College expansion reaches new stage

The first major building in the new Kilbeg Development on Sleat in Skye was officially opened on Wednesday October 22 by the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, seen above in front of the new facility. 
The new building at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI, the National Centre for the Gaelic Language and Culture, is named "Ionad Iain Nobail" or the Iain Noble Centre, in memory of the late Sir Iain Noble who was instrumental in the establishment and early development of the College more than 40 years ago.
Sir Iain was inspired to launch the drive to create Sabhal Mòr Ostaig by the example of the Faroe Islands where the campaign to protect and develop the local language had started at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Work began on Phase 1 of the major new 'Kilbeg Village Development' project, being led by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, in March 2014.  Along with the site servicing and infrastructure, which should enable the future elements of the Kilbeg Village plan to be delivered in stages over 10-15 years.
The Iain Noble Centre is built as an Academic, Research, Knowledge Transfer and Enterprise building.  Part of this new centre is also home to key College staff who previously occupied the original Ostaig Steading buildings.
The Chairman of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig's Board of Directors, Lord Minginish , said: "I would like to congratulate everyone who has brought us to where we are today. There are too many to name individually butit would be appropriate to give thanks to the Government for their help at every stage of the development.
"By being with us today to officially open and name Ionad Iain Nobail the First Minister is demonstrating that continued support.  We are greatly indebted to every group involved in the funding of the project also. This is a great and historic day for Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, for Sleat and for the Isle of Skye: the first step in a development that will continue for the next twenty years."
Funding assistance towards the £6.2m cost of Phase 1 at Kilbeg has been provided by the Scottish Funding Council, the Scottish Government, the European Regional Development Fund (Convergence) of the European Union, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, The Highland Council and the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Development Trust which incorporates the former Highland Fund and Urras na h-Aiseirigh.
Robert Muir, Area Manager for HIE Lochaber Skye and Wester Ross said "HIE are delighted that the first phase of the ambitious Kilbeg Village development has been completed successfully. We look forward to the long term benefits of this initial infrastructure investment being realised through future projects that Sabhal Mòr Ostaig develop on site".
The project contractors, Robertson Construction Northern Ltd, completed the development in April 2015 and the Regional Managing Director, Frank Reid, said: "With Kilbeg Village, we were conscious that we weren't simply working on a building, but something that would help stimulate the continuing success of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig – as well as contribute towards the economic growth of Skye and the wider Highlands and Islands area.
"It was vital then that this development reflected the ambition, quality and significance of the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture, so we are particularly proud to see it now and are certain it will fulfil this goal. We are honoured to have played an integral part in the development of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig for not just Sleat and Skye, but the whole Gaelic culture."
Sir Iain’s widow, Lucilla, Lady Noble, said: "It gives me great joy to learn that the flagship building of A' Chill' Bheag is being named Ionad Iain Nobail. Given the challenges that he overcame in setting up Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, combined with his lifelong commitment and endeavour towards ensuring the future of the Gaelic language, culture and education,  it will also be appreciated that Iain's name will continue in perpetuity at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig."
Sleat Community Council welcomed this latest phase of the College's development and paid tribute to the vision of Sir Iain. Their chairman Roddy Murray said "This latest development  marks not only the continuing growth of the College but also the start of a new phase of Community involvement and diversification through the Kilbeg Village Plan. The Community Council looks forward to the provision of further enhanced facilities at Kilbeg which will benefit both the College and the community for generations to come". 
The Kilbeg initiative will result in the creation of the first new 'planned village' on Skye, in almost 100 years and is, therefore, of great historical significance. It will also build upon the significant socio-economic impact which the College has had in the region since its founding in 1973.
After the official opening, the First Minister delivered the annual Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Lecture where she spoke of the relationship between Gaelic linguistic and cultural regeneration and the economic vitality of the country and, in particular, of what Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has contributed since the establishment of the College.
She praised Sir Iain Noble's vision and the ways in which Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has grown over the years, in regards to both education and development, and in which the College is today a great example to the entire country.
She said: "When Sir Ian Noble established this college, his vision was partly based on the view that cultural regeneration would encourage economic regeneration. The two go hand in hand. That vision has been vindicated here on Sleat over the last four decades.
"The new walls of the Kilbeg development demonstrate the contribution Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has made to Gaelic learning; to the regeneration of the Sleat peninsula; and to the culture and economy of the Highlands and Islands."
The First Minister explained how Gaelic medium education had increased numbers of Gaelic speakers and how important it is that that these numbers continue to rise.
She said: "What we're trying to do now is to ensure that our education legislation and schools system help rather than hinder the development of Gaelic.  So we're adopting a proportionate and practical approach which will help to secure the language's future.   We want more people to learn Gaelic, to use it, and to see its relevance in their everyday lives.  And in doing so, we will ensure that Gaelic contributes to the social and economic wellbeing of local communities."
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Principal, Professor Boyd Robertson said: "Today marked an important milestone in the developing story of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig."  He pointed out that Nicola Sturgeon was the fourth First Minister to give the lecture. "We were greatly encouraged by her recognition of the work of the College and her support for it.  She also exhibited a good grasp of the position of the language and the key role education and broadcasting play in reviving its fortunes."

Scorpions and snakes…end of an era for Serpentarium

What creature would you be least likely to see on the Isle of Skye?  Perhaps your mind goes straight to exotic creatures, like tigers or elephants.  But how about a venomous scorpion?  Surely that would be the last animal you would find on the island?
Surprisingly enough, Skye Serpentarium was home to such a scorpion, after he stowed away in a crate of bananas and was discovered in Portree! 
Catherine and Alex Shearer, pictured above, who have run Skye Serpentarium for 25 years, explained: "A number of supermarkets called us up in the past to ask if we will take stowaway tarantulas, or even frogs.  The scorpion from Portree was a bit of a surprise, and it created a lot of interest.  We were told he wouldn't live long, but he lived with us for two years and we became quite attached to him!"
The Serpentarium has enchanted locals and tourists alike for over two decades, but Catherine and Alex made the decision that their doors would close for the last time on October 24, 2015. 
"It's getting harder for us," admitted Catherine.  "We have to support ourselves as well as the reptiles, so we haven't had a holiday for 26 years!  Our aim when we opened was to soften the public attitude to reptiles." 
For this reason, allowing visitors to handle the snakes has been very important to the couple. 
It was Catherine's experience handling a snake at Edinburgh Zoo that sparked off her initial interest in reptiles.  "If I hadn't handled that snake, I would never have known what it was like," she said. 
Shortly after visiting the zoo, Catherine bought her very first snake from a Glasgow pet shop.  "Around this time, our jobs were getting more and more stressful," Catherine revealed.  "One day, when Alex came in for lunch, I said: 'I've something to say to you.  I'm moving up to Skye.'  Alex said: 'That's the best thing you've said in years!'" 
After obtaining the disused watermill in Broadford, Catherine and Alex set up their sanctuary.  "People weren't sure - not everybody likes snakes and virtually nobody north of the central belt had ever seen one," Catherine said. 
"Then, I discovered I had to have a zoo licence, so I became the only female in Scotland to have a zoo licence and this became the only reptile centre in Scotland!"  They then opened the adjoining Watermill Coffee Shop to help fund their work. 
At the end of their first year, people began to approach them to take in animals.  In their 25 years, the couple have rescued 600-700 animals, including tortoises, lizards, frogs, spiders and, of course, snakes! 
Three Royal Pythons have been with Catherine and Alex almost as long as the serpentarium has been open - the 22 year-old sisters, Goldie, Gypsy and Rhiannon.  "We took in 15 baby Royal Pythons from Customs," explained Catherine.  "They were very stressed and hanging limp, like bits of string.  They were full of mites and ticks.  We managed to save nine and we use Goldie, Gypsy and Rhiannon for handling."
The trio will be part of the group of animals that Catherine and Alex will keep.  "We have a unit of tanks where we can house the animals that are vulnerable or can't be sold," revealed Alex.  "That won't be open to the public and we won't be taking any more in, but we can still care for the ones we have." 
Catherine concluded: "In the 25 years we have been open, we have met loads of different people and made lots of friends.  Skye is a very touristy island, so we had people coming from all over the world.  Our job of encouraging responsible ownership had far-reaching effects.  I feel we have made a difference."
Skye Serpentarium has won over the hearts of the people of Skye, who are saying goodbye to an exotic attraction and, for some, part of their favourite childhood memories.  This truly is the end of an era.

Minister visits TV setting on Sleat

Production company Young Films and the cast and crew of BBC ALBA Gaelic drama “Bannan” were recently delighted to welcome Cabinet Secretary for Europe & External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop MSP, to their production base and on location of the current series of Bannan currently being filmed in Sleat.

Bannan, commissioned by BBC ALBA and funded by MG ALBA in partnership with Creative Scotland is the first Gaelic drama to be produced in over 20 years. The three pilot episodes screened in September 2014 were very well received by the BBC ALBA audience with 62pc of the channel’s audience tuning in to watch the first episode; the highest reach of any programme on the channel since its launch on Freeview in 2011.

Following this success, BBC ALBA commissioned Young Films to deliver a further 15 episodes with the next instalment of five episodes being transmitted on BBC ALBA on 21st September.

Chris Young, Producer of Bannan and Managing Director of Young Films said: “We are now filming the last five half-hours of the 18-episode Bannan cycle, and it’s amazing to think that we only started filming the pilot exactly two years ago next week.  That’s nine hours of TV drama produced in Scotland in two years, which is something I’m very proud of.  The support we have received from both Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government has made a huge difference in making this happen.

“In the process of filming Bannan, we have managed to train a whole new home-grown team of new writers, directors, producers, actors and technicians in long-running TV drama. 

“I believe Bannan provides a very good model for how we can significantly expand indigenous film and television production and training in Scotland.”

Ms Hyslop was joined by Richard Findlay, Chair of Creative Scotland and was able to witness some of the opportunities that have been provided by the drama during the past three years and meet production staff that have benefitted from working and being trained on Bannan.

From the beginning Bannan has focused on providing training and development opportunities at all levels of production and development. Around 20% of Bannan’s budget can be attributed to training and staff development and almost half of the 70 plus cast, crew and staff working on the show are going through some form of training /career progression.

As a result Young Films has witnessed significant progression and development of skills across the whole spectrum of TV/film talent and craft disciplines. Chris added: “I believe that with Bannan Young Films has created a strong model for the future and we are confident that we have the resources and talent to deliver outstanding drama from a Scottish base to a national and international TV and cinema audience.”

Ms Hyslop said: “Meeting some of the talented crew who have been trained to a world leading standard while working on Bannan demonstrates just some of the benefits of Scottish film and TV production.

“Bannan is a major Scottish success story – reaching a bigger audience than any other programme on BBC ALBA since it launched in 2011 and allocating a significant proportion of its production costs to training and professional development opportunities for young people.

“Our continuing support for Bannan underlines the Scottish Government’s firm commitment to increasing indigenous language programming which we have made clear to the UK Government we expect to see more of through the BBC Charter renewal process.”

One of those who has gained experience from working on Bannan is Laura MacLennan, 24, who works as a scriptwriter and script-supervisor. Laura is from Barvas on the Isle of Lewis and graduated in 2012 she was given the opportunity to work as a trainee alongside Bannan script supervisor on the pilot and has never looked back.

Laura said: “I am now the sole script supervisor, and have been involved in translating scripts from Gaelic to English. This involvement has given me an extensive knowledge of the characters and of the Bannan style of writing.”   This allowed her to become a fully-fledged scriptwriter on the show writing and delivering two episodes.

“Two years ago, I didn’t know what a script supervisor was, and I had not prepared any creative writing since school. Now I’m relishing the challenges and honing my skills to write must watch TV – opportunities I’d never have got without the help of Young Films and the opportunities Bannan has presented,” Laura continued.

Mairead Hamilton is another young trainee benefitting from valuable experience on Bannan. Mairead comes from Sleat and after working as a runner on the pilot and after expressing an interest in directing she was given the opportunity to work as director’s assistant to Tony Kearney and then offered the role as trainee director. In the last block of filming Mairead directed episode 11 and is currently directing another episode on this block.

Mairead said: “To say I am grateful to Chris Young, Morag Stewart, Tony Kearney and Young Films as a whole for this extraordinary opportunity is to put it far too mildly! I have learnt so very much from my time on Bannan and it has been an absolute joy to see the evolution of the show and the actors and to work through the medium of the language, which is integral to the story - Gaelic.”


