It was a busy morning on the main apron at Stornoway Airport yesterday (Thursday January 9th) with three Embraer 145 jets all embarking and disembarking passengers.

The photograph was sent out on Twitter by Stornoway Airport and the message explained that the morning Glasgow route was slightly delayed but Benbecula and Inverness were on time, bringing unexpected congestion to the apron.

Until a few years ago, the Loganair fleet was entirely propellor-driven.

Now it has 13 Embraer 145 jet aircraft, each with 49 seats.

It also has four Embraer 135 jet aircraft with 37 seats.

 

Wilderness adventurer Ben Fogle has thanked the people of the Outer Hebrides for helping him to celebrate 20 years since his time as a Castaway on Taransay.

About 50 people joined Ben and his daughter Iona on Luskentyre beach yesterday morning (Saturday January 4th) for wilderness tales, a dram and, for those brave enough, an icy dip in the sea.

Ben was in Harris to help endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh with his Hebridean training camp, ahead of a massive adventure of his own in the freezing glacial lakes of the Antarctic.

But on Saturday the focus was on Ben, reflecting back on the first adventure which catapulted him into the limelight, as he joined the revolutionary millennium TV show Castaway.

Blustery winds and brisk seas greeted the hardy crowd yesterday on Luskentyre beach, where they were regaled with stories from some of Ben’s worldwide adventures.

Afterwards the celebrity TV presenter tweeted: “Thanks you so much for everyone who braved the wilds of the Outer Hebridean winter to mark 20 years since Castaway and to support Lewis Pugh with his upcoming Antarctic swim. I love you Scotland.”

And Lewis Pugh, who is coming towards the end of a punishing 10-day schedule sea-swimming and running around Lewis and Harris coasts, responded:” Thank you so much for coming to visit Ben. Absolutely loved your talk! Genuine, warm, humorous, fascinating and engaging. All the superlatives. Here’s to the next 20 years!”

The pictures show Ben Fogle and Lewis Pugh enjoying the waters off Luskentyre, and Ben with his daughter Iona leaving the beach, followed by his audience and supporters.

Christmas and New Year can be a very difficult time for people – but help is available.

That is the message from the Western Isles Association for Mental Health and the Samaritans in partnership with community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust, which supports both organisations.

The joint message from these services is: “It’s good to talk – and we are here”.

Del Gunn, Project Manager of the Western Isles Association for Mental Health (WIAMH), said: “Christmas and New Year is a very difficult time for a lot of people and there’s a lot of loneliness.

"When everybody seems to be celebrating, others aren’t. For them, it’s not a time of celebration. Some people actually dread Christmas coming along.

“It’s quite a high-risk time because of the excessive amounts of alcohol consumed. I suppose there is a higher risk of suicide as well around this time. It’s not always the case but when people are lonely, isolated and depressed the risk of suicide can increase. There’s also a reduced availability of support services over the Christmas period.”

Del said social isolation had become “an increasing problem here on the island – and that cuts across all ages, as the population is decreasing”. However, having places like the WIAMH base on Bayhead in Stornoway available for drop-ins provided “an extra way for people to come together”.

He stressed the importance of talking – but said that message was “not just for Christmas”.

He added: “People don’t share their experiences and the troubles they are going through and that is not just at Christmas time. That’s a message we’re trying to get across – people need to talk about their feelings and their concerns, as do their friends and family themselves.

“This is not always a good time and the message to the public is, if you know someone who is struggling in your own community, talk to them. There’s a good chance they’ll really appreciate it. Just talk to people. And if you pass someone in the street, say ‘hi’ or ‘hello’. It can mean the world to someone who is experiencing a lot of loneliness at this time of year.”

