical conditions, some brought about by life experiences, others by a sudden shock or a change to a person’s way of life, stress, addiction, losing a job, relationship issues or bereavement. If a person can receive compassionate support through a crisis or to manage longer term anxiety their prognosis can be changed. They don’t need to be “medicalised” or dependent on the stretched statutory services. They can be supported through their own, person-focused recovery, here in Uist and Benbecula in their own timescales.

Now, I do need to make it clear that I am definitely not criticising any of the people out there providing much needed support. The medical folks, Community Psychiatric Nursing Service (CPNS), Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), Social Workers and support staff do an amazing job in incredibly difficult conditions. At times I worry for the stress they are under and have nothing but respect for their commitment and how they work with as many people as they do. But they will tell you themselves that they are stretched beyond belief. We need another way of doing things to get the people the help when they need it and not to burn out the health of professionals that we have.

I can almost see you rolling your eyes and saying that’s all very well but where is the help and support going to come from? The Comhairle has no money, the NHS is understaffed, there are precious few Care Assessors in the Social Work department. All that is true. But what is also true is that Uist has a very strong and capable third sector, providing mental health support, befriending, substance use counselling and a range of services. As a community we could do more if third sector activities were coordinated with the Integrated Joint Board for Health and Social Care . This joint approach could prevent a crisis in someone’s life becoming a life- threatening emergency. The problem is that while there is minimal grant funding, it isn’t enough, nor coordinated or targeted effectively towards the mental wellbeing of our community. While I would never put a price on a person’s mental health, local early support is far cheaper than emergency intervention or a long stay in a mainland hospital with all the disruption to families and services that causes. A more holistic view needs to be taken towards where and how the money is spent.

In the apparent absence of mental health objectives, targets or intended outcomes from either the Comhairle or locality planning, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be confident that we know what our communities need in respect of mental health and wellbeing treatments or recovery.

 The last two years, during the pandemic we suffered a marked increase in social isolation and indeed anxieties around our own health and vulnerability. People were not able to or didn’t want to ask for help for what they considered minor or unimportant symptoms; we are seeing the consequences of this now. People are struggling when they deserve to be able to enjoy life. It is not too much to ask.

I am not asking for a magic wand or for hard-working professionals in the health and social care sector to try and do more. But I do believe with new and emerging national strategies on mental health and wellbeing, suicide prevention and selfharm, community partners have an opportunity to come together to plan a Western Isles response that meets the needs of our people. We know money is tight – it is for everyone – but if community partners work and plan together, I am confident they can address much of what is needed to make a real difference to the wellbeing of our community.


In April next year, Benbecula Medical Practice will join the growing number of Scottish GPs making the move from independent businesses to NHS owned and operated services.

The news comes a year after Barra’s Castlebay Medical Practice made the same transition following the unexpected departure of its GP.

The move has been driven by a national shortage of GPs and exacerbated by a local recruitment crisis that has made it impossible for Benbecula Practice to recruit the GP Partners it needs to run the business.

Dr Kate Dawson told Am Pàipear of her disappointment with the move but says she and her fellow Practice Partner Dr Mark Johnson were left with no other viable option:

“For many years the Practice was shared between four GP Partners. This allowed for a range of additional specialist services and allowed us to take on the medical services contract for the Uist & Barra Hospital.

“One by one our Partners have retired; Dr Senior in 2015 and then Dr Tierney in 2017. We have been actively searching for replacement partners throughout this period but despite our earnest and continued efforts, we have not been able to do so.

“While we have successfully recruited salaried GPs and Locum doctors as and when required we have not found the new partners we need to share the risk and responsibility of running the business.”

“Having invested our time and money into the business over the last 25 years, it is very disappointing to be in this position, but after nine years of trying to recruit GP partners, six years intensively so, we have had to accept that we can not carry on as we are.

“By taking this proactive approach, we aim to ensure the change is as positive as it can be. We could soldier on with fewer and fewer resources but by doing this now we can make sure we do it well.

“While it is a disappointment for us as a business I am reassured that the Western Isles Healthboard will ensure the transition to NHS control will be carried out smoothly and with no adverse effects for patients or staff.”

Dr Dawson anticipates that she will continue to work in the same way, although on a salaried contract. Dr Johnson is retiring, with the option of returning to work on a part-time basis

NHS Western Isles Medical Director, Dr Frank McAuley, said: “I’d like to take this opportunity to commend Drs Dawson and Johnson for the gold standard service they have provided to patients on Benbecula over the years. Their commitment and dedication to providing patients with the best possible care has been unwavering.”

