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23 tractors from North Uist and Berneray toured the island spreading festive cheer with Santa Claus

Iain Stephen Morrison

Crofters from North Uist and Berneray tonight (24th December 2021) decorated their tractors and toured villages in a special Christmas Eve Tractor Run.

23 tractors were adorned with lights (and in two cases carried full height Christmas trees) to make up a special convoy to bring festive cheer to the townships of North Uist.

Santa Claus himself took a break from his incredibly hectic schedule this evening to join the parade with assistance from local garage Westside Motors.

Islanders waved on the procession of neon tractors from their driveways and, as the rally passed Lochmaddy Harbour, a blast from the ship’s horn emanated from MV Hebrides.

Tractors set out from Hosta at 6pm and toured North Uist, passing through Bayhead and Carinish, onward to Lochmaddy and around past Sollas to the end of the run at Hosta.

Winners have been announced for a competition encouraging householders to light up the islands for Christmas

Iain Stephen Morrison

Earlier today (21st December 2021) on the shortest day of the year, prizes were presented to the homeowners, community groups and businesses that have gone the extra mile to make their districts sparkle this Christmas.  

North Uist and Benbecula Locality Partnership organised the island-wide contest, which included categories for households, businesses and community organisations, with sponsorship from the Western Isles Lifestyle Lottery.

Raebelle Steele from Askernish, South Uist, won first prize for ‘Individual Outdoor Display’, while the ‘Community Group Outdoor Display’ award was given to the Christmas Tree Trail organised by North Uist Community Council. Coralbox Gift Shop on Berneray won ‘Best Shop Display’ and Borve Guest House on Benbecula was named ‘Best Hospitality Display’.

See the full list of winners below:

Individual Outdoor Display

  1. Raebelle Steele, Askernish, South Uist (£200)
  2. Margaret Kennedy, Lochboisdale, South Uist (£100)
  3. Charlene MacPhee, Balivanich, Benbecula (£50)

Community Group Outdoor Display

Christmas Tree Trail (North Uist Community Council)

Best Shop Display

Coralbox Gift Shop (Berneray)

Best Hospitality Display

Borve Guest House (Benbecula)

Raebelle Steele (pictured at the top of the page with Jemma MacVicar) started decorating her home with hundreds of lights more than 20 years ago and it has become a local landmark during the festive season on South Uist. She added a neon-coloured Nativity scene this year, which turned the heads of the judges, and helped her secure the cash prize of £200.

Raebelle, who loves Christmas time, said she was “gobsmacked” to find out her home had won ‘Best Individual Outdoor Display’.

She only had one idea when asked how she would spend the £200.

“More lights!” said Raebelle.

North Uist Community Council has arranged a Christmas Tree Trail around the island, having first distributed trees around districts to cheer up local residents after the initial hardship of the pandemic in 2020.

Community council members Joan Ferguson and Rachel MacLean with Jemma MacVicar

Joan Ferguson, chair of the community council, said: “It has been a real community effort, with 14 trees sited across the island, and help from dozens of local volunteers.”

Local councillors contributed £300 towards the trail, with additional funding secured from the Western Isles Lifestyle Lottery.

North Uist Community Council received £200 for charity, which will be donated to support research into NETs cancer, which community council member John MacDonald, Lochmaddy, has lived with for some time.  

Jemma MacVicar, development officer for North Uist and Benbecula Locality Partnership, presented awards to prize-winners this afternoon (21st December 2021).

Borve Gust House owner Mary Potton receives her prize from Jemma MacVicar.

“We were delighted to organise this popular competition, with support from the Western Isles Lifestyle Lottery,” explained Jemma.

“We did this to encourage the islands to light up for the festive season and can say that, with dozens of brilliant entries received, our communities have more than risen to the challenge!

“We would like to thank everyone who has taken part and supported the competition, which will have brought some welcome cheer to islanders this Christmas.”

Peggy MacSween, 86, thought she would never again see her wedding band after losing it in the 1960s

Abigail Taylor

Benbecula woman Peggy MacSween could not believe her eyes yesterday (30th November 2021) when a lost treasure was returned to her more than 50 years after it was last seen on the machair at Liniclate.

Back in the 1960s she and her now late husband, John, who were married in 1958, were digging for potatoes on the machair when her gold wedding band disappeared.

