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Uist in Bloom contest winner secures £500 towards repair of Taigh Sgìre Sholais

Iain Stephen Morrison

Lexy Pillans from Claddach Vallay, North Uist, has been voted winner of the first ever inter-island garden competition Uist in Bloom. 93 votes secured first place for Lexy, who entered on behalf of Taigh Sgìre Sholais. £500 in prize money has now been awarded to the community centre in Sollas from contest sponsor Western Isles Lifestyle Lottery.

Iain and Mary Margaret Craib, who have together created an impressive community garden space at Church Hill, Griminish, were tied in second place with Gretta Campbell, who has cultivated a beautiful garden in Aird, also on Benbecula.

North Uist and Benbecula Locality Planning Partnership organised the competition with gardeners across the islands invited to submit shots of their green spaces for a public vote conducted on Facebook. Each entrant was to nominate a community centre to receive £500, should their garden triumph in the vote, from Western Isles Lifestyle Lottery.

10 entries were received, representing nine local halls across South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist. Hundreds of votes were cast over a two-week period, with the highest number, 93, for Lexy Pillans and her colourful garden in Claddach Vallay.

Jemma MacVicar, development officer for the North Uist and Benbecula Locality Planning Partnership, presented an assortment of gardening equipment to Lexy (pictured above) and a £50 voucher for Maybury Gardens.

Joan MacDonald, representing the Taigh Sgìre Sholais committee, accepted the £500 prize from Western Isles Lifestyle Lottery. Earlier this year a fire caused significant damage at the Sollas centre and the Uist in Bloom prize will go towards repairing the much-missed Taigh Sgìre Sholais.

Iain and Mary Margaret Craib and Gretta Campbell were each awarded a £25 voucher for Maybury Gardens for finishing, with 60 votes, as runners-up for Uist in Bloom.

“We were delighted to have had so many entries submitted for the first Uist in Bloom competition, said development officer, Jemma MacVicar.

“In addition to the entries, the number of community centres backed, across the islands, was fantastic. I think the appreciation people have for the amount of work these gardeners have put into their outdoor spaces to make them so beautiful is reflected in the incredible number of votes cast for all the entries. I want to thank everyone who took the time to enter and each individual who voted.

“It was a pleasure to present prizes to the first and second placed entires and to give £500 to Taigh Sgìre Sholais on behalf of Western Isles Lifestyle Lottery. It was decided that the competition would support a local hall as these facilities, which are at the heart of our communities, have had little chance to fundraise during the pandemic. Taigh Sgìre Sholais has been even more impacted as a result of the fire that broke out in the centre earlier in 2021. I hope the prize will go some way towards restoring a popular community hub on North Uist.”

North Uist and Benbecula Locality Planning Partnership was established in 2018 as an offshoot of the wider Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership. Jemma MacVicar was appointed as development officer for the partnership earlier this year, with her role established to bring together statutory community planning agencies, voluntary organisations and individual members of the community to develop and progress an action plan, which will have a meaningful impact on the way of life for residents of North Uist and Benbecula.

Sealladh na Beinne Mòire offers chance to find out more about board member role ahead of election and AGM

Iain Stephen Morrison

Estate residents interested in standing to become board members for the community landowner are encouraged to contact chief executive Darren Taylor for an informal discussion about the work of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire. In addition, there will be an informal drop-in session for anyone interested in learning more about becoming a director from 5-7pm on 21st September 2021 at Oifis Stòras.

Sealladh na Beinne Mòire will host its annual general meeting on 18th November 2021 and before then the community landowner will hold an election for directors, with nominations set to open on 27th September 2021. Nominations forms can be requested from Oifis Stòras.

Sealladh na Beinne Mòire chair, Mary Schmoller, commented: “We are the largest community landowner in Scotland and offer practical support to crofters and members of the community as well as playing an important role in economic development.

“It is more important than ever that Stòras Uibhist takes a lead as we go forward, with our community having experienced a particularly difficult time during the pandemic.

