After packing up her life to move to the Hebrides, Joanne Anderson has finally opened the doors of her North Uist home as a holistic therapy centre.
There’s no doubt that depopulation is one of the biggest challenges the Western Isles are facing today. But people leaving isn’t the whole story – and some versions can make the islands sound like a ghost town rather than the vibrant community it is. In this article, and others to follow, we shine a light on some of the many different people who are choosing to build a life in the Outer Hebrides.
For Joanne Anderson, who moved to Uist two years ago, massage and aromatherapy is “a complete passion”.
And, after two years of construction on her new home and workspace, she’s ready to fully bring her expertise to the community.
With her dedicated treatment room finished, she was able to fully open her business Body Yard earlier this month.
It’s been a long journey; one that has seen her uproot her old life in the Lake District.
“I was a mental health and dementia social worker,” says Ms Anderson, when she “left that career to focus on the holistic side of things”.
It’s about “really understanding the importance of human touch,” she says, when “talking about people’s mental health”.
And, when it comes to helping dementia patients, she says that the the use of scents in aromatherapy can “help to trigger memories”.
“It’s a complete passion of mine, offering this type of treatment,” she says.
She recalls, after a spa evening, one of her customers telling her she was “glowing”.
She wasn’t surprised: “it’s because I absolutely love what I’m doing.”
Working in the Lake District, she worked mainly with luxury hotels and corporate events. So, she says, moving to North Uist was about starting again and offering a community-focused service.
Ms Anderson’s first visit to the Hebrides happened by chance.
With two rescue dogs, she was looking for a holiday destination with lots of walks and not too many crowds.
And then, during a visit to the Rheged Centre in Cumbria, she was struck by photographer Ian Lawson’s pictures of the islands.
They were “absolutely stunning”, she says.
“We just said, we have to go to this place.”
The next week, they did. And then they bought a piece of land.
Ms Anderson would have had Body Yard open much sooner, but Covid delays to the build meant that, for the last two years, she’s been “living on site in a caravan”.
It’s been “really difficult and challenging” – but she hopes the hard work will pay off.
‘Recharging their batteries’
Ms Anderson believes that massage therapy is particularly important in communities like Uist.
Body Yard will see plenty of tourists through the summer, she says, “but when the tourists leave and the season ends, that’s when the local community can start to think about recharging their own batteries.”
That’s something, she says, that will be even more important as during the famously long, dark, and stormy Hebridean winters.
“You’ve got to have something to get us through the winter – something to look forward to and improve our well-being.”
It might be a challenge to “get outside and go through that front door” when the weather’s at its worst. But Ms Anderson says that people will be “jumping” once they try out aromatherapy massage.
‘A fantastic vibe’
“Their mood will be improved so significantly.”
Last month, Ms Anderson was one of the women who attended the first Western Isles – Women in Business meeting.
She says that meeting other local businesswomen has given her confidence.
“It was just a fantastic vibe.”
Joining the group is just one of the ways Ms Anderson has embraced settling in Uist not only as a businesswoman, but as a member of the community.
In her spare time, she loves wild swimming, showing off the islands’ beauty to her family and friends, and planning how to develop her business after she settles in.
She’s “really excited” about the possibility of developing her own massage oils in Uist.
But before that, Ms Anderson is looking forward not only to her first season in business, but also her first Hebridean winter in her own house.
After five years of planning and dreaming, she’s ready to spend her days hard at work — and the nights getting “cozy with a book and a nice cup of tea.”
More local reporting from the Western Isles: