Keeping tourist hotspots safe and sound

Stòras Uibhist has recruited Liz Willoughby as their Visitor Management Ranger to help the estate over the summer months.
A key part of the new job will be to help support the safe use of the Hebridean Way by patrolling hotspots and offering assistance to walkers and cyclists. Liz will be concluding her work by producing a report on the Uist stretch of the Way with recommendations and costings for improvements required as a result of such high visitor numbers.
The Visitor Management Ranger will also cover a range of other duties including organising community beach cleans, supporting visitors to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and helping the RSPB at peak times.
Liz is a recent graduate from the Glasgow School of Art and is looking forward to continuing her artistic output here in Uist. Her degree collection, ‘Na Mara’, used marine plastics washed ashore to create jewellery, which will tie in nicely with her beach clean work. She plans to hold a series of interesting community art events to repurpose the marine waste collected and more information will be shared over the coming weeks.
Liz told Am Pàipear: “I’m so excited and grateful to be returning to Uist with this amazing opportunity. I loved Uist from the first time I visited and now can’t wait to return to get to know the people and develop community art workshops using washed up marine waste. I also appreciate the pressure tourism puts on rural locations and how important the Visitor Management Ranger position is in helping everyone to enjoy the great outdoors whilst respecting the landscape.”
You can see Liz’s work here:
The post is fully funded by NatureScot and will run until the end of October.

Prestigious Saltire Summit Award for Ronan

Regular readers of Am Pàipear will be familiar with 18 year old Ronan MacPhee from Benbecula, who makes a regular appearance in these pages.

Ronan is in the news again this month, as his exceptional contribution to the community has been recognised with a prestigious Saltire Summit Award for Outstanding Volunteering.

Alasdair Allan MSP, who was on hand to present Ronan with his Award last month, commented: “I was delighted to present Ronan with the Saltire Summit Award in recognition of his incredible volunteering efforts during my recent visit to Uist. Volunteers are vital to the success of so many of our islands’ charities and organisations, and volunteering is an excellent way to contribute to the local community. Ronan should be immensely proud of his achievements so far.”

Ronan has now contributed more than 800 hours of voluntary service, adding his value in different ways across Uist, with placements at Tagsa Uibhist Community Gardens, Caraidean Uibhist, Uist and Barra Foodbank, Youth Climate Action Group, Western Isles and Uist Local Energy Plan and many more. Ronan isn’t hanging up his gloves though, and plans to hit the 1000 hours goal by the end of July.

Ronan was delighted with his award, and keen to shine a light on the value volunteering can bring: “I highly recommend volunteering because you gain so much from it and make lots of awesome friends. One of the biggest things is my confidence has grown hugely.” Vicki Manchester, Development Worker for the Volunteer Centre said: “The Summit Award is the absolute pinnacle of the Saltire scheme, which celebrates, recognises and rewards the commitment, contribution and achievements of young volunteers in Scotland, aged between 12 and 25. You can gain your first award with only 10 hours of volunteering, and any hours of volunteering done for Duke of Edinburgh Awards can be counted for Saltire Awards and vice versa. I recommend that all young people log on to the Saltire Awards website and start their own Saltire journey.”

Local News from our Community Organisations

North Uist & Benbecula Locality Planning Partnership

While the weather may not have been on our side this year, work has been ongoing to bring some colour to Uist with our annual roadside flower planters

. With support from Western Isles Lottery double last years number, more than 20 planters have gone out across the island from Berneray to Eriskay. Work is ongoing with our invaluable community volunteers to replant and paint those that went out last year, during any window of sunshine we can find!

Uist in Bloom has also been able to cover some landscaping work in Balivanich; the entrance to Airport Beach has been cut back, and look out next month for the new information point being unveiled and soon to arrive picnic benches to further enhance the area.

We have also been brightening up Lochmaddy with bunting and flags in celebration of Comann Na Mara’s shoreline activities weekend in June. Again, rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the fantastic group of volunteers who brought an entire programme of community activities to Lochmaddy for all ages to enjoy.

This July we are hosting open garden events to raise money for local charities. Local gardening enthusiasts have offered to open their gardens to the community to enjoy the garden, some light refreshments and good company.