“Directors set the strategic direction of the organisation and decide priority development activities. You will be expected to attend a monthly board meeting and to contribute with ideas and energy, working alongside fellow directors and our chief executive, Darren Taylor.”

Sealladh na Beinne Mòire members are advised that the board intends to amend the articles of association to remove references to the “rotation of directors”. Under the current rules, in certain circumstances directors can be compelled to stand down and seek re-election before the end of their term, such as, when one or more other board members stand down mid-term.

Members will be asked to vote at the annual general meeting on a resolution that would see article 46 of the articles of association amended so no board members are required to stand down before the end of their term on the board of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire.

You can cast your vote on North Uist and Benbecula Locality Planning Partnership’s Facebook page

Abigail Taylor

Uist in Bloom, hosted by North Uist and Benbecula Locality Planning Partnership allowed the community to submit images of their gardens and outdoor spaces to win votes online.

A donation of £500 will be made to the community hall of the winning location with the aim of the competition to encourage as many people as possible to get into their own gardens and community space.

Voting will take place on North Uist and Benbecula Locality Planning Partnership and Am Pàipear‘s Facebook page.

Community Development Officer Jemma MacVicar said: “We are delighted to have had so many entries to Uist in Bloom, to see nine of our local halls being supported by members of the community is absolutely fantastic.  All the entries look wonderful, with so much dedication going into each garden, it is anticipated to be a very close competition to crown the winner of Uist in Bloom 2021.”

“There are so many beautiful gardens in Uist and its nice to recognise the work that goes into these and in particular the community effort with communal spaces and roadside displays which are out for everyone to enjoy.”

There are ten entries representing nine halls across Uist.

Jemma continued: “We would like to encourage as many people to vote as possible, the £500 prize for the winning hall will be a big help especially after little or no income for many halls throughout lockdown.”

Funding for the project came from Western Isles Lifestyle Lottery.

Charities and groups will have the opportunity to raise funds for their chosen beneficiary

Abigail Taylor

A table-top fundraiser will be held on Saturday 21st August 2021 in Lochmaddy Hall between 11am and 2pm as an opportunity for local charities and causes to raise funds following the pandemic.

Hosts Stella Evans, Barbara Jameson and Sybil Roe are volunteer fundraisers for the RNLI, the North Uist ‘arm’ of the Leverburgh Lifeboat Station Fundraising Branch.

A variety of stalls selling local goods, baking with games and raffles will be in attendance featuring Hebridean Kitchen, RNLI, The Guild and SWI as well as an array of treats and crafts from other local businesses to enjoy.

Each table will be raising money for their own charity or cause of choice.

Visitors to the fundraiser are being asked to follow all COVID guidelines and to wear a mask unless otherwise exempt.

Local crew to run activities next month to raise awareness and find new recruits for Benbecula Fire Station

Abigail Taylor

Benbecula Fire Station crewmembers are to run engagement activities around fire safety and a recruitment open day in September.

Local residents can find out more about fire safety in the home from 15th September 2021 to 17th September 2021. Following on from this there will be a recruitment open day on 18th September 2021 where individuals who live in the local area can learn about how to become a firefighter at Benbecula Fire Station.

Station Commander Stephen Thompson said: “We have people coming down from the head office in Stornoway and the first three days are all about engagement with the community on fire safety in the home.

“Saturday is going to be an open day for recruitment to Benbecula Fire Station. We may be focusing on Benbecula but the open day is really for anyone interested in helping their community and people from north or south can find out what is involved and be put in contact with the stations on North Uist and South Uist.

“Hopefully with the open day and the three days before we can target all of the safety issues and have a really useful couple of days.”

Retained and full-time officers deliver fire and rescue services from Benbecula Fire Station. Retained firefighters provide the same full range of emergency services as their whole-time colleagues and generally carry out these duties whilst holding primary employment in various other fields. Some retained crewmembers are self-employed while others work with organisations including Royal Mail, BT and HIAL. Retained firefighters receive a salary and training opportunities, with it now possible to deliver several of the training requirements on Benbecula.

Stephen is encouraging anyone aged eighteen and over who they might be a good fit to sign up for a role at the station to serve the community.

“What we are looking to do is get more firefighters here at this station and joining the fire service is for your community. We train and offer a good wage along with a person’s primary employment.”

Benefits of joining include learning and maintaining new skills, being a part of a community based team and having the chance of progression within the station to roles such as Watch Commander.

“On the day we are going to have the appliances out on show and maybe a car to demonstrate cutting it up. It is not always about firefighting so we want to show that we also, for example, respond to road traffic collisions,” continued Stephen.

“It is for people to come in, see the station, equipment and speak to the firefighters that are here and let them tell their own stories about joining the service. It is open for everybody aged over eighteen, female and male, as long as you can pass the health and fitness tests.”

Stephen added that there is an abundance of resources and support available from the station to ensure candidates pass the fitness test. More information about the requirements of the test will be available on 18th September 2021.

Details on the work of retained firefighters and how to apply can be found on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service website (www.firescotland.gov.uk). Further details about the activities coming up in September will be published on ampaipear.com.

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Visitors to Lochmaddy Pier have been greeted by an eight-foot high dolphin sculpture, which has been commissioned by Comman Na Mara

Abigail Taylor

Tourists and locals have taken to social media to express their love for the latest art installation on Uist.

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A post shared by Isle of South Uist (@isleofsouthuist)

Placed on a large concrete plinth, the shiny dolphin is located alongside CalMac’s office in Lochmaddy.

Comann Na Mara submitted an application to Western Isles Lottery for the cost of the commission and the total £3,700 was awarded. Funding was raised solely by supporters of the lottery throughout Uist.

Comann Eachdraidh Eirisgeidh has now completed the purchase of the former school on Eriskay

Abigail Taylor

Comann Eachdraidh Eirisgeidhwas founded in 2010 to collect, preserve and display artefacts, photographs and historic information connected to Eriskay.

Since its formation, the historical society has hosted numerous exhibitions and developed its collection, which is now a treasure trove on the island famed for its connection to the sunken cargo ship SS Politician.

Comann Eachdraidh Eirisgeidhhas now moved to create a permanent base for its activities, with the purchase of the former Eriskay School.

Committee members Morag MacKinnon, Marie MacMillan and Iain Ruairidh MacInnes explained the process to Am Pàipear.

“In 2013 the school closed and we decided it would be a worthwhile project to pursue the buying of the school as a base to develop Comann Eachdraidh Eirisgeidh on a more formal basis,” said Iain Ruairidh.

Scottish Land Fund support allowed the historical society to create a business plan with the help of an architect. Following a successful application to phase two of the Scottish Land Fund, the society was able to complete the sale of Eriskay School.

“It has been a long year because of the pandemic. It came right down to the wire with getting the funding and we know that whilst the country is in recovery it will be even more difficult to get more funding to continue the project from where we are now,” explained Morag.

It has taken the historical society eight years to finalise the purchase and plans for the future are still being drawn up.

“The school is in such bad condition, so basically we are going to take the buildings down to the original school building and school house. We are going to renovate and then construct additional buildings, for example a cafeteria area and offices with public toilets. It’s in the very early stages of planning,” said Iain Ruairidh.

Keeping the community at the heart of the project, Comann Eachdraidh Eirisgeidh are keen to continue collaborations with the local hall and shop, Co-chomunn Eirisgeidh. 

“Like all small communities you have to work together with the resources you have. We want to work with the hall, Am Politician, the shop, we have to work with the community.

“Locals and those who have moved away from the island have shown their support for the society as the school was the heart of the community before the hall was built. It’s nice to see something being made from it,” said Marie.

Fundraising underway to replace indoor arena roof at Uist Community Riding School

Abigail Taylor

Uist Community Riding School has launched a campaign to raise £25,000 to replace the roof of the indoor arena (pictured below) on the site at Balivanich. 

