View from The Edge: Cath MacDonald

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Last week I attended an ‘in-person’ meeting of a local committee, the first in a long time as previous meetings had been on Zoom.

The meeting was held in the Community Hall in Tarbert and we were pleased to get the use of a board room where we could sit around a large table and not too distant from each other.

Members arrived with their face masks but these were soon dispensed with.

This was after all past August 9, or Freedom Day as it came to be known in some parts of the country.

The need for housing to allow young people to remain on the islands is an important part of discussions at our meetings.

It is emphasised that a greater part of the money available for housing should be spent in rural areas and not all spent around Stornoway, or other smaller town centres.

Another problem discussed was finding staff for hospitality businesses for work over the summer season, and also finding accommodation for them.

In my student days it was usual for students to spend part of their summer holidays taking on a job in hotels.

My first holiday job as a student was in a hotel where I assisted as a waitress and helped with other duties.

In those days the staff were usually mostly local. Nowadays many of the local women who would usually fill these vacancies are employed elsewhere, or may have set up businesses of their own in tourism, craftwork or other things.

With so many tourists now visiting the islands it was agreed at the meeting that there was a need for more infrastructure such as toilets and bins.

The idea that parking charges, with any proceeds from this going towards some funding for infrastructure, was discussed.

However, it was agreed locally that much consideration needed to be made around parking charges if it were to go ahead.

There has also been much discussion about transport and ferries. Instead of the triangular route by which CalMac serves Harris and North Uist it was felt that there should be two ferries – one for Uist and one for Harris.

A letter was sent by the Harris Transport Forum to the transport minister Graeme Dey and he is coming to Stornoway to meet with the council.

This summer, as well as the increase in bookings, there have been cancellations due to the fact that ferries had to reduce  the numbers they could bring due to Covid regulations.

Some who had booked accommodation were later disappointed to find they were unable to get a ferry booking at the time they had planned to come to the islands.

On our campsite I found that many who arrived had travelled from Oban to Lochboisdale or Barra and then travelled up through the Uists to Harris and Lewis.

The weather was good with sunny days to the end of August, and despite our local concerns re infrastructure, ferries,etc, our visitors were thoroughly enjoying their time on the isles.