Fiona Hyslop & Richard Findlay with trainees on set of Bannan (from R to L - Mairead Hamilton - trainee director, Laura MacLennan - trainee scriptwriter & script supervisor, Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cristin MacKenzie - trainee director, Richard Findlay - Chair of Creative Scotland)


From right to left - Donald Campbell - Chief executive MG ALBA, Maggie Cunningham - Chair MG ALBA, Richard Findlay - Chair Creative Scotland, Fiona Hyslop MSP, Chris Young - Producer & Managing Director Young Films, Margaret Mary Murray Head of Service BBC ALBA, Tony Kearney - Director, Bannan, Chrisella Ross - writer & creator Bannan.


Royal seal set on firm’s community role

HRH The Princess Royal receives a Skyeskyns sheepskin teddy bear from Ciara Bradshaw with Jess Hartwell on the podium behind.

Skyeskyns was proud to welcome HRH The Princess Royal in July 2014 for a visit to help celebrate the firm’s 30th anniversary. 
The Five-Star visitor attraction in Waternish, which makes and supply finest quality sheepskins, also used the opportunity to recognise members of the local community who contributed to Skyeskyns success.
The Princess Royal had a guided tour of the tannery and showroom with Jess Hartwell, whose family own and run the business, before being given the chance to meet Skyeskyns staff, as well as members of the Waternish community, at a marquee reception. 
She also met representatives from businesses who work alongside Skyeskyns, supplying their luxury products for the showroom: Johnstons of Elgin, Hebridean Woolhouse and Devonia Sheepskins.  The Princess  Royal unveiled a plaque to commemorate her visit and was presented with a sheepskin.
The visit was an opportunity to showcase Skyeskyns’ role as the only remaining commercial sheepskin tannery in Scotland, using only the most traditional, time-honoured methods.
The business employs a number of local people and retains its close links to the Skye crofting community.  When Clive and Lydia Hartwell founded the tannery in 1983, sheepskins were considered a waste product, but Skyeskyns saw the potential to make the industry more sustainable, transforming these fleeces into part of the range of luxury products.
Jess Hartwell, daughter of the founders, recognised the profound contribution her late father Clive Hartwell gave over several decades to the local community.  As she said in her welcome speech:
“Clive was hugely proud of the Waternish community and the way local businesses on Skye support and sustain each other.  By working together he felt – as I do – that we have been creating a durable and thriving business community here in the beautiful wilds of Waternish. 
“As we move now from one generation to the next, we continue to uphold his core values: craftsmanship, outstanding customer service and pride in telling the story of leather, one of the most ancient skills, passed down through generations over time.”
The importance of community and strong local support was clear throughout the visit.  Skyeskyns used the opportunity to thank all those around Skye and beyond who had contributed to their development over the years, from Waternish resident Angan MacDonald, who dug the foundations of the tannery, through to Highlands and Islands Enterprise, who helped facilitate its most recent expansions. 
It was testament to the efforts of a great many, Jess said, that Skyeskyns had again been confirmed as maintaining its five star visitor attraction rating.
The pioneering role of the VisitWaternish tourism partnership was also praised at the event.  Through this initiative, Clive, together with Stein Inn and Dandelion Designs, created a strong, self-sustaining network of businesses that led to Waternish being the first part of Skye to be effectively open for business all year round.  The benefits from this, in terms of local employment opportunities, have been clear to see in recent years.
The importance of local businesses working together was also reflected by the Princess Royal in her own speech when she said:
“It is a real pleasure to see a business - which is such a family business - take such pride in what it produces.  It’s the quality of the product which has made the success, and the network and the support of the community is equally an integral part of it.  Businesses like these do make such a difference to attracting people’s attention to what is going on here. 
“It’s really nice to see the quality of work in a product which sadly had become seen as waste.  It isn’t.  This is a really good quality product which a lot of people would hanker after, and you have the ability to find it here.
“For businesses like this [the internet] can make a real difference, and I hope that will be part of being able to build your success.  I mean we’re not looking 30 years down the line, we’re looking a lot further than that.  So my best wishes for the future and my congratulations on what you’ve achieved here - it’s a pleasure to see.”
At the end of the visit, the whole family was even involved, as Her Royal Highness was presented with three sheepskin teddy bears for her own grandchildren by Clive and Lydia’s grandson Ruairidh and his friends Katie and Ciara. - Please support us and like Skyeskyns on Facebook and follow @skyeskyns17 on Twitter