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Berneray islanders make bid to reclaim village hall

Berneray Community Association committee members Nigel Buckley, Joanne Vincent, Chrissie MacAskill and Iain MacKillop pictured on a recent wet day, which necessitated the spreading of a tarpaulin on the hall floor to catch the incoming water.
Berneray Community Association committee members Nigel Buckley, Joanne Vincent, Chrissie MacAskill and Iain MacKillop pictured on a recent wet day, which necessitated the spreading of a tarpaulin on the hall floor to catch the incoming water.

An island community of fewer than 150 permanent residents is planning to raise £100,000 to replace the roof on its public hall.

Berneray Community Association, in the Western Isles, wants to upgrade the hall, which was built in the 1990s, with a watertight roof and new windows.

Berneray, which lies between Harris and North Uist in the Western Isles, is known for its stunning beaches and great community spirit.

But due to some of the harshest weather that washes over the island from the Atlantic, the hall has become practically unusable.

So, the community have rolled up their sleeves to get it back into use.

Berneray Village Hall.

What is wrong with the hall?

At the moment water pours through the roof during heavy rainfall.

Dehumidifiers and heaters run 24-hours a day in order to protect the floorboards, which comes at a heavy cost. Committee members are of the view the roof  “will not last the year”.

Raising more than £31,000 since an online fundraiser was launched, committee member Joanne Vincent said that she had tried to exploit the island’s celebrity status.

She said: “We wrote to quite a few celebrities because over the past few years we have had a lot of teams here filming and making programmes on our islands.

“We also approached Prince Charles as he has a strong connection to Berneray.

Grand Tour hosts in Scotland filming The Grand Tour Lochdown
Grand tour trio Jeremy Clarkson, James May, Richard Hammond.

“We contacted the Grand Tour, This Morning, Ben Fogle and Darcey Bussell. Some replied explaining that they had their own chosen charities to contribute to so unfortunately that plan did not work out as we had hoped.”

The team from Grand Tour visited Berneray during the lockdown, in a show entertainingly called Loch Down.

Undeterred by the lack of response, islanders believe they can reach £65,000 before May 1.

The hall is the centre of the community

Like many islands, the hall is considered the centre of the small island community.

Nigel Buckley, association chairman, said: “We need to replace the whole roof and the windows on the roof, as well as the lead throughout the structure.

“It’s not until you remove the old roof, that you can see the real damage underneath.

“We have set our target at £100,000 to hopefully cover all the expected damage and replace everything that is needed at once.”

Mr Buckley said that material costs have soared as a result of the pandemic.

“It was supposed to last 15 years but our roof has been on for about 35,” committee member Iain MacKillop said.

“If we reach £65,000 we can go back to the builders to ask for a firm quote and see if we can begin the work for that amount.

“We hope to have reached that milestone on May 1 2022. It is just about getting over the threshold and that is what is pushing us on.”

What is so special about the village hall?

Berneray Community Hall has been a hub for the island for close to 40 years.

In that time it has hosted weddings, film screenings and funerals.

Each year islanders hold a festival called Berneray Week.

The events are centred around the hall and an array of different activities, including quiz nights, treasure hunts, concerts and dances take place.

Locals and visitors take part in the celebrations.

Those with connections to the island ensure their return visits coincide with Berneray Week.

On a good year the events raise up to £8,000.

Even outside the tourist season, the hall is somewhere to gather together during the winter months, in particular for events and activities in the run up to Christmas.

“Everyone in our community benefits from this hall. It is the heart and hub of our island. It brings together the people that live here and visitors, new and old,” reflected Joanne.

To donate to the appeal, click here.

 

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