Wanted: Lismore seeks new headteacher and church minister

The playground is open to the community to share in the fun.

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Islanders on Lismore have found new custodians to run their only shop after an appeal but are still looking for a  headteacher and church minister.

The identity of the new proprietors who will also be running the Post Office counter has just been revealed as islanders Laura and Robbie Cook.

Inhabitants of the lush island, 10 miles by sea from Oban and so green they call it The Great Garden, are hoping their appeal for the remaining jobs at the core of island life will prove just as fruitful.

As a search for a replacement headteacher and minister starts off the new decade, islanders say the changes will bring new beginnings for their thriving community and are ‘excited’ rather than ‘desperate’.

The island, home to multiple artisan crafters and small business entrepreneurs, has its own public hall, heritage centre, museum and cafe, drawing in ferryloads of visitors – and those who decide to stay for good.

Headteacher Catherine Davies is one of them. Even though she retires in April, Lismore will remain her home sweet home.

There will be ‘big boots to fill’ after her decade as top teacher at the island primary school and nursery, say parents and colleagues.

With 12 youngsters on the primary register and three under-fives in nursery, not counting the tinier tots and babes-in-arms who appear for Bookbug sessions, the school – declared by inspectors in the past three years as one of Argyll and Bute’s best – is a vital spark and hub of the community.

Pupils who will be involved in the interviews have come up with the following job requirements: the ability to be funny and make learning fun, be kind, friendly, respectful, patient, smart, tidy but not too organised, be musical, welcoming, not too strict and be part of the community.

Enjoying even more of the Great Outdoors and following up her new-found pursuit of rock climbing is on Mrs Davies to-do list when she retires, but she she will still make the time to keep in touch with her school family.

‘It would be impossible not to! We are one big family here, the whole island is so supportive of the school. A bit of me will be sad to say goodbye but I’ll still be here supporting them and island life,’ she said.

A hands-on parent council plays a huge part in school life and there is no shortage of helpers from the community. One volunteer plans to plant an apple orchard with the children soon.

Parent council chairman Dirk Parker said the school ‘clinched the deal’ for him to move his young family up from the Midlands, giving them ‘a breath of fresh air’.

He said: ‘Seeing the freedom my girls had on the island was a lightbulb moment. We visited the school that week and it clinched the deal. It’s an incredible place and the curriculum here is so much in favour of the children.’

Iris Piers-Smith whose daughter Hannah, three, is in nursery regularly, calls in with seven-month-old baby Nora to chat with other parents and hopes the next headteacher will keep the school doors open as a way of beating social isolation.

Mum of twins Roxanne MacColl said: ‘This is going to be a great opportunity for the school to see exciting changes, but there’s big boots to fill.’

Listen to the pupils sing a song written by teacher Laura Cook giving reasons why the island is so special, https://youtu.be/HRN78jRVWYQ

Historic St Moluag’s cathedral is looking for a replacement too. In July, Lismore and Appin minister the Reverend Dr Iain Barclay will take his last service  on the island before retiring to Tighnabruaich on the Cowal Peninsula administering to his greenhouse and keeping bees.

A strong stomach for choppy waters will stand candidates in good stead for the ministry role that demands at least six ferry crossings a week between Lismore and Port Appin. The Rev Barclay was never reunited with a pair of spectacles swept off his nose during one particular gusty voyage.

‘You need a sense of adventure to take on this job. It’s an experience, not run-0f-the-mill. It’s highland as well as island. You have to listen to the heartbeat of Lismore, it beats in its own unique way,’ he said.

Now  willing hands have been found to take on the island shop at the start of August,  David and Teenie Wilson can finally start planning their retirement after 23 years – converting the shop van into a camper and touring around Europe is on the horizon. The response to finding new proprietors was ‘overwhelming’, they said.

‘We sincerely hope that everyone will give them their full support as they all have to us in the past 23 years. We wish them well and hope they enjoy their new venture as much as we have,’ added David.

The Aladdin’s Cave-like shop in the middle of the island, which stocks everything from home-grown hyacinths to cupboard essentials, island beef and whisky to walking boot spikes and souvenir mugs, has been trading for 100 years, including time spent doubling up as a tailors at one end and a grain store at the other.

‘We’ve got all the needles but not the haystack,’ said David.