As events will be weather dependent and therefore advertised at short notice, keep an eye on The North Uist and Benbecula Locality Partnership facebook page for dates and locations or call 07795510927.

Please do also get in touch if you would be interested in hosting an open garden to raise funds for your chosen charity, the partnership will organise the day for you, all you need to worry about are the flowers!

Comann na Mara

The St Kilda Yacht Race itself was cancelled at the last minute but the programme of shore-based events organised by Comann na Mara went ahead as planned. The colourful flags and bunting decorating the town cheerfully greeted everyone through the wind and rain. The ‘Herring Girls of North Uist’ Exhibition was well attended and received many favourable comments, ’Taigh Ciuil’, Taigh Chearsabhagh’s music evening, and the CnM ceilidh, were well attended and enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. There were 16 stalls at the table-top sale, and the Uist Pipe Band entertained the crowds, followed by the talented young Dochas Dancers, resplendent in their costumes. Lochmaddy Fire Station was open on the Saturday and visitors had the opportunity to tour the fire appliance and receive advice about home safety.

The Raffle raised £274 for CnM. CnM would like to thank everyone who contributed in any way.

North Uist Development Company

In June, Janet MacDonald, the last of the long line of distinguished head teachers in Lochmaddy’s Primary School, cut the ceremonial ribbon to formally open the Arainneachd Alainn Community Hub and Environment Centre in the former school.

Since coming into the ownership of North Uist Development Company the building has been extensively revamped as a new community asset and now houses an impressive exhibition celebrating ‘Our Island, Our Environment, Our Future’. NUDC has some office space for rent in the former school and is setting up hot desk facilities for those requiring an occasional working space with high-speed BT internet connection. A Community Room with projection facilities is available for talks and occasional events such as Comann na Mara’s ‘Herring Girls’ exhibition, still runnixng on days the Centre is open. Opening hours are posted on-line and at the Centre weekly, depending on the availability of volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering is invited to email

Comunn Eachdraidh Bheàrnaraigh

Berneray Historical Society is based in the old Nurse’s Cottage in Berneray on the main road on the east of Berneray, just beyond the fishing harbour.

One person in six in Berneray is involved in the work of the Society and in staffing the Cottage, and all are volunteers.

The Cottage is open from 11am to 3pm on week days and entry is free. There are two rooms packed with information about the people of Berneray, their stories and their lives.

You can learn about MacLeods of the 17th and 18th centuries, both the heroic and the unscrupulous. From the 19th century, find out about Giant MacAskill and measure your height against his. Read why Rory Bethune left Berneray and how he made his home in Cape Breton. Look at the everyday life of the 20th century and find out about the crofting year in the 21st century.

We hope you will visit us and see for yourself.

A month of ceilidhs, collies, competitions…and quite probably cakes

It’s been a difficult few years for Uist. Covid changed the way we think about the simple act of getting together. The summer fun we have all been used to suddenly seemed to hold more risk than reward, and one by one, event after event was cancelled.

Things dropped are not so easy to pick up and the hard working volunteer committees charged with the difficult job of pulling together the right people, in the right place at the right time should be commended for their enthusiasm and their effort – herding cats doesn’t even cover it! These are busy people with busy lives and finding the heart and the head space to put these events together for us would not have been easy.

So let’s agree on a collective hand clap for everyone who makes July happen!

Ceòlas Summer School 3 – 8th July, various locations

The Ceòlas summer school is back on the calendar celebrating, promoting and nurturing traditional music, language, culture and heritage. Musicians from across the world will be performing at various events, sharing their own traditions and skills. This year’s event starts on Sunday with a Gaelic mass at St Peter’s Church in Daliburgh and concludes with the now famous Cèilidh Mòr on Friday 8th at South End Community Hall. The Ceòlas team will be making full use of the fantastic new facilities at Cnoc Soilleir.

Sheepdog trials Monday 11th July – all day, Borve Machair, Berneray

The well established Hebridean Circuit Sheep Dog Trials makes a welcome return to Berneray this month, with more than 40 dogs competing for the The Lord of The Isles ribbon. The six event Challenge starts on Saturday 9th July in Waternish, Skye, before heading over to Berneray on the Monday, and then on to Harris and Lewis, before concluding back in Skye, at Staffin, on Friday 15th. Competitors come from across the country, and as far afield as Sweden and the USA, and the standard of competition is known to be very high. Spectators are very welcome to come along and watch these wonderful dogs (and their owners) put through their paces.

North Uist Highland Games Friday 15th July, Balelone Farm

A busy day is planned at Balelone Farm for the North Uist Highland Games. The piping competitions commence at 10.30am, with marches, jigs and reels. The athletics competition follows on from 11am with hill, track and field events, for juniors and adults. Uist Pipe Band will be entertaining the crowds and a traditional tug of war will conclude the day – all washed down by the usual offering of refreshments. The highland dancing will not be going ahead this year.

Ceòlas Symposium – Thar Chuan (Over the Water) Sunday 17th – Tuesday 19th July

The Ceòlas symposium is back at Iochdair Hall with a three day event focussed on the 300th anniversary of Flora MacDonald’s birth. Thar Chuan draws together the local community’s knowledge of the Jacobite period and will begin on the Sunday with a short service at the statue of Our Lady of the Isles at Rueval and conclude with a ceilidh dance at Iochdar Hall on the Tuesday. Events include a keynote speech by Professor Hugh Cheape, a discussion about the challenges of crossing the Minch in the 18th century with local mariners, a talk from Cailean MacLean, who will discuss his father’s book A MacDonald for the Prince and a walk around the Howbeg Machair with Tommy MacDonald.

South Uist Highland Games Wednesday 20 July, Askernish Machair

The South Uist Games will be back on Askernish machair with highland dancing, piping and athletics events, as well as crafts and refreshments. Stalls include: South Uist Ice Creams, Hebridean Charcuterie, Sweet Boutique and many more. The committee was still confirming the details as Am Pàipear went to print, but were confident that visitors would have a full itinerary of entertainments. Games run between 10am and 4pm.

North Uist Agricultural Show Thursday 21st July, Hosta

The district’s brightest and best will be competing for a wide range of titles and trophies, with categories covering junior stock, sheep, cattle, horses, garden produce, baking, dairy and handicrafts. The ever popular dog show is back on again this year too. This year’s prizes will include a new Bella MacLean Memorial Trophy, donated by Neil John MacLean and family, Grimsay. The trophy is to be awarded to the winner of the best dropped scones (pancakes) in honour of Bella, who was a fantastic baker and a keen supporter of the show. Sadly, there will be no poultry entries this year because of Avian Flu. Judging commences at 11am.

Eilean Dorcha Festival Thursday 21st July to Saturday 23rd July, Liniclate Machair

EDF is back with a bang this summer, with three days of fantastic entertainment lined up and from 27 different acts. The festivities begin on Thursday with a DJ night headlined by the popular Clyde One DJ George Bowie. Friday sees the return of the full festival experience with the KidZone, Silent Disco, Let’s Circus and various workshops to keep you amused between the bands. Friday is Tribute Night with a mix of genres and sounds, including Johnny Cash Tribute act Jericho Hill and Coldplace, the Coldplay tribute band.Friday’s fun concludes with local favourites Beinn Lee, a six-piece band from Uist. EDF finishes up on Saturday with a ceilidh featuring Trail West, Skerryvore, Mànran, Ross Miller, Tumbling Souls and Burn the Maps.

Berneray Week Monday 25th July – Monday 1st August
The local Community Association has put together a busy schedule of fun events for this year’s Berneray Week, back after two years of Covid cancellations. The event opens and closes with a ceilidh dance, with table top sales, a ‘daft games night’, boat trips, a beach BBQ and a 10k run making for a packed week in between. All proceeds will go towards the Berneray Hall roof fund, which has already raised £66,000.

What has happened to summer? If we could see the wind,I think that we would see the wind is pushing the sun away!! Maybe next week will be calm.

A few evenings ago, Angus put the hens in their house but never noticed that one was still out. A short while after that I heard something make a noise at the door; it seemed like a light hammer hitting the door. I opened the door and could hardly believe what I saw! There was one of the brown hens pecking away as if trying to tell me that she was left out.

They say that hens are stupid, don’t you believe that! I phoned Alexander and he put her in with the others. When Rocky was alive he would bring them into the kitchen but none have come in since he died. He used to put them in every night and none would be left out.