Staff and volunteers hope to raise the amount required and see a new roof in place before the end of 2021.

First set up in 1974 as an Army Saddle Club to provide riding and tuition for service personnel and their families, the riding school is now community owned and trades as a social enterprise as Uist Community Riding School.

Natasha Wilson (pictured above) is yard manager for Uist Community Riding School.

Speaking with Am Pàipear, she explained the urgency of the new roof: “We were given a quote to get the roof repaired, it has holes in it and several panels missing and the company advised it not likely to last another winter if we don’t get it fixed as soon as possible.

“Work to replace the roof can’t be done in the winter, as it wouldn’t be safe, so it needs to be completed before the worst of the weather comes in,” continued Natasha.

Indoor arena roof.

Uist Community Riding School created a ‘Go Fund Me’ page to raise part of the necessary £25,000 and to date this has brought in close to £500.

Riders use the arena for practice and tuition all year round and, without it, the school would not be able to function.

Natasha continued: “There are 23 horses here that need to be looked after all year round and in the winter we are limited to what we can do in order to make money.

“The indoor arena is the only space we can use during these months and they’re also the most expensive months to keep the horses as well. We make most of our income over the summer months and we do enough in the winter to keep us going.

“We really rely on the indoor arena in terms of the weather. Even in the summer the wind may affect outdoor lessons meaning we need to head inside.”

In addition to lessons, in the winter months the arena is used to house horses.

COVID-19 resulted in a further strain on the enterprise, due to three extended closures across the past year. However, bookings are looking healthy for this summer.

Working with about 15 volunteers, Natasha is trying to think of new ways to create an income for the school.

“I am currently doing a course about how to use horses for therapy so we are hoping that will create a good revenue stream. There are not a lot of facilities like that here on the islands for people struggling with addiction or mental health issues and it really helps us too, for example older horses can still be working even if they can’t be out on walks. It’s a really good way to move forward looking to the future.”

Natasha and her team meanwhile continue to look for new ways to raise money for the arena roof before the onset of winter 2021.

You can donate to the ‘Go Fund Me’ page here: Fundraiser by Uist Community Riding School : Help replace UCRS arena roof (gofundme.com)

Cllr Paul Steele has been given the Kisimul Award during this years volunteers week.

Abigail Taylor

Volunteers’ Week is a UK wide campaign that takes place from 1st -7th June every year.

Working with the Western Isles volunteer centre on Uist, Am Pàipear spoke to Cllr Paul Steele about his award winning volunteering efforts throughout the pandemic.

Cllr Steele established Resilient Uist, with a group of volunteers, as a point of contact to help those who were stranded at home due to isolation. 

He explained: “Resilient Uist started last January, we were having a look at resilience planning as a whole for the islands and the community council had a chat about a local resilience plan with things like weather and ferry cancellations. Next thing, the rumours of COVID started and about lockdowns. It was a quick turn of events and we needed to think, should there be a lockdown, what do we do?”

A call on social media for volunteers found a significant number of people ready and willing to help with the project.

Delivering prescriptions and shopping were the main tasks set for the volunteers, to anyone who needed the service in the community. 

Steele said: “It was difficult because of how restricted things were at the beginning of the pandemic but we had so many volunteers and even more on standby who said they were able to help if needed but hadn’t given out their details officially.”

With help from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the team at Resilient Uist would receive shopping lists from isolating members of the community and the volunteers would do the rest.

Cllr Paul Steele

He continued: “We had to do something for those in the community who were unable to do these simple tasks.”

Community spirit was being felt across Uist throughout the pandemic as Cllr Steele explained: “The reaction was really positive. At the beginning of the pandemic we weren’t as busy as expected but that was because people were out helping their neighbours and keeping an eye on those in need. We were just a backup service but we were there for those who were really struggling.”

As well as prescriptions and shopping the ‘Ticks and Crosses’ initiative was introduced to encourage those who needed help to ask. Through this, window signs, with a green tick to indicate all is well on one side and a red cross to signify assistance is required on the other, were distributed to houses on Eriskay and South Uist. 

