Saturday (April 1) will see the start of something new in Sleat.
For after years of planning An Crùbh (The Hub) a community developed café, shop and meeting space will officially open.
The new facility was developed by the community group 'Camuscross & Duisdale Initiative' with the aim of giving locals and visitors alike a place to meet, to shop and socialise.
Business Manager Sharon Campbell said about the project. "Here in Sleat we are lucky to have a very vibrant community. The board from Camuscross & Duisdale Initiative are all volunteers and with feedback from the community, they had the vision, skills and drive to make this fantastic project - An Crùbh happen. We now have an amazing facility on our doorstep which will benefit future generations and attract visitors from near & far. It has created good permanent job opportunities and we have a great team in place to give everyone who visits An Crùbh the warmest of welcomes."
The journey began five years ago. With support from Highland Council, The Robertson Trust and their architects WT Architecture, CDI became one of the first community projects in Scotland to be promised over £1,000,000 by the Big Lottery Fund. That was in March 2014.
CDI Chairman Mark Wringe added: "With a commitment on that scale, we were hopeful of pulling in other funders – but it took hard work and a roller-coaster ride, full of last minute surprises and sudden obstacles. On a second application, the Coastal Communities Fund pledged £600,000. HIE helped put us in a position to make that application, and pledged £100,000. We were almost there. The estates, Fearann Eilean Iarmain were ready to gift us the land – but we had to take it out of crofting tenure.
Would the crofters with rights over the land agree? In the end, 100% of them did. And at the beginning of 2016 the children of Camuscross and Duisdale cut the first sod."
The building that came out of that journey is seen as a model for how small communities can develop and bring vibrancy to an area.
Before the first of April, buying a litre of milk meant using two litres of diesel to get to a shop and back. Now the community and its visitors have a well-stocked general store, selling local produce and supporting suppliers in the area.
The café has a cosy inglenook where small groups can gather for activities. A highly talented chef, just returned from working in Japan, offers appealing, affordable food, including some great vegetarian options.
The hall itself is at the heart of the building. It has already taken bookings for exercise and yoga, charitable events, dances, weddings and stand-up comedy. It's situated in a very picturesque spot, with great panes of glass showing off the mountains of the mainland.
Mark continued: "Over 30 groups around South Skye and Lochalsh expressed their wish to use the hall for everything from musical events to circus training. Yes, the roof is high enough to accommodate circus training. It’s been described by one photographer as the most beautiful hall he’s seen. When a cèilidh takes place – or a visiting string quartet comes by, with the hills turning red and the Sound of Sleat reflecting the setting sun through the big window behind them it’s going to be a heart-stopping experience."
Susan Walker, the Admin Secretary for CDI, was one of the many volunteers who gave up their time to do everything from filling forms to paint walls. She said: "I don't think anyone understood the enormous task it would be when we started the whole thing 5 years ago. We've all learned many new skills and gained a lot of knowledge during the course of the project, but most important are the links we have forged as a team. There have been some very stressful moments, but mostly there has been lots of hard work, good sense, creativity, team working, and a surprising amount of laughter. It's a huge sense of achievement to see what we, as a group, supported by our community, have achieved."
Community is at the centre of the project. One of the main aims of the group is to bring new jobs to the area. Shop and café profits will then be used to sustain the hall and generate funds for other community projects.
Mark also sees it as a way to renew and strengthen the bonds in the community.
"We’ll be seeing each other more, doing things together more, and feeling more confident about what a small rural place can achieve. It’ll make this an even better place to live.
"To find the skills commitment and expertise needed to create such a project out of a total of just 180 adults and children is quite something. Maybe only now do we realise how ambitious we were being. But if this community can do it, so can others."
Although An Crùbh is opening to the public in April, the effects in the community are already visible. Susan, one of the volunteers who has worked so hard to make An Crùbh become reality, has the final word.
"Most rewarding of all is to see what is already happening in the building - even before it's opened. An Crùbh is drawing people in. There's a reason why every village had a cèilidh house - it wasn't just for the good craic, it connected people together as individuals, as neighbours, as a community. And you don't realise how much you're missing until that hole is filled...I reckon there will be much ceilidhing and good craic in An Crùbh."