As well as his company I miss his help too. He really was special! One of the white hens started brooding but I don’t have a cockerel. I decided it would be nice to have chickens once more so I got fertile eggs from Fergus John. John Angus MacPhee, known to most as Wee Man, made me a new posh chicken house as the old one was done. She has two compartments, the small one for her and the eggs, and in the morning I open the small door and she goes out to the big compartment to eat some grass. She has 5 star accommodation which is all vermin proof.

Fergus John also gave me two extra hens and they are in Sarah’s old stable. They have laid two eggs every day since they came. When the weather gets calm (when?) I’ll let them out and they’ll mix with the old ones. One is a Wellsummer and the other a Rhode Island Red. My cat, Cissy, is in my bad books these days! She hunts the poor wee birds like sparrows. Although I give her more than she can eat it makes no difference. She’s usually out every night but I kept her in for three nights to try and protect the birds, however she wanted out at 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. but that was worse for everybody, me, the birds, and Cissy when she got a telling off. She brings the poor birds into the house and I have managed to save three of them. She brought one in two nights ago and it escaped out of her mouth and went behind a piece of furniture.

I phoned Angus and he moved the furniture and then the bird went under the bench. He managed to catch it in the corner and took it outside away from the houses. She caught one early morning a few days ago; she was that proud bringing it to me but I smacked her on her back and in her shock she opened her mouth and it flew away. The cows and calves are off Vallay now and are on their summer pastures. It’s a very big job organising this movement. Fraser and Carianne have got to make sure that they don’t put cows with a bull that they are related to. The young ones go to Vallay the day before and move the animals to the west side near the big walled garden where the pens are. Of course the tide plays a big part in this operation. They picked the 15th June, which was the full moon when the tide is out at midday so that on that day the cattle could be moved off from 11am to 5pm. To give them plenty of time to sort out the cattle, they went over at 7 a.m. in a dinghy. Once the tide was right, some were walked across the strand and the furthest away groups were taken across in cattle trailers. They had a foul day with wind and rain, but there was no point in waiting for decent weather as the cattle were needing the hill grazing and water and they will be there until around September time. A few weeks ago Carianne and Fraser were over in Vallay and came across one of the cows with a prolapse. They phoned the vet for advice as there wasn’t much time with the tide. Carianne is over there every day and takes a thermos of warm water along with many other useful objects that she might need.

The cow had calved about a week before and it was strange for her to prolapse. The last piece of her after birth was still attached so maybe she had been pressing to get rid of it and had pushed out her womb. Anyway they got her in a pen and Fraser restrained her. Carianne washed it with the warm water and with her small but strong hands managed to put the womb back inside the cow. She also took away the short bit of after birth and she gave her long lasting Alamycin, a very effective antibiotic. Fortunately the cow healed up well and is in the best of health to carry on rearing her calf. What a team the pair of them are! I remember that in 1970 I had to do a similar thing.

I was coming home for lunch (when I worked in Bayhead shop) and noticed the late Donald Archie’s cows grouped in a tight bunch. I climbed the fence and I can remember that one of my shoes got stuck in the mud and I just left it there as my instinct told me something was wrong. I was horrified when I reached the cows as one had calved and prolapsed and I knew that if I left her she would not have a chance. I shouted to Donald Archie and Seonaidh Dhoddie as they were heading into the house but they didn’t hear me and there weren’t any mobiles then. I had read about prolapses but had never seen one before and knew that the other cows could maybe damage it. The cows were used to being tied in the byre at night and being handled so seeing that the womb was clean, I was able to put it back in. I was really nervous when I think back. Donald Archie phoned the vet and said that I had done the right thing and gave him some tablets to give the cow. What a story to tell when I went back to the shop! There is so much sadness in the world.

There is nothing we can do but pray that God will answer our prayers soon. I think of all near home who have had sad bereavements. God bless you all. The readings that I have chosen are Matthew 25 and Psalm 138.