“It was more than just shopping though, it was a check in on neighbours and a chat at the door for people who weren’t able to see anyone else.”

Resilient Uist had over 3000 interactions with people in the community in relation to delivering prescriptions, providing a shopping service, supporting food bank deliveries, putting people in touch with other local agencies such as Caraidean Uibhist and also being the Comhairle’s main point of contact through their volunteer help desk.

On top of that the Ticks and Crosses scheme covered over 900 households in Eriskay, Lochboisdale, Bornish and Iochdar Community Council areas.

As well as Resilient Uist, Cllr Steele organised Christmas gift bags and a Santa’s sleigh for the children in the community.

He said: “We delivered gift bags to approximately 380 households, 650 adults and 100 children. We then provided 160 meals to the over 70s in the area and I can’t stress enough the generosity of our volunteers but also Double Mac at Burnside who provided those fish, chip and sausage suppers free of charge. The trifle, mousse and carrot cake desserts given to us by Croft and Cuan were great too, fantastic work from our community.

Then on the Monday we had our Santa’s Sleigh ride from Eriskay to Ormiclate which we live streamed on Facebook, it was fantastic and loved by children and adults alike.”

He expressed his gratitude towards the volunteers involved and every business who helped out along the way.

“We continue to help out and are thankful for all our volunteers, the effect their actions have had in our communities is immeasurable, and it was all done because it needed done and people wanted to help out. We don’t do it to get recognition but I think it’s really important that if there’s a way we can show our appreciation for our volunteers then we should do it so I want to say thank you to all of them and I’m glad I’m able to help out a little bit too.”

On the topic of volunteering, Cllr Steele said: “Volunteering encourages community bonding and it helps people with their day to day lives, especially during the pandemic. It has been quite an isolating time for a lot of people and it can already feel like an isolating place to live here. Lack of travel for example to see family can be detrimental.”

He continued: “With volunteering at least people know that their community is looking out for them, even if you do live away in the back and beyond. There will be people there to help. The other side of it is, during the pandemic, people felt helpless and didn’t know what they could do to help or what they were able to do to help, volunteering gave them that option to give back.”

There are so many opportunities to volunteer in your community, Steele concluded: “It’s really rewarding to volunteer here, there is plenty to get involved in. whether it be coaching kids in football or joining games committees or the hill race. The volunteers here are the heart of the community and a lot of the time it goes unnoticed.”

US Navy personnel donated to local charity Tagsa Uibhist.

Abigail Taylor

A group of allied forces personnel, both military and civilian, travelled to the Outer Hebrides to support the recent military missile defence exercise, Formidable Shield 21, that was held during the last two weeks of May 2021.

One member of the team made over 120 cloth masks using custom fabric that featured the seal of the exercise. US Navy Project Officer for this exercise, Lieutenant Commander Alisha Hamilton made the masks in the United States and supplied them to her team in the Western Isles.

Those who got a mask were asked to make a donation to a local charity. In the end over £240 in donations was collected as a result of her efforts.

On Thursday, 3rd June 2021, Tagsa Uibhist was chosen to be the beneficiary of the funds Lieutenant Commander Hamilton’s effort raised.

Tagsa Uibhist is a charitable organisation based on Benbecula. It is focused on providing support to people living with dementia, caregivers, and vulnerable people living in their own homes.

Lieutenant Commander Hamilton presented the funds donated in connection to the masks she furnished to Chris MacLullich (pictured above).

Chris said: “We were delighted to have a surprise visit from Lieutenant Commander Hamilton and her colleague Kevin Gillis, and even more so when they presented us with the Formidable Shield face masks that had been used to raise funds for Tagsa.

It was a very kind gesture and good to make the connection between the US Navy personnel who are being hosted here and the local community. Both let us know that Uist is a very special place for them and their colleagues and that they were delighted to make this contribution. We will use the funds for our work supporting people living with dementia.”