Alistair Dodds, Chair of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, shared his thoughts from the HIE Board’s recent visit to Lewis and Harris (22-23 April). 

Returning to the Outer Hebrides with my HIE Board colleagues was a great experience. The area visit gave us another valuable opportunity to engage directly with local partners as well as business and community leaders to explore how HIE can contribute to addressing opportunities and challenges. 

The programme kicked off with our Board meeting at Talla na Mara in Harris. This venue is West Harris Trust’s flagship project and offered a stunning view of Niseabost beach and the Sound of Taransay. It’s no wonder that it’s one of the most photographed locations in these islands.  
It was encouraging to hear that Talla na Mara is home to seven businesses and that the surrounding community has seen the population grow by more than 20 percent over the last five years – a testament to the trust’s commitment to providing affordable housing.  
Our next stop was at Isle of Harris Distillers in Tarbert. Since opening in 2015, employing 10 people, it has opened career paths for islanders and has allowed them to stay on the island to acquire skills. The company has certainly taken the island’s name around the world, and it now employs around 50 people with the majority recruited locally. Fifty percent of the company’s 36 permanent staff are under the age of 30.  

HIE Board visit Isle of Harris Distillers

We then met Amanda Saurin, who runs Temple Café in Northton and has brought back into use a building in Leverburgh to grow her business and offer more food and drink ranges from locally sourced produce. Her ‘Wild Eve’ non-alcoholic drink product is made from local flora from her croft and is proving popular with customers.  

While in Harris, we met with Kenny Macleod, Chair of Harris Development Ltd along with fellow board members and two development officers. He explained about the community group’s ambitious plans to purchase and develop an unused school building in Scalpay into much needed affordable housing.  
With housing being a huge issue for islanders, the community organisation has been looking at ways of addressing this. They were recently awarded a grant from the Scottish Land Fund to allow the purchase of land in Tarbert on which they have plans to build modular accommodation units to alleviate a shortage of housing for key workers, so this is good news.  

It was Lews Castle for the next stop in the evening where we had a great engagement session with businesses, social enterprises and community-led organisations.  
It was a positive discussion, highlighting the opportunities for the area and we discussed some of the challenges, which included housing, transport, workforce and skills supply and the importance of attracting young people to the islands. 

We really value these feedback sessions with local people.  All the points raised were noted and will inform our discussions and decision-making in future. 

On the second day (Tuesday), we headed over to the west side of Lewis to visit BASF Pharma (Callanish), which is located on a HIE-owned site, employing around 80 people. The company has achieved a great deal in Lewis, developing a highly successful scientific business providing well paid employment and trading internationally from Callanish. In 2021, the company unveiled a new consumables warehouse - a vital addition to their infrastructure. This much-needed storage space has already had a profound impact, allowing an almost doubling of their production capacity.  
After Callanish, we travelled further north to South Dell. We met with Keith Morrison whose entrepreneurial spirit helped him to breathe new life into the former HIE-owned Linux Centre - a space now reborn as the vibrant Wee Studio. As an extension of Keith’s creative vision, his Wee Studio Records focuses on undiscovered, exceptionally talented artists from the Highlands and Islands. Among them is Peat & Diesel – a band that has won accolades at the Scottish Trad Awards.  

HIE Board at Wee Studio, South Dell, Ness

It was back to Stornoway in the afternoon to meet Alex Macleod, the Chief Executive of Stornoway Port Authority (SPA) and its chair Margaret Ann Macleod. We’ve worked closely with SPA to support their masterplan. The benefits of the redevelopment of the harbour will significantly enhance the islands’ potential in terms of the developing marine economy, which includes renewable energy and tourism. The first large cruise ship berthed at the new terminal this month and the second one arrived on Wednesday this week, when the Deputy First Minister was on Lewis to see the new port. The vessels are bringing more visitors to the islands and helping to stimulate economic activity and strengthen resilience.  
The Cruise Forum has been working towards the delivery of a strategy and action plan to ensure destination readiness and wider commercial opportunities are realised. The deep-water port will accommodate not only cruise ships but also on and offshore windfarm vessels and play a pivotal role in supporting the renewable energy sector.  
Our final stop was at Ishga – a high-end organic skincare company using locally harvested seaweed. The company was founded by locals Malcolm Macrae and Martin Macleod as well as Leon Traying and now employs around 20 people on the island and eight on the mainland .   Their products are exported across the world including USA and Australia and they have ambitious and exciting plans to increase production further this year.  

HIE Board at Ishga, Stornoway

Our last Board meeting to be held in the Outer Hebrides was in April 2019 – in Benbecula, Uist so it was great to be able to bring our board members across to visit the northern part of the Outer Hebrides. I am privileged to witness firsthand the remarkable spirit of innovation and community including Gaelic culture and heritage that thrives across the islands. 

At HIE, we believe in the power of partnership working and the importance of listening to and learning from the communities we serve. This visit has reinforced our resolve to work collaboratively towards a prosperous and vibrant future for these islands.  