The Chair of the CNES Transport & Infrastructure Committee on the ferry situation

Uist is a special place that offers so much to those of us who live here. We afford a special welcome to visitors who come to experience our beautiful islands in increasing numbers each year. In return for fond memories of their time in Uist these visitors provide revenue and trade that sustains island businesses and helps them trade year-round. We locals are so grateful to have restaurants to visit, shops for our own supplies and a distillery for a bottle of Downpour Gin, but without the seasonal visitor we would have fewer services and less choice. The fond memories of holidays to Uist mean the same visitors will buy Salar Salmon on the shelves of their local supermarket or order online for a Hebridean candle. Our ability to work and therefore live in Uist is anchored in the welcome we provide to visitors.

The unreliability of our ferry services and the catalogue of poor decision making by those Scottish Government-owned central belt-based bodies – Calmac, CMAL and Transport Scotland – are undermining our islands’ economy, rendering the very viability of many tourism focussed businesses uncertain.

As I write today Uist is without any ferry service to the mainland with MV Hebrides and MV Lord of the Isles out of service for repair. This doomsday scenario is the inevitable culmination of decades of underinvestment, coupled with dreadful decision making when Government belatedly acted. When things seemed as bad as they could get, the same organisations have visited the double whammy of removing the Mezzanine deck on many Hebrides sailings this Summer followed by the unprecedented 6-month closure of Uig pier from October. It is difficult not to despair!

I am proud that I have been afforded the trust of my fellow elected Members in being appointed to the role of Chair of Transportation for a second term. While it would be fair to say the role brings challenges it is one, I enjoy greatly.

Strong representations from elected members, businesses and Community Councils have been ignored by Calmac who have ploughed on with their decision to reduce the use of the Mezzanine deck on MV Hebrides this summer. This costs us 18 car spaces on each affected journey with the cost to Uist and Harris economies put at some £3M – £5M. This cost has been passed on to us rather than Government meeting an increased crewing cost that Calmac had proposed to Government of £800,000. This cost is what Calmac say they need to employ additional crew to maintain the contracted timetable and full vessel capacity. Whether we accept Calmac are correct in this assertion is a different issue however Scottish Government chose to believe the Calmac argument for removing the Mezzanine deck and chose not to meet the crew cost instead passing on a huge economic cost to our community. This is the real test of the Government’s commitment to our islands and stands in stark contrast to the warm words set out in their Islands (Scotland) Act.

Government’s failure to walk their talk in the Islands Act is again shown in the way the closure of Uig Pier for six months has been agreed to under the port improvement project to ready that port for new vessel 802. This project is being led by Highland Council as the port authority, but it is funded by Scottish Government. No consideration of the impact this closure will have on our communities was made and no Island Community Impact Assessment has been undertaken to understand the impact on Uist or Harris. Instead, a pointless economic impact assessment that only considered the businesses in Uig was undertaken not the far more significant economic and social impact on the Western Isles. However late in the day we need to see a full Island Community Impact Assessment undertaken and this must establish the cost to business in the Western Isles. Once this is fully understood, Scottish Government must implement a Business Continuity Scheme, similar to that which supported businesses impacted by the building of the tram project in Edinburgh, to compensate each and every business which suffers financial loss as a result of the closure of Uig pier. Why should businesses in Edinburgh be afforded more protection than businesses in Uist? Calmac and Transport Scotland assert that such a scheme has never been used to support businesses affected by works on a ferry terminal before, but there has never been a 6-month long closure of a port to allow the harbour to be redeveloped before!

Never again can Transport Scotland and Calmac be allowed to force bad vessel replacement decisions on our communities as we have seen with their imposition of a single vessel – Loch Seaforth – on the Stornoway service when the clear stated will of the community was two ferries on the route, or their choice to continue a shared ferry for the Tarbert and Lochmaddy routes when the community had a clear preference for a dedicated ferry for each route. We are all too aware of the disastrous consequences of this latter choice, which now stands at a cost of at least £125M for the ferry, in addition to harbour costs in the order of £70M and the unprecedented closure of Uig from October. Had islanders’ voices been heard, the cost of a new ferry to operate alongside MV Hebrides would have been no more than £40Million leaving £155Million for new vessels to be provided on the routes to Lochboisdale and Castlebay, with enough left over to provide a couple of new ferries elsewhere!

Our ask on ferry services is simple. It is for a Western Isles Network made up of six large ferries with two deployed to serve Stornoway and a dedicated ferry on the routes from Tarbert, Lochmaddy, Lochboisdale and Castlebay, plus two smaller ferries to serve the Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra. Dedicated ferries will provide greater capacity and frequency in normal times and resilience will improve with the ability to cover any breakdown or dry dock maintenance within this network. This will be a step forward from current practice, where cancelling the Lochboisdale service seems to be Calmac’s go to position as soon as there is a need to cover a breakdown in operations in other areas or when Covid stretches manning on other vessels. The operations and management of this network should be based within the Western Isles and there should be an increased focus on recruiting crew locally. Only with greater local control and accountability can we expect to see the services our people deserve. This is for a long- term fix, or jam tomorrow though. In the short term we need another vessel in the fleet now to cover breakdowns and add capacity when Uig is closed. The only obvious opportunity is a charter of MV Pentalina and Government must provide funding to allow Calmac to lease and crew this ferry until 802 is in service, whenever that might be!

Uist needs our lifeline to be resilient, reliable and adequate and this should not be too much to expect! I know those of us reading Am Pàipear know that the changes I describe need to happen but how can we persuade Scottish Government that the people of these islands will not stand for this any longer? We need everyone to be in accord on what needs to happen and I am looking to my fellow Councillors, Alasdair Allan our local MSP, the list MSPs and Angus Brendan MacNeil our MP to join with me in calling out Government’s inaction, and provide the collective will for the package of measures I have described to be implemented starting with the charter of MV Pentalina.

The port staff, locally based management team and crews do a fantastic job. The current situation is not of their making. Please, always treat them with courtesy and respect .


Paul Steele takes the Comhairle’s hottest seat

On Tuesday, 17th May, Councillor Paul Steele was elected as Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the first elected member from the southern isles to hold the post since Father Calum Maclellan led the early Council in the 1970s.

Cllr Steele described the appointment as ‘a huge honour for me, and for Uist’.

The responsibility of Leader will sit alongside Cllr Steele’s other role as elected member for Uibhist a Deas, Èirisgeigh agus Beinn na Faoghla, and the balancing act required to meet both the needs of his own ward constituents and the wider Western Isles remit will not be easy.

Cllr Steele said: “I am very aware that taking the role of Leader will stretch my capacity and put additional strain on family life. Pre- Covid it was not unusual for me to be away from home for 40 plus nights a year on council business. I’m under no illusion that the Leader role will be any less demanding but having talked it through with my wife and family, I’m confident that the balance can be struck.”

“It helps that the Comhairle is my only work, I have no other job to take my attention. I want to assure the people of Uist that they, and the projects I am involved with, will continue to be at the front of my mind.”

Other Uist Councillors in key roles include Uisdean Robertson, who was re- elected as Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Cllr Robertson’s considerable experience will be much called on as the Comhairle battles the ongoing issue of ferry failures. Cllr Susan Thomson will take the role of Deputy Chair to Uisdean, with Cllr Mustapha Hocine taking Deputy Chair of the Sustainable Development Committee.

A song will be sung

The weather in Daliburgh didn’t quite live up to the name of ‘bright hill’ on Friday 13th May, when the team behind Cnoc Soilleir gathered to celebrate another important milestone in the project’s history: the formal handing over of the keys of its state the art community building

The rain did hold off however, as Board members past and present, along with contractors Neil MacInnes and David MacInnes, were piped into the building by Ceòlas Tutor Allan Henderson.

Sue Macfarlane, Principal of UHI Outer Hebrides, and Chair of the Cnoc Soilleir Board, was delighted to formally take ownership of the keys on behalf of the community: “Today is the culmination of our shared ambition and the collective efforts of everyone involved – not just UHI Outer Hebrides and Ceòlas, but the contractors, the funders and the local people who have supported us over the years. We have all put our hearts and souls into this project and I’m just delighted this breathtaking building is now the community’s to enjoy.” The formal handover will be followed by a community open day on June 13th, when everyone will be welcome to share in the celebrations with the Cnoc Soilleir team.

Ceòlas Chair and Cnoc Soilleir Board Director Mairi MacInnes, who was unfortunately unable to attend the event, encouraged people to come along to see the building for themselves when it opens to the public on June 13th: “A warm welcome awaits everyone who drops in on the open day and perhaps a song will be sung and a reel or two will be danced!”