“We were out lifting potatoes on the machair at Liniclate. I was wearing gloves, which kept filling with sand, so every so often I took them off and shook them to get rid of some of the sand. I never thought about the ring until we got home and realised it was missing. I thought it was lost and that there was no reason to go back and look for it,” explained Peggy.

She related the story several weeks ago in a conversation with Donald MacPhee from Nunton. Donald, who owns a metal detector, offered to look around the site where the ring was lost in Liniclate.

“I decided to have a look around the area Peggy said she thought the potato patch had been,” explained Donald.

Donald MacPhee

“It was definitely a needle in a haystack scenario! I found ring-pulls and bottle tops but no sign of the ring. Neil MacPherson then showed me the exact area where the patch had been and so the location was narrowed down.

“I was still finding random bits of rubbish and then gave up for a while. I went back to the area yesterday (30th November 2021) to pass a few hours and, out of the blue, heard the signal that I had found something. When you are metal detecting, you work in an area moving up and down in straight lines. I was scanning the ground like this and then, for some reason, decided to veer off to my right and the metal detector picked up a signal.

“I started digging, flipped over the turf and there it was, like new, shining gold! You can still see the hallmark in full detail after all these years.”

Image: Donald MacPhee

Donald made his way immediately to return the lost treasure to Peggy.

“Peggy had actually laughed about me even looking for it but she was speechless when it was handed to her this afternoon all wrapped up!”

Peggy herself could hardly contain her surprise on having the missing wedding band returned after 50 years.

“I could not believe it when Donald appeared at the door and told me he had found something,” said Peggy.

“It is amazing that he found it and it still fits!”

Donald returns the ring to Peggy

Bike trek raises £10,917 for Ospadal Uibhist agus Bharraigh

Iain Stephen Morrison

£10,917 has been donated to Ospadal Uibhist agus Bharraigh as the result of a cross-island bike trek to raise funds in memory of the late Catriona MacRury.

Catriona, who was from Stoneybridge, South Uist, passed away after a short battle with a rare and rapid neurological disease, CJD, in September 2020. She was a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, sister, sister-in-law and auntie, and well known to generations of islanders who met her where she worked in the canteen at Sgoil Lionacleit.

Her family so valued the outstanding care Catriona received in her final days at Ospadal Uibhist agus Bharraigh.

In order to mark the first anniversary of her death in September and show appreciation for the kindness of the team who looked after Catriona in the hospital, her brother, Eachann Nicolson, set out on a sponsored cycle from Inverness to Barra, then north the whole length of the Western Isles and back to Inverness.

Sister-in-law, Maree Nicolson, also biked from Barra to Ness, with Catriona’s husband, Murdo, providing support on the road across the Outer Hebrides. Numerous others joined Eachann and then himself and Maree along to 400 miles covered on the islands and to and from Inverness.

Initially, the aim of the journey was to raise £1500 to support the purchase of specialised beds for the dementia room in Ospadal Uibhist agus Bharraigh. However, soon after launch, the online JustGiving page saw donations pouring in, meaning the initial target was completely surpassed, finally settling at £8495.

Supporters donated more than £2000 along the route, with the final total raised, when combined with the amount realised online, settling at an incredible £10,917.

Eachann, Maree and Murdo earlier this week (29th November 2021) presented a cheque (pictured above) for £10,917 to James MacKay, senior nurse at Ospadal Uibhist agus Bharraigh.

“We did this as an act of appreciation for the team at Ospadal Uibhist agus Bharraigh and all the kindness shown to Catriona,” said Eachann.

“We really want to thank everyone who joined the cycle on the mainland and across the islands, all the B&Bs where we stayed for their kindness and hospitality, and, in particular, all the people who donated to make up the amazing sum of £10,917.”

Catriona’s family have requested that the entire amount be retained and used to benefit patients at Ospadal Uibhist agus Bharraigh.

“We are very grateful for this very kind donation,” commented James MacKay.

Caraidean Uibhist secured funding to celebrate Scottish Book Week 2021 (15th – 20th November) from the Scottish Book Trust

Abigail Taylor

Local author and Caraidean board member, Libby Learmond, wrote a short story and read it at an event hosted in Balivanich Hall on Thursday 18th November 2021.

Due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, the event was invite only.

Libby Learmond read two stories, the first being a ghost story followed by the reading of her new creation, “Careful what you wish for!”.

Following the celebrations, Libby agreed to sign over the copyright of the story to Caraidean and a booklet with illustrations by Matt Campbell will be distributed to children in local schools as a keepsake.

Caraidean staff dressed up as characters from books and various pupils from Balivanich School had made up posters of their favourite books and these were displayed on the walls of the hall.

After the event, Tracy Walker from Caraidean Uibhist, presented copies of the new book to Sarah Banks, secretary at Sgoil Bhaile a’ Mhanaich (pictured above.)

Local war memorials have lights fitted in time for Armistice Day

Iain Stephen Morrison

Earlier today (11th November 2021) the nation fell silent and remembered the fallen, with ceremonies held across the country to mark Armistice Day.

Here on the islands the local war memorials serve as permanent reminders of the sacrifice of servicemen and women and they will now stand even more prominently, with lights fitted at Griminish War Memorial on Benbecula (pictured) and Bornish War Memorial on South Uist.

Solar powered lights were installed at Clachan War Memorial on North Uist several years ago and now the cairns on Benbecula and South Uist are also illuminated at night thanks to funding received from Western Isles Lifestyle Lottery.

North Uist and Benbecula Locality Partnership supported the war memorial committees to secure and site solar lights which were switched on in time for Armistice Day.

“Seeing the care, dedication and love that goes into keeping the islands war memorials in pristine condition to honour those who left their island homes to protect their nation but were never to return, it was only right to support the committees in enhancing their memorials of remembrance,” said North Uist and Benbecula Locality Partnership development officer Jemma MacVicar.

“Speaking with the committees and hearing their stories of loved ones and the bravery of members of their communities, their motivation behind the time and effort put into maintaining the structures is clear. It was an honour to hear their stories and today we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and those left behind.”

Norman MacAskill re-elected to board of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire

Iain Stephen Morrison

Norman MacAskill has been re-elected to the board of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire.

Four candidates stood to become directors of the community landowner for South Uist.

Sealladh na Beinne Mòire is the parent company of Stòras Uibhist, South Uist Renewable Energy and Lochboisdale Development Limited.

Norman MacAskill, who served on the board for three years, sought re-election this year alongside first time candidates Agnes Dehu, Gilbert MacInnes and Kevin Morrison.

Norman received 170 votes, while Kevin Morrison was next with 149. 89 voted for Agnes Dehu and 27 for Gilbert MacInnes.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar election services managed the voting process with the count broadcast live this afternoon (10th November 2021) on Microsoft Teams.

435 votes were cast in total between the four candidates.

Next week will see the annual general meeting of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire, scheduled for 18th November 2021 at Southend Hall.

Members have been notified that the board intends to amend the articles of association for Sealladh na Beinne Mòire 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 AGM 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.

Four candidates forward for election to Sealladh na Beinne Mòire

Iain Stephen Morrison

Voting is about to get underway, with four candidates standing to become directors of South Uist community landowner Sealladh na Beinne Mòire.

Sealladh na Beinne Mòire is the parent company of Stòras Uibhist, South Uist Renewable Energy and Lochboisdale Development Limited.

Norman MacAskill, who has served on the board of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire for three years is seeking re-election alongside first time candidates Agnes Dehu, Gilbert MacInnes and Kevin Morrison.

Ballot papers will be issued to voters during the week commencing 18th October 2021. Completed ballots must be returned to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar election services, using the prepaid envelopes provided, no later than 11am on 10th November 2021.

Chief executive, Darren Taylor, commented: “I would like to thank all of the candidates who have put themselves forward for election and wish them all the best of luck. Our organisation is all about community engagement and involvement and it is encouraging to see so many people putting themselves forward this year.”

Candidate statements can be read at www.storasuibhist.com

Local crews ran successful events to find recruits but are still keen to hear from candidates

Iain Stephen Morrison

Efforts to recruit new retained firefighters for the local Scottish Fire and Rescue Service stations have been successful after crewmembers ran engagement activities and hosted a recruitment open day in September.

“We are delighted with the response and, in particular, that our female uptake has been fantastic, but we are still recruiting for Bayhead, Benbecula and Lochboisdale, so we are still keen to hear from candidates for those stations,” said Dougie Campbell, Group Commander for the Western Isles.

“What we want to stress is that, while we used to be quite rigid in our recruitment, now we are not, with contracts that might suit individuals in different situations, including parents whose children are in school. We struggle for availability during the day, so if there is someone out there who are free during the day and can offer maybe a couple of nights a week, we would be delighted to hear from them so we can discuss the opportunities.”

