Three major capital projects funded by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar on Barra and Vatersay are making significant progress, as evidenced by some impressive aerial photographs taken recently from a drone owned by local photographer, John MacDougall.
CnES announced this in a media release this week after facing protests for months from the Bùth Bharraigh community shop about the Council's plans to demolish the building later this year. All the projects are part of the South Uist & Barra Regeneration Programme. Bùth Bharraigh community shop have e-mails from other Council officials offering them the chance to have a lease of up to 20 years on the former Co-operative store in central Castlebay. The Council say the building is an eyesore.
Special report from Katie Macleod in New York
On screen and off, Hebrideans have been leaving their mark on Outlander, the Golden Globe-nominated, award-winning, £50 million TV series that has taken the USA by storm – but still flies under the radar in Scotland, where it is set, filmed, and produced.
The series, based on the bestselling books by US author Diane Gabaldon, follows the story of Claire, an English combat nurse who in 1945 visits a Callanish-style standing stone circle in Inverness while on her second honeymoon. Thanks to the stones, she finds herself transported through time to 18th century Scotland, where she falls in love with Jamie, the handsome head of the Fraser clan, and tries to stop the Jacobite rebellion she knows is coming.
More than 1000 people have joined the fight for survival of the Castlebay community shop, Bùth Bharraigh which faces demolition as part of a regeneration scheme created by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
Local MSP Alasdair Allan said: “I have raised this issue with the council and very much hope a mutually agreeable solution can be found. It is in the best interests of staff, customers and the many local producers who supply the shop that this enterprise continues to flourish.”
Local MP Angus B MacNeil said: “I have been contacted by Bùth Bharraigh who are concerned about plans to demolish the former Co-operative building from which they operate.
“As a result of the concerns raised, I have written to the Comhairle to ask them to work with the community to ensure the long term future of Bùth Bharraigh which is a very successful social enterprise.
“Bùth Bharraigh provides local employment and also supports island suppliers and is an asset to the Isle of Barra. I have asked the Comhairle for details of the plans for the former co-operative building and have also asked that the concerns expressed are addressed.
“Bùth Bharraigh must have premises from which they can continue this successful venture.”
The Bùth Bharraigh premises were formerly those of the Scottish Co-op which were bought by CnES after the new Co-op store opened in Castlebay. CnES has claimed Bùth Bharraigh knew the premises were going to be demolished from the start – however, emails from 2013 when Bùth Bharraigh set up the shop, show that there was discussion of five, ten and 20 year leases but no mention of demolition.
A Bùth Bharraigh statement says: “Initially, when we applied for the Old Co-op Building we had no idea that it was earmarked to be demolished. CnES promised us a custom-built building for the shop and indeed even that we could have input into the design process.
In January 2015, CnES confirmed that this was not in fact the case and we would have to apply for a unit [on the industrial estate] and the old co-op would be demolished.
“We are aware of the demand for business units on the island, that there is a need for businesses to be located at the historic centre of Castlebay and that there is a need for activities and services for visitors to the island. By staying in the Old Co-op building we will not create even more demand for business units, we are supporting the historic centre of Castlebay and providing services and activities for tourists.
“We conducted a survey in Aug/Sep 2015 to ascertain, now that the building was being occupied and a hub of activity, whether public feeling had changed and whether we could now stay in this location.
“We received 222 responses online and through the [local newspaper] Guth Bharraidh and 82% supported us remaining in the Old Co-op Building. CnES and Castlebay Community Council (CCC) have been sent copies of the survey results but have not acted on it.
“Since October 2015, Bùth Bharraigh Ltd believed we had been working with CnES to remove the Old Co-op Building from the demolition list so that we would have a secure future. This would enable us to continue to develop and provide security for both our producers and employees. As part of this process we were asked to obtain a letter of support from CCC and CnES were going to contact the Scottish Government Regeneration Department to see if the grant funding could be changed. We invited members of CCC to the Bùth and also offered to make a presentation at the meeting. However, we were not invited or made aware that the meeting was taking place.
“It is extremely unfortunate that CCC choose to support a decision to demolish the Old Co-op without having all the necessary information to make an informed decision or carry out any consultation with the general public. And also it seems that CnES did not contact the Scottish Government.
“It is also unfortunate that CCC then decided to put an article on the front page of Guth Bharraidh without informing us or giving us any chance of reply. We did ask CCC not to send the letter to CnES without first having an advertised meeting on the subject and a chance to get all the necessary information so that an informed decision could be reached. However this request was ignored.