Mairi continued: “Getting Cnoc Soilleir Phase 1 built during lockdown has been a tremendous achievement and this has been possible because we contracted a local construction company. Great credit is due to our staff , the design team and MacInnes Bros for rising to the unprecedented challenges of Covid.

“Ceòlas is excited about holding the July Summer School in CS – the first since 2019.”

Work at the Cnoc Soilleir site started in February 2020, and continued through lockdown despite the many difficulties that the pandemic presented. This current phase of the build has delivered world-class facilities to meet the needs of both the college’s educational programmes, and Ceòlas’ community-led activities. A bespoke recording studio, a library, an exhibition space, and a flexible communal space for gatherings of up to 60 people, will transform the experience of Ceòlas summer school tutors and students this July and the college students who study here in the years to come.

The work was delivered by local contractor MacInnes Brothers (MIB), represented on the day by Project Manager David MacInnes, and Contracts Manager Neil MacInnes. Neil told Am Pàipear: “We are delighted to be handing over the keys to this fantastic building. All of us who have worked on the project are immensely proud of what we have delivered, both in terms of the high standard of the build itself, and in terms of the jobs we have created and maintained as a result. Over the course of the build, we have employed 14 local tradesmen, with one joiner moving his family home to Uist as a result of this opportunity.”

“The project was a complex one, and it’s success evidences that local firms are not only well able to deliver the highest possible technical requirements but can also bring the local knowledge required to manage the challenges that working on a remote island can present.” Funds are already part-secured for the next phase of the project, which will extend the building to the west to include a performance hall, with acoustics suitable for performance and seating for audiences of up to 200 people, a small dance studio with sprung floor, and additional teaching spaces.

Helping hand from young and old

This year’s Volunteers Week from 1st to 7th June is all about saying Thank You to the many volunteers across Uist.

Margaret Wisemen, 68, from Grimsay, volunteers across Uist and is a member of the Volunteers Centre.

“I have made scrubs and now make Bereavement Bags for the NHS Bereavement Belongings bags project. At Tagsa Gardens, I do general gardening: potting on, sowing seeds, taking cuttings, watering plants, harvesting, weeding, tidying and meeting the public,” she said.

Margaret continued: “I help out with cleaning when required at Grimsay Boat Shed. When I retired, I wanted something else to do. I love gardening, and I like meeting people. I like working in a team and being outdoors. You never stop learning about something you are interested in, and I have learned so much about growing plants.

Before I retired, I was a nurse and had always been a sewer so volunteering with the scrubs, and then the Bereavement Bags project was something I wanted to do to help the NHS and Care Homes.

There is always something to do, but I do not feel under pressure when volunteering. I feel fitter and love the company in the gardens. It is as physical as you want it to be, and time flies. We have a good laugh, and it relaxes my mind. I feel like I am making a small difference, giving a bit back. I enjoy watching things I’ve planted grow and be used by others and making scrubs and Belongings Bags. I am retired, but the insight I have gained has encouraged me to do more research and has improved my personal knowledge about growing and gardening.”

Ronan MacPhee, 18, from Benbecula, volunteers for seven different organisations across Uist. He represents the youth voice on the Uist Local Energy Plan, is a member of the Youth Climate Action Group Western Isles, in the COP26 Climate Co-design Group, volunteers at the community gardens at Tagsa Uibhist, is a befriender, helps out at the food bank as well as taking holiday clubs during the school holidays.

He said: “I volunteer for lots of different reasons, the main ones being to make a difference in our community and society with climate change. I also love to help someone out with anything, for example, just taking time out to talk to someone who may be lonely.

I currently have over 700 hours of volunteering and am working towards the 1000hrs summit award, which is also called the outstanding award. Volunteering has definitely grown and helped my confidence massively!”

Katrina Beedie, who now lives in Eriskay, has recently moved to the islands.

She said: “I came to the Western Isles with available time and was very keen to give something back, support great organisations and also use it as a way to meet people and help integrate into my new environment.

I volunteer because I enjoy feeling like I am doing something good for someone else. I also really like meeting people, and if I can do that, and help an individual/organisation, then that makes me a happy person!”