A spokesperson for the Board added: “The move to Health Board managed medical practices is seen throughout Scotland, indeed the Western Isles has been late in seeing such transitions. This is definitely a sign of the times, and should in no way be seen as failure on a Medical Practice’s part. .”

 “The service provided by Benbecula Medical Practice will continue to provide the excellent patient-focused care it has provided over many years. We look forward to working with the Benbecula Medical Staff, as healthcare provision on Uists and Benbecula enters a new era.” The Board was unable to confirm its commitment to maintaining the same GP/patient ratio after the Practice transitions to their control, saying:

“NHSWI is not in a position to commit to staffing numbers or skill mix due to sustainable recruitment issues and changing models of healthcare delivery. Clearly a move away from reliance on any form of locum cover is preferred throughout the healthcare teams.”


Loganair has introduced a Barra-only residents fare under a new four year contract to operate essential air services between Barra and Glasgow.

The change will affect those Uist residents and family visitors who previously made use of the much-reduced fares on the Barra route. While fares for Barra residents will be capped at £91, Uist travellers will see their fares rise by a minimum of £20 and in many circumstances, considerably more.

The Transport Scotland contract for the Barra – Glasgow service is subsidised under a Public Service Obligation which sets service level agreements and also allows for lower fares.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) has long-called for the same level of subsidy to be awarded to the Benbecula – Stornoway flight, which also operates under a Public Service Obligation but is not supported in the same way.

In July, CnES was forced to cut the Stornoway service to two days a week saying it did not have the funds to cover the £629k costs of the service. The Comhairle warned that the change would negatively affect NHS patients, who it said made up 90% of the route’s ticket sales.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP, Angus MacNeil says he has written to Loganair and the Scottish Government regarding the increased airfares:

“This has been rushed in without the necessary safeguards in place. Non-island residents will pay more and therefore could be charged up to £160 one way. This raises questions about wider family and friends visiting the island.

“There will be a chaotic period until they sort it out. I think there should be a hiatus in the pricing changing structure. Stability for islanders and visitors, particularly as we are at the beginning of winter, it is not the most difficult time to sort this out. Current prices should be maintained until the chaos is ironed out by both parties.”

Last month Loganair confirmed that the company was no longer for sale. A statement from current sole owners Stephen and Peter Bond said: “The suspension of the sale process allows the Company to complete the re-fleet programme and address the specific issues impacting the world-wide supply chain availability and costs. There has never been a time-bound reason for the sale of Loganair, and we remain committed to the Company until both the right time and custodian to acquire the Company is chosen”.

In October, Loganair was named Airline of the Year for 2023 by the European Regional Airline Association (ERA). The company, which employs more than 850 people across its network, was honoured in recognition of its “impressive performance” in returning to profitability following the pandemic whilst at the same time improving terms for its staff. Judges also highlighted its progressive ‘Green Skies’ environmental impact mitigation programme.



Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees, Emma Roddick, visited Uist in October prior to the release of the new Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan and her own constituent engagement survey.

Kareen MacRury, Uist Settlement Officer, organised a short programme of meetings for the minister including discussing her own work in helping people to move to the islands.

The housing theme carried over to a visit to the Tagsa Uibhist Community Gardens to discuss the recent Our Right to Food report as well as other population related concerns from Tagsa. Tagsa Uibhist CEO, Chris MacLullich, said: “We spoke about the usual challenges: housing, workforce, etc. She also said that there is a fund to convert unused housing to create new housing but this is for local authorities and there doesn’t seem to be any housing stock available for this here.”

Ms Roddick said: “The lack of affordable housing is a key factor driving depopulation. Public services and local businesses are being impacted due to a lack of staff, young people are moving out of their hometowns and taking jobs elsewhere, and ageing populations left behind are struggling to find care and support locally.”

The 2022 Scotland Census shows a 5.6% decrease in population from the previous census in 2011, the biggest percentage decrease in Scotland, and a 2020 report from the Highlands and Islands convention predicts a population loss of 14% between 2016 and 2041.

On 13 October, Housing Minister Paul MacLennan released the new Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan, which sets out how the remote, rural and islands communities of Scotland could benefit from the ScotGov Housing to 2040 plan. The plan sets out to build 110,000 homes across Scotland by 2032 with 10% in remote, rural and island communities.

