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Candlemaking, crofting and being a mum is all in a day’s work for Mairi MacDonald.

Abigail Taylor

Growing up and living on the islands is something that is extremely important to Mairi MacDonald.

Mairi (33) grew up on South Uist but now lives with her husband and children on North Uist.

She takes on three different roles in her day-to-day life, not least managing her own business, Caim Candles.

Being a mum to Sean (13) and Megan (9) is number one priority every day. During the pandemic, mum also meant teacher. Like many across the nation at the outset of the pandemic, Mairi was furloughed from her job at Lochmaddy Shop.

“I was furloughed as the schools closed and someone had to be at home with the kids,” explained Mairi.

“I really enjoyed being off and with the kids and, although some of the home schooling was a struggle, we got through it in the end.”

Mairi is also a committed crofter, running a flock of Blackface sheep with her husband, Ryan.

“We are trying to buy more pedigree sheep so we can try to build a bit of a name and sell better stock.

Between providing round the clock care for their sheep and ambitious plans to build a reputation for top stock, it would seem there was little time left for anything else for Mairi.

“I suffer from fibromyalgia so it’s hard to be on my feet all day in a job but I wanted to do something just for myself.”

Something for herself has turned into a TikTok sensation, an old hobby reignited and a successful local business. Caim Candles was born from lockdown frustration but has expanded into a career for a mum stuck in routine.

“I started pottering about testing, making little samples and once I figured it all out I started to make the website. Nobody knew I was doing this, not even my dad. I was working really hard behind the scenes to get it ready to launch and I just thought ‘I’m going to do this’.”

Going from strength to strength, the original idea was to focus on local but, as the business is booming, the next steps to go international have already been taken.

“I launched just before Christmas and do you know, I just can’t believe how well it’s going,” said Mairi.

“I can’t believe the amount of people supporting the business and I’ve actually had to open up to international sales because it keeps growing.”

Candles provide a calming presence, which explains the soothing nature of the business name.

‘Caim’, which means ‘sanctuary’ in Gaelic, was the perfect choice for Mairi.

“This place has always been my sanctuary. I feel so safe here and always have.”

The candle factory just happens to be the kitchen in the family home. Picture the boxes of wax, the oils and the smells. It’s a busy home of four but the MacDonalds make it work for their mum.

Everything is produced in the humble kitchen on North Uist.

“I do it all myself. I make the candles, testing, labelling the packaging, everything is made here in my kitchen on my own. When I’m not out lambing, I’m making candles and melts during the day, and then at night once dinner is done and my kids are sorted, I’m doing labels and stickers.”

Caim Candles now manufactures a wide range of scents, with the best-sellers coming from the ‘Signature Uibhist Range’.

“I just can’t believe the local support as well,” continued Mairi.

“I didn’t know if people from here would want to buy the Uist products but it really has just taken off.”

Peat, whisky and heather are on the list of fragrances that invoke the landscape and environment of Uist.

“I was thinking about what scents would work as part of a Uist range and someone in the Co-op mentioned that they had bought a candle that smelt of grass and my brain jumped to baling time!

It’s such a recognisable smell that reminds you of a particular time of the year. The ideas just started to roll from there, for example, seaweed, and I wasn’t even sure about that one, but it’s one of my best sellers.”

Following the recent passing of her mother, Shona, Mairi will soon be launching a charity scent in her memory.

“My mum passed away in December and I have decided to make a charity candle called ‘Purple Rain’ with proceeds going to a multiple sclerosis charity in memory of my mum. I bought the scent straight away without even thinking about how it smelt as my mum loved Prince. I made her one up and she loved it so now any product that sells in that scent, a percentage of the cost will be donated in memory of my mum.”

There is a bright future for Mairi, her family and Caim Candles with a move to more eco friendly products, plans to upsize the workshop and move out of the family kitchen, this local businesswoman is doing everything right in order to succeed.

“I’ve spent so many years stressing about childcare and juggling my jobs. I felt real guilt trying to make it all work. I always put my kids first but I still felt guilty. I love now saying I’m my own boss. I’m self-employed and I can be here for my kids, husband and the sheep. I am so proud of myself. I still don’t think I’m over how well it’s going and I don’t think I ever will. I am so grateful. I have worked hard and it’s a huge accomplishment.”

New local Citizens Advice Bureau manager Lynda MacLean discusses her work and life at home on North Uist

Abigail Taylor

Having been born on the islands, growing up and now living in Claddach Baleshare, Lynda MacLean was recently been appointed Operations Manager for the Citizens Advice Bureau in the Western Isles.

Lynda, 31, has been serving the local community for more than five years working with CAB. Her work stretches across the Outer Hebrides and is the “job of a lifetime” says Lynda.

“I noticed that this job came up, took it on and was offered the position. It’s so rewarding to be helping so many people in the community.”

Like so many, Lynda’s day-to-day work life changed when the pandemic hit. New problems were emerging for people. With bigger hoops for her team to jump through in order to provide the guidance and advice the community needed, adaptation was key.

“No day is the same. You’ve no idea what’s going to come through the door in a day. Obviously things have changed now due to the pandemic, people can’t just come into the offices to get help or advice. But we’re there on the phones or email and even Zoom. We’re adapting and making it work.”

Lynda explained the importance of her role in the community: “We are a worthwhile service. People have come back and told us that we have helped their lives. I don’t know what some people would do without this service. So many people fall through the cracks and we’re there to prevent that as much as possible.”

What is important to Lynda is her job and community, her family and where she comes from. Her responsibilities lie with her son Angus, 7, stepping in as teacher as well as mum for most of this past year.

“Lockdown hasn’t hit us too badly,” reflected Lynda. “I’ve been able to spend it with Angus and we homeschool and work from home. It’s been a bit difficult but we got over it. He loves being at home with his Papa too, helping him outside and in the garden. It’s been a nice time. My husband, Tommy, and my mum are posties and they’ve not stopped working, so a lot didn’t have to change for us.”

Her home is situated just a stone’s throw away from where she grew up with her mum, Tina, and dad, Angus. Lynda and Tommy live in a new-build with character, similar to her grandparents’ cottage.

“I love living here and wouldn’t ever want to live anywhere else. I think it’s the best place to live, the remoteness and rural aspect of it is something I like a lot. Especially during lockdown, I couldn’t imagine having been stuck in a big city. The life for children here is second to none as they have freedom to be outside and learn.”

As someone who has decided to stay on the islands and raise a family with her husband, Lynda wants to encourage more young people to do the same.

“Young people should look more into life on the islands. I never expected to get this job at the CAB and never thought I’d reach this level. You just have to take a look and see what’s out there for you. Sometimes you have to start at the bottom and work your way up, and that’s okay.”

Times and attitudes towards work are changing, working from home and remote working has enabled people to enjoy where they are from: “I hope that the way things are now, it’ll give an opportunity to the islands. There will be more jobs available here and I hope that young people see the benefits of living where they’re from.”