Katrina gained a job from her work as a volunteer, she explained: “ I volunteered at Tagsa before being offered employment! I think for lots of people, it can be a great way to gain skills and experience as well as build confidence and meet new people. I think it helps to remind me what really matters in life.

I wouldn’t be in the job I am in, which I love, without the Volunteer Centre. I came to the Islands not knowing anyone and was starting to feel quite lonely. Vicki was a great person to meet, and she helped identify volunteering opportunities I was not aware of. Since then, she has been in regular contact, checking in and supporting me and is a good source of information.”

Speaking with Am Pàipear, Vicki Manchester, Western Isles Volunteer Centre, explained the importance of volunteering.

“People volunteer for a variety of reasons and they vary from person to person. Common themes are to do something helpful and good both within their community and the nation in general, to learn a new skill, to meet people and make new friends, to gain experience in a working environment and possibly gain employment or further a career.

Marvelously, Kat and Ronan, who volunteered at Tagsa, both gained part-time employment, which really suits them.

Tagsa Community Gardens were successful in gaining a Highly Commended in the National Generations Working Together Awards for Inclusive Communities Section, which was highly deserved. All three volunteers volunteer with them and with other organisations such as Caraidean, Restore, Uist and Barra Foodbank, Youth Climate Action Group, Stitching and Sewing Uist.

Volunteer Centre Western Isles aims to support organisations and volunteers and to provide a brokerage service between the two. We help with policies and advice and try to solve any difficulties which may arise. I would like to shout out a big thank you to the lovely Uist people who volunteer to help our community remain a lovely place to be part of. Much of our support is from volunteering organisations and their volunteers. Thank You.”

A new community home for Eriskay’s heritage

After seven long years of sustained community effort, a new phase of history is underway at the sight of the old Eriskay school.

The school was opened in the late 1800s, and served the community for 137 years, before finally ringing the last bell for home in 2013.

On a sunny May 4th morning, the old building was revealed in all its glory when ancillary structures dating from 1933 were demolished to make way for a new Heritage Centre that will not only provide a safe home for the island’s rich history, but offer a range of much needed community and visitor facilities.

An initial business plan to convert the former school into a heritage centre was produced in 2018 and led to a Scottish Land Fund award and the successful purchase of the school and schoolhouse in 2021.

The journey from initial proposals to completed plans has included several full scale community consultations, as Comann Eachdraidh Eirisgeidh (CEE) Project Worker Sandra MacInnes explains:. “We wanted to ensure that our plans reflected what the island wants and needs. Looking at the finished plans now, you can see just how much of a positive impact the centre will bring.”

She continued: “If it hadn’t been for CEE, the community would have lost this historic asset as the building would have been sold on the open market and possibly as a commercial development. This way, the community are involved shaping what happens.”

Committee member Marie MacMillan is looking ahead to the value the new building will bring: “In the old days, the house ceilidhs kept the community alive, kept it connected. The school afforded people the opportunity to meet and congregate both in an educational forum with various night classes on offer and also with social gatherings such as weddings and ceilidhs. Those old ways are sadly no longer with us and we need a new focal point to bring people together. Isolation is a real concern, especially after covid. This will allow us to meet with each other and keep our strong community connections.”

Chair Iain Ruaraidh MacInnes describes the long and difficult journey the CEE has made: “There were times when we felt we wouldn’t be able to keep going. Covid was very hard. There were a lot of obstacles to get past and everything was very new to us. The whole process has been a challenge, but it’s paid off. We have learned a huge amount and are better placed to tackle this next phase with confidence.”

The next stage of the project is to secure the capital costs to start the build. The Committee have finalised their business plan and are preparing for the next round of funding applications.

The demolition works and re-slating contract is being delivered by local man Paul A. MacInnes, who, along with the majority of the on-sight team and committee, was once a pupil of the school.

The new building has been designed by Lewis born architect Ruairidh Moir, from BARD ailteir, and has been shortlisted for the Future Building or Project category of the Scottish Design Awards.

The Committee has launched a fund-raising effort to help with the next phase of the project – anyone wishing to purchase a piece of Eriskay history can log on to the Committee’s crowdfunding page.