Bòrd Stiùiridh HIE ann an Innse Gall

Thug Alistair Dodds, Cathraiche Iomairt na Gàidhealtachd ’s nan Eilean, a bheachdan seachad air turas Bòrd-stiùiridh HIE a Leòdhas agus na Hearadh o chionn ghoirid (22-23 Giblean).

B’ e turas fìor shònraichte a bh’ ann a bhith a’ tilleadh a dh’Innse Gall còmhla ri mo cho-obraichean. Thug an turas dhuinn cothrom luachmhor eile air conaltradh dìreach leis na com-pàirtichean ionadail a thuilleadh air na stiùirichean gnothachais is coimhearsnachd, gu faighinn a-mach mar as urrainn do HIE cuideachadh le dèiligeadh ri cothroman agus dùbhlain.  

Chuireadh am prògram a dhol leis a’ choinneamh Bùird againn ann an Talla na Mara sna Hearadh. Is e an t-ionad-cruinneachaidh seo pròiseact suaicheanta Urras Taobh Siar na Hearadh, a’ tabhann sheallaidhean air leth de thràigh Niseaboist agus Caolas Tharasaigh. Chan eil iongnadh ann gur e aon as trice de dhealbhan làraichean a thèid a thogail le camara sna h-eileanan.

Bha e na bhrosnachadh a bhith a’ cluinntinn gu bheil Talla na Mara na dhachaigh do sheachd gnothachasan agus gu bheil a’ choimhearsnachd mun cuairt air fàs de 20 sa cheud fhaicinn san àireamh-sluaigh thar nan còig bliadhna a dh’fhalbh – teisteanas air dealas an urrais ann an solarachadh taigheadais air prìs reusanta.

B’ e Taigh-staile na Hearadh air an Tairbeart an ath àite san do stad sinn. On a dh’fhosgail e ann an 2015, le 10nar chosnaichean, tha e air slighean dreuchdail fhosgladh do dh’eileanaich agus air ceadachadh dhaibh fuireach air an eilean fhad ’s a tha iad a’ togail sgilean. Tha a’ chompanaidh air ainm an eilein a thoirt timcheall an t-saoghail gun teagamh sam bith, agus tha mu 50 neach a’ faighinn cosnadh ann a-nis leis a’ mhòr-chuid bhon sgìre ionadail. The leth-cheud sa cheud den 36 luchd-obrach maireannach na companaidh fo aois 30 bliadhna.

Choinnich sinn an uair sin ri Amanda Saurin, a tha a’ ruith an Temple Café san Taobh Tuath agus air togalach san Òb a thoirt air ais gu feum gus a gnothachas fhàs agus barrachd sheòrsaichean bìdh is dibhe a thabhann bho bhàrr ùr a tha ga fhàs san àite. Tha an deoch neo-alcolach ‘Wild Eve’ aice dèante bho lusan air an lot aice fhèin agus tha meas mòr air le luchd-ceannach.

Fhad ’s a bha sinn sna Hearadh, choinnich sinn ri Coinneach MacLeòid, Cathraiche Leasachadh na Hearadh Earranta, còmhla ri buill den bhòrd agus dà oifigear leasachaidh. Mhìnich e mu phlanaichean àrd-amasail a’ bhuidhinn coimhearsnachd a thaobh seann togalach sgoile ann an Sgalpaigh a cheannach agus a leasachadh mar thaighean air prìs reusanta agus air a bheil mòr-fheum.

Le taigheadas na dhragh mòr do na h-eileanaich, tha am buidheann coimhearsnachd air a bhith a’ coimhead ri dòighean air dèiligeadh ri seo. Chaidh tabhartas a bhuileachadh orra o chionn ghoirid le Maoin Fearainn Alba gus ceadachadh do fhearann air an Tairbeart a cheannach, do bheil planaichean aca airson ionadan còmhnaidh ann an earrannan a thogail  gus gainnead thaighean do phrìomh luchd-obrach a lasachadh, mar sin ’s e deagh naidheachd a tha seo.

B’ ann ann an Caisteal Leòdhais a stad sinn às dèidh sin air an fheasgar, far an robh seisean conaltraidh fìor mhath againn le gnothachasan, iomairtean sòisealta agus buidhnean fo stiùir na coimhearsnachd.

B’ e deasbad deimhinneach a bh’ ann, a’ togail air na cothroman don sgìre agus rinn sinn deasbad cuideachd air cuid de na dùbhlain a’ gabhail a-steach taigheadas, còmhdhail, solar luchd-obrach is sgilean agus cudromachd a bhith a’ tàladh dhaoine òga gu na h-eileanan.
Tha sinn a’ cur luach mòr air na seiseanan ais-fhiosrachaidh seo le muinntir an àite. Chaidh gabhail ris gach puing a chaidh a thogail a bhios a’ fiosrachadh ar deasbadan agus ar co-dhùnaidhean san àm ri teachd.