The scheme takes its definition of ‘remote, rural and island communities’ from Scottish Government’s Urban Rural Classification 2020 guidelines, which describes ‘remote’ as those areas more than a 30 minute drive time of a settlement with a population of 10,000 or more.

Ms Roddick welcomed the plan saying: “The sustainability of our rural and island communities is vital to Scotland’s future, but we are currently seeing significant depopulation and rising house prices in many of these areas. That is why this action plan is so important for sustaining these communities. Providing affordable housing will help protect our rural and island communities, letting people stay where they want to live and continue to thrive.”

There is also a plan to introduce legislation enabling councils to charge a 100% premium on council tax for second homes. In Uist, 169 homes were registered as ‘secondary letting’ under the new Short Term Let regulation.

In the meeting with the minister, Ms MacRury set out the work being delivered under the Uist Repopulation Zone Action Plan, which included liaising with the Uist and Barra Housing Group project and Rural Housing Scotland to address housing concerns. This work will now be taken forward by Christina Morrison, who has taken on the role of Settlement Officer.


With the pre-contract design work on the St Kilda Viewpoint Centre completed in the spring of this year, Sealladh Hiort trustees have been working over the past few months with main sponsors, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to source the necessary funding to enable the project to be built.

This has proved a challenging task for a number of reasons, not least of which has been significant inflation in both the construction industry specifically and the economy more widely which, over the past two years has driven the costs of the project up from just over £3m to £4.8m. Added to this are the ongoing challenges with Uist ferry services which are not only presenting difficulties for building contractors, but are also restricting visitor numbers, which are key to the completed visitor centre’s economic viability.

As a result, Sealladh Hiort Trustees have regretfully decided that, despite the project being absolutely ready to proceed, the risks associated with building the Viewpoint Centre right now are too great for a community group, and that the best course of action is to postpone starting the development until the economic situation has stabilised and the new Uig to Lochmaddy ferry is in service.

Being part of the Comhairle’s 10 year Island Growth Deal’s Destination Development tourism strand, which is not due to be completed until 2032, the Viewpoint Centre can still count on this significant element of its required funding for a number of years, and this will remain key to attracting the additional financial support required when the moment is right.

Sealladh Hiort Chair, Alasdair MacEachen said “After all the hard work of the past six years to get the project to such an advanced stage this decision has been extremely difficult to take, but in the current circumstances we feel we have no choice. However, we have the great advantage of having a project absolutely ready to start on site when the situation improves and it is still our intention to do this as soon as the opportunity arises.”

Sealladh Hiort Trustees were also shocked and saddened by the news last week that one of its board members, John Love of Snishival on South Uist, had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. John had been a board member of Sealladh Hiort since its formation in 2017. Alasdair MacEachen paid tribute to his long service for the charity saying “Apart from being an enthusiastic supporter of the idea to build a visitor centre about St Kilda on Uist, his unrivalled knowledge of the archipelago’s social and natural history has been key to the now completed design of the Centre’s exhibition. His presence on the Sealladh Hiort board and his contributions to the Viewpoint Centre’s design will be greatly missed.”

Time to get off the couch!

The Western Isles team has returned home after competing in the Natwest International Island Games in Guernsey last month. We had medal success with three silvers and two bronze, Kerry MacPhee taking two silvers along with Kyla MacKinnon and Catriona O’Carrol as part of the silver-winning women’s football team. Everyone I have spoken to so far thoroughly enjoyed the experience; the competition, the camaraderie and meeting people from such a range of islands made for a hugely rewarding trip.

Cancelled due to Covid in 2021, these Guernsey games now took place four years on from the previous outing in Gibraltar. Sports teams tend to move in cycles and this gap meant that the natural process of squad replacement and regeneration was interrupted. Consequently, ours was overall a very young team, with the vast majority making their Games debut. They delivered a raft of excellent performances, with a high rate of personal bests across a wide range of sports. Athletics, swimming and football were notably youthful in composition, and the levels of individual improvement in these sports was significant and hugely encouraging. The team management and WIIGA committee were fully aware that this was a developmental group, and their outstanding performances demonstrated great potential for ongoing progress and success.

The whole concept of the International Island Games is an admirable one: to foster links and friendship between small island groups across the world, encouraging sport participation and offering our best athletes the opportunity to compete in top class international sport. Having travelled to previous Games in Jersey and Gotland as a spectator, I really enjoyed the huge sense of occasion and atmosphere at the games, demanding and nerve-wracking for the team, but also a great social event, with around 3000 participants. Also, it’s a rare chance to visit places we’d maybe never otherwise see.

Our often criticised Comhairle must be commended for their vision and ambition in pursuing membership of the Island Games Federation, which they accomplished in time for the Western Isles’ first foray to Shetland in 2005. Local Authority support is ongoing, administrative and financial, without which our participation would not be possible. Iain GG Campbell does a superb job managing the whole operation, with all the logistical headaches involved. The individual team managers (all voluntary) also do a power of work, dealing with selection, training, performance and communication. As you’d imagine, the cost of sending a 100+ squad to Guernsey is fairly eye-watering, and we are hugely grateful to main sponsors Bakkafrost, and the many local businesses and community organisations throughout the Western Isles who make the whole thing possible – not forgetting the star turn from Peat & Diesel!
I’d say that sport is very well served in Uist and, for a small rural community, facilities are excellent. A running track, games hall, swimming pool, fitness suites, all weather parks and football pitches are all available. (…maintenance of Liniclate’s pitches could be better though!) The “Slàinte Mhath” scheme helps make these as affordable and accessible as possible, comparing favourably with equivalent mainland rates. In addition, Uist & Barra Sports Council has 25 affiliated clubs plus one association member, offering a great range of sports to the community. There must be something for everybody?! Therefore, with strong infrastructure in place, it’s something of an anomaly that, across the community and country as a whole, general fitness levels have fallen in recent times (elite athletes not withstanding!)

There’s always been a solid sporting culture in Uist, but I’d say this has been undermined by social trends recently. With the rose-tinted goggles in place, I remember spending practically all our time outdoors as youngsters. Mainly football, of course, but we’d play badminton in church and village halls, golf in any old field, table tennis at youth club and when Wimbledon was on, naturally, tennis. We were even into cricket, and you’d have a whole squad donning the whites down behind Columba Place. Our grasp of etiquette wouldn’t cut the mustard at Lords though, especially Ali Grant, who’d smash the stumps with his bat when out. Gasps of horror from the pavilion! Kids and teenagers were much more active, and it was exactly the same in every village and township. Consequently, fitness levels were certainly higher than today’s norm. It’s not that people made conscious and sensible lifestyle choices, it was simply that there was no alternative, and we didn’t know any different.

Modern life offers a huge range of leisure options and lifestyle is becoming increasingly sedentary in nature. I guess TV has always been the leading driver of couch potato culture and this has been amplified by the arrival of internet and its spin-offs. Many are unable to function without constantly checking their phones and social media is an addiction for an awful lot of people. Watch a big sporting event on telly and, as the camera swings over the crowd, you see the blanket of mobiles busily filming, solely for the purpose of posting rather than getting on with enjoying the sport. Bonkers!

So, for all the good work that’s been done on sport development, the unfortunate situation is that a significant cohort have drifted away from sporting and physical activity. For many people exercise doesn’t appear on the radar and this isn’t good from any health perspective. Numerous social and cultural factors influence this trend. Education, lack of investment and poor infrastructure are cited nationally, but in the Western Isles at least, we have been pretty well catered for in those areas. Opportunities are here but personal lifestyle choices often lead elsewhere.

Several years ago, the Health & Sport Team at Liniclate launched a scheme promoting personal fitness programmes. Open to all, participants were individually assessed and monitored, and training programmes were drawn up tailored to their personal abilities and needs. All in all a great initiative, and 95 people signed up to the scheme. Two months down the line, the number keeping it going was in single figures. You can take a horse to water?

It’s often difficult to get a good lifestyle balance and sport is a great way to improve all round health. I’ve done a wee bit of running recently and sometimes it’s tough going. It’s rewarding though, with a lot of satisfaction when you perservere and get your run finished. I occasionally do the park run also, and the support and encouragement from fellow runners keeps you going. There’s a wide range of abilities taking part, and once Seonnaidh and the serious runners disappear over the horizon, most continue to slog their way round. You don’t have to be particularly good to enjoy your sport and a little perseverance brings rewards. You’ll find the exact same scenario playing out across the many Uist sports clubs referred to earlier. The quality athletes are there, and they raise the bar and inspire, but all abilities will be welcomed and encouraged.

The final word goes to all the volunteers, coaches and helpers supporting local sport. My involvement with Uist & Barra Sports Council has opened my eyes to the numbers contributing, giving up their free time, often with personal expense incurred, to keep their clubs running. They deserve everybody’s gratitude and support.