Retained firefighters provide the same full range of emergency services as their whole-time colleagues and generally carry out these duties while 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.

“Candidates first attend a two-week training course, which is currently available in Stornoway but also in most major cities in Scotland. Between six and twelve months later there is another two-week course. You do not have to be super fit, we are looking for a good level of fitness and we provide a lot of support to get candidates to the right level so they can come on board,” continued Mr Campbell.

“You are helping your community and the camaraderie within the stations is great. It gives you a real sense of wellbeing knowing you are helping people out. You work as part of a team, with excellent equipment, but the main benefit is the knowledge you are doing something for your local area.”

Further benefits 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.

“I think people rule themselves out too readily,” added Mr Campbell.

“If you are interested, please come and talk to us as you may find it is something you can do. I would really urge anyone thinking about joining not to count themselves out before having a talk with one of the team first.”

Leaflets on the work of retained firefighters have been distributed to local households and more information is available on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service website (www.firescotland.gov.uk).

Passivhaus standard achieved at new centre under construction on South Uist

Iain Stephen Morrison

Cnoc Soilleir achieved a critical milestone in its construction when it met the Passivhaus standard after tests were conducted at the end of August.

Passivhaus refers to a building that meets certain standards of airtightness and passive heat gain, with a view to minimising energy consumption. More than 65,000 buildings have now been designed, built and tested to this standard across the world, with Cnoc Soilleir the first in the Western Isles.

Last month the entrances on the now well advanced Cnoc Soilleir were sealed before the air pressure was dropped and then raised. Passivhaus buildings must achieve an airtightness level of less than 0.5 and, at the end of the assessment, 0.4 was recorded for Cnoc Soilleir.

“Contractors spent a lot of time making sure the construction is really tight,” explained project manager Catherine Yeatman.

“It was an anxious moment as the assessor went around with a smoke pen, checking all the areas where leaks would be expected, but a great result to achieve 0.4 at the end of the test. It is important to hit this level before plasterboard covers up the base structure, as we could see where there were leaks and seal them as required.”

Passivhaus buildings are designed to have low energy requirements for space heating and still be comfortable for occupants.

“It is about fabric first and making the building as energy efficient as possible,” continued Catherine.

“Passivhaus means the design and construction processes are robust in terms of making sure those corners and awkward areas where heat could be lost are as thermally efficient as the rest of the building.

“It is also about building orientation and Cnoc Soilleir has been constructed to maximise solar gain in the winter and restrict it in the summer.

“Passivhaus also means a stable thermal environment inside as the building will react slowly to temperature changes outside. It will always be the same temperature inside. Because of the orientation of the building and the large windows, the use of electric lighting will be minimised.

“However, the other benefit is fresh air, which is heated through a heat exchanger. Each room has its own supply of fresh heated air so windows do not need to be opened to lose heat from the building.”

Each room fitted with its own fresh air supply will be even further beneficial, with Cnoc Soilleir set to open in a world still coming to terms with the prevalence of COVID-19.

“Because this building is an educational one and will be used for teaching the ventilation rates were already quite high. But here you are not sharing air with other people as the air is not being circulated through the full building. Each room and each place is a fresh air bubble, which we now know is important. It is an additional benefit in terms of COVID-19 and, while that was not the reason that we went for the Passivhaus standard, it is a bonus.”

Cnoc Soilleir is to be a state-of-the-art institution for education, music, dance, culture and Gaelic and is being developed through a partnership between Lews Castle College and Ceòlas. Lews Castle College will deliver courses from the centre during the week in term time, while outwith core college hours Cnoc Soilleir will become the base for events and activities with Ceòlas.

Cnoc Soilleir includes classrooms and teaching spaces for students with both Lews Castle College and Ceòlas. Plans for the centre also include a resource centre, recording studio and offices for both Lews Castle College and Ceòlas.

It is envisaged the new centre will enable further growth in the Gaelic language economy in an area that is recognised as a key community for the revitalisation of the language in Scotland.

Local contractors, MacInnes Bros Ltd, started work on construction of the first phase of the new centre early in 2020 and it is anticipated this will be complete in the spring of 2022. Phase one will see the construction of teaching and office spaces, while the second stage will comprise a bespoke auditorium and dance facilities. It is estimated the second phase will cost around £5 million to develop, with £3 million secured earlier this year from the Scottish Government.

Cnoc Soilleir has received funding from numerous individual donors, Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.