New lease of life for old Harris school building

Members of Leverhulme Community Hub. Back row from left: Rebecca Hutton, William MacRae, Sandra MacAskill (CaskieCo), Catriona MacLennan (vice-chair), Patricia MacLeod (treasurer), Effie MacLeod. Front: Stephen MacKinnon (minute secretary), Angus MacLeod (chair), Donnie MacRae.

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Highlighted, the community group’s building (remainder is still in use as the local primary school).

A community project to create a multi-use hub for local people and visitors in South Harris has been awarded £41,700 by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The old block at Leverhulme Memorial School is now in the hands of the community and plans are progressing to create much needed local services such as a community café, gym, Post Office, laundrette, charity shop and an exhibition space for the local comunn eachdraidh (historical society).

Leverhulme Community Hub received the keys for the block last week, 100 years after the village of Obbe (An t-Òb) was renamed Leverburgh by the industrialist Lord Leverhulme who built the old school building in 1925.

Angus Macleod, chairman of the Community Hub, said: ‘The creation of a multi-purpose facility for use by locals and visitors alike is much needed.

‘As the building purchase is complete, it is a timely occasion as we mark 100 years since Leverburgh was re-named by Lord Leverhulme. We are grateful to HIE for this grant, which has assisted us financially and for the advice we have received from them throughout each stage.’

HIE’s investment will help purchase and install commercial laundry equipment, providing a local service and create an income for the community hub.

The money will also support the group to commission professional services to help get the second phase of the project off the ground. Once developed, the new hub will be used by community groups, clubs and visitors and is expected to create four new jobs. Two part-time staff have been recruited, initially working from home and will move to the hub building when it’s ready.

Rose Bugler, development manager at HIE’s Outer Hebrides area team, said: ‘The group’s progress despite the pandemic has been impressive and this new facility will strengthen the community’s resilience. We are very pleased to provide support and look forward to seeing the project take shape.’

A team of 50 local volunteers have signed up to help with the running of the hub in the future. Local fundraising by the steering group in 2016 has generated £23,000 to date.

Catering equipment has been donated by Macdonald Hotels, The Anchorage Restaurant has donated chairs and tables for the café and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) has donated gym equipment.

Funding of £49,167 was announced in September by the Scottish Land Fund and enabled the building to be bought by the community following a discounted sale by CnES as well as repair works and a part-time post to advance the work in the months ahead.

It is expected that the first phase of work will commence later this month with a view to opening in spring 2021.