“We have been left with no choice but to carry on and campaign for a secure future for Bùth Bharraigh. There are too many people now relying on us: employees, local shoppers, producers, crofters and visitors.
“Since our first survey has not been taken into consideration we are now undertaking a petition. We have over 1000 supporters between the online and paper copies.
“We are so appreciative of all the support and messages we have been receiving from local people and from people all over the world. If you would like to sign then please do so online or in the Bùth. We really do hope that a resolution can be reached soon.
A national petition has been launched on www.change.org to save a community shop in Castlebay from demolition.
Bùth Bharraigh is a local produce shop selling artisan goods from more than 80 suppliers from Barra and Vatersay, including meat, fish, vegetables, home-baking and crafts.
Bùth Bharraigh Ltd, established in October 2013, is a sustainable community membership enterprise. It was established to create opportunities for local people through providing a marketplace for local crofters and producers. It also employs three full-time people plus 12 volunteers. Last year it estimates that it brought in £88,000 for the local economy.
Businesses have been created, supported and grown on the strength of the shop, so crofts are being developed and diversified. This shop shortens the distance between producer and consumer and it meets the demand from visitors to the island.
In their statement on www.change.org, the organisers say: “The shop is an all-inclusive organisation and we have producers from school-age to 80's. It fosters enterprise and nurtures local talent, young and old. This shop is really important for the future sustainability of the island.”
Yet the local council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are proposing to demolish the building which the shop leases without providing any suitable accommodation for the shop to relocate to.
“Effectively the local authority are threatening the community business. We would like to obtain the building by asset transfer. Please show your support by signing and agreeing Bùth Bharraigh should be allowed to continue to trade in its present location,” says the plea on the petition site.
In a statement on Friday February 26, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said: “With regard to the former Co-op building in Castlebay, Isle of Barra, the proposed demolition of the property was included in the Comhairle’s successful ‘South Uist and Barra Regeneration Programme’ bid to the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund in 2013.
“This proposal reflected the wishes of the local community, as expressed by Castlebay Community Council following a survey conducted locally in 2012. The proposal was also approved by the Comhairle in June 2014.
“Bùth Bharraigh was made aware of the Comhairle’s intention to demolish building prior to the Comhairle facilitating its temporary occupancy of the building in late 2013 and this occupation was always going to be of a temporary nature.
“Castlebay Community Council has recently reconsidered and reconfirmed their decision in writing to the Comhairle, stating: 'Following a Committee meeting held on the 8th February 2016, the majority of Community Councillors have agreed to support the decision made by the previous Community Council, that the old Co-op building be demolished as planned by the Comhairle.'"
The statement goes on: "The Comhairle has been supportive of Bùth Bharraigh since its inception; it remains supportive and will continue to support the organisation. The Comhairle has a policy of advertising opportunities for the lease of business units publicly. Bùth Bharraigh will be invited to apply, along with any other interested-parties, for the new business units when they become available for let.”
The shop organisers say they were not aware the premises were bound to be demolished when they took them over - instead, they felt they were being given a chance to demonstrate that there was something which could be done with the former retail unit. Also they say there’s no guarantee they will get a new business unit, nor is there any provision for the interim period.
It is understood that the Council has received a letter threatening legal action over their decision.
The demolition is part of the £900,000 South Uist and Barra Regeneration Programme made up of four inter-linked, regeneration projects dating back to September 2013. It “provides funding for the development of 372 square metres of business units along with reclamation and environmental improvements to the former Co-op store site in Castlebay” says the Council.
A CnES report in June 2014 states: “There is a demonstrable increase in demand from new and existing businesses and social enterprises on the Island of Barra for purpose-built business units. Following a recent public meeting in the area, five businesses have formally expressed an interest. It is proposed to build two new business units to satisfy a wide range of local interests. The new building would consist of two units of 184 square metres and 188 square metres with manufacturing, retail and office space.
“The units would be built adjacent to existing units built by the Comhairle in Castlebay Industrial Estate as part of the ERDF-funded project. The proposal includes the demolition of the former Co-op store with environmental improvements in Castlebay.”
(Bùth Bharraigh on Facebook)
Visitors to Eriskay are finding a much expanded display of gifts and local products in the Eriskay Shop.
An extension completed last year allows for customers to browse through extensive displays while enjoying a sea view and they are also able to buy a coffee.
And the post office section has been given a new look as well, with a unique rural feel.
And the exclusive Eriskay jumper is also available for order through the shop - with a handful of local people involved in knitting the unique design which is not available through any other outlet…anywhere!