Air an dàrna latha (Dimàirt), chaidh sinn gu taobh siar Leòdhais a thadhal air BASF Pharma ann an Calanais, a tha stèidhichte air làrach a bhuineas do HIE agus a tha a’ toirt cosnadh do mu 80 neach. Tha a’ chompanaidh air mòran a choileanadh ann an Leòdhas, a’ leasachadh gnothachas saidheansal àrd-shoirbheachail a tha a’ toirt cosnadh air a dheagh phàigheadh agus a’ malairt gu h-eadar-nàiseanta à Calanais. Ann an 2021, dh’fhoillsich a’ chompanaidh taigh-bathair ùr airson bathar-caitheimh – nì a tha deatamach don bhun-structar aca. Tha buaidh mhòr air a bhith aig an àite-stòraidh mòr-fheumail seo mar-thà, a’ ceadachadh faisg air dùblachadh air an comas saothrachaidh.  

An dèidh a bhith an Calanais, shiubhail sinn nas fhaide tuath gu Dail bho Dheas. Choinnich sinn ri Cè Moireasdan a chuidich tro a sgilean tionnsgaineach air beatha ùr a chur don Ionad Linux a b’ abhaist a bhith aig HIE – làrach a tha a-nis air a h-ath-nuadhachadh mar an Wee Studio. Mar leudachadh air lèirsinn chruthachail Chè, tha Clàran an Wee Studio aige a’ cuimseachadh air luchd-ealain neo-aithnichte ach fìor thàlantach bho air feadh na Gàidhealtachd ’s nan Eilean. Nam measg tha Peat & Diesel – còmhlan a tha air mòran duaisean a bhuannachadh aig Duaisean Trad na h-Alba.  

Air ais a Steòrnabhagh air an fheasgar a choinneachadh ri Ailig MacLeòid, Àrd-Oifigear Ùghdarras Cala Steòrnabhaigh (SPA) agus an Cathraiche Mairead Anna NicLeòid. Tha sinn air a bhith ag obair le SPA gus taic a chur ri an sàr-phlana. Bidh buannachdan bho ath-leasachadh a’ chalaidh a’ neartachadh comas nan eilean gu mòr a thaobh leasachadh air eaconamaidh mara, a tha a’ gabhail a-steach cumhachd ath-nuadhachail agus turasachd. Bheairtich a’ chiad soitheach-turais sa phort ùr air a’ mhìos seo agus thàinig an dàrna tè Diciadain an t-seachdain-sa, nuair a bha an Iar-Chiad-Mhinistear ann an Leòdhas a dh’fhaicinn a’ phuirt ùir.  Tha na soithichean a’ toirt barrachd luchd-tadhail do na h-eileanan agus a’ cuideachadh le gnìomhachd eaconamach a phiobrachadh agus fulangas a neartachadh.

Tha Fòram nan Cuairtean Mara air a bhith ag obair a dh’ionnsaigh lìbhrigeadh air ro-innleachd agus plana gnìomha gus dèanamh cinnteach gu bheil na cinn-uidhe deiseil agus cothroman coimearsalta nas fharsainge gan coileanadh. Gabhaidh am port uisge-domhainn, chan e a-mhàin soithichean turais, ach cuideachd soithichean thuathan-gaoithe far-thìre agus tha àite deatamach aca ann an cur taic ris an roinn cumhachd ath-nuadhachail.

Bha an stad mu dheireadh againn aig Ishga – companaidh cùram-craicinn àrd-ìreil a tha a' cleachdadh feamainn air a buain gu h-ionadail. Chaidh a’ chompanaidh a chuir air bhonn le Calum MacRath agus Màrtainn MacLeòid às a’ choimhearsnachd a thuilleadh air Leon Traying, agus a-nis a’ toirt cosnadh do mu 20 neach air an eilean agus ochdnar air tìr-mòr.  Tha an toraidhean gan às-mhalairt air feadh an t-saoghail a’ gabhail a-steach an USA agus Astràilia agus tha planaichean àrd-amasail agus brosnachail aca airson tarbhachd a mheudachadh barrachd tron bhliadhna.  

Bha a’ choinneamh Bùird mu dheireadh a chaidh a chumail ann an Innse Gall sa Ghiblean 2019 – ann am Beinn na Faoghla ann an Uibhist, mar sin bha e fìor mhath a bhith comasach air ar buill bùird a thoirt tarsainn a thadhal air ceann a tuath Innse Gall. Tha e na urram dhòmhsa an spiorad ùr-ghnàthachaidh iongantach agus coimhearsnachd fhaicinn gu pearsanta, a’ gabhail a-steach cultar is dualchas na Gàidhlig, a tha a’ soirbheachadh tarsainn nan eileanan. 

Aig HIE, tha sinn a’ creidsinn ann an cumhachd obair com-pàirteachais agus cudromachd a bhith ag èisteachd ri agus ag ionnsachadh bho na coimhearsnachdan a tha sinn a’ frithealadh. Tha an tadhal seo air ar rùn a neartachadh a thaobh co-obrachadh a dh’ionnsaigh àm teachdail a bhios soirbheachail agus beòthail do na h-eileanan seo.

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