WIAMH is open for drop-ins during the Christmas and New Year weeks. It is open on Monday, 23 December and Christmas Eve from 12 noon till 4pm. It is open again on Monday, 30 December and Hogmanay, reopening again on Friday, 3 January and Saturday, 4 January. It is “business as usual” from January 3, with the hours of New Year week being 12 noon till 4pm on Monday, Tuesday and Friday and 11am till 3pm on the Saturday. 

Western Isles Association for Mental Health is a service for adults who are experiencing mental health difficulties and for people concerned about someone else and looking for advice and support.

Del said: “People may call in for some advice or contact details as we signpost to other agencies. A cup of tea and a friendly face is always there for you…” 

However, in the event of an emergency, people are advised to call 111 (NHS 24) for acute services.

For people who want someone to talk to, the Samaritans will be on the end of a phone, 24/7 – and their service runs every single day of the year.

There are 201 Samaritans branches around the country, and 20,000 volunteers, but all calls or emails go through the central (freephone) number and email address – 116 123 and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – with the next call in the queue being picked up by the next available volunteer, wherever they are based, making it extremely unlikely for a Western Isles call to be answered in Stornoway.

In their base in Stornoway, there are two volunteers on at any one time, for select four-hour periods. They also hold weekly drop-in sessions, where people can talk to a Samaritan face-to-face, and these are Fridays from 1pm to 4pm, at their base on Cromwell Street.

The branch director stressed that confidentiality was always paramount. 

And to anyone thinking about contacting the Samaritans, she said: “The hardest thing is to pick up the phone and they might not manage the first time to say something. But everything they say is confidential. We just listen. We don’t judge anyone or tell them to take decisions about their lives. You can talk about anything. We’re there just for emotional support. It’s good to talk.”

She agreed Christmas and New Year was “a very challenging time” – and that was already having an impact. “People are talking about Christmas and coming up to Christmas. Maybe relationships are breaking down and this time of year can be really traumatic. A lot of it stems from loneliness. Everyone else is enjoying themselves and they’re being so isolated from all the festivities.

“They’ve maybe lost loved ones throughout the year and they’re alone. The noise and excitement of Christmas is really annoying and they don’t feel involved with anything and they’re down and it can lead to feeling suicidal.”

The short days and long nights were also a factor.

To mark what can be the lowest point of the year, the Samaritans will be holding a special drop-in to raise awareness – ‘Brew Monday’ on January 20, when the base will be open to the general public to come in for a cuppa and cake, to find out what the Samaritans are all about.

This day – the third Monday after New Year – is traditionally known as ‘Blue Monday’, the day when people are likely to feel at their lowest, following Christmas.

The branch director said: “We know that it’s a blue day. People feel down and deflated after all the excitement of Christmas and maybe there’s money problems from spending a lot of money and now having to pay it back.”

Western and Isles Association for Mental Health and the Samaritans are both supported by Point and Sandwick Trust. The community wind farm has pledged financial support to WIAMH for five years and some of that money has gone on suicide prevention training. The charity has also helped the Samaritans towards the costs of upgrading their Stornoway base.

Donald John MacSween, Point and Sandwick Trust general manager, said: “Point and Sandwick Trust are committed to help local organisations at the sharp end of providing vital support services for people who are suffering from mental health issues. This time of year is especially difficult for some and we are fortunate that there are support services available locally to help.

“We live in a place with a poor climate, minimal winter daylight and other societal pressures. 

“WIAMH and the Samaritans are there for us, providing discrete professional services at minimal cost and maximum benefit to our community. We are grateful for their service.”

The Western Isles Housing Association Communities Forum achieved a recent success at the TPAS Scotland National Good Practice Awards.

The Forum were presented the Runner-up Award in the category of Tenant Participation Champion Group.

The Awards took place as part of the TPAS Scotland Annual Conference which was held in St Andrews on 4 - 6 December.

A number of members of the Forum were able to attend the conference, including Chair Alasdair Mackenzie and our Tenant Participation Officer Jane Ballantyne.

Anna Coyle, Head of Executive Office commented: “It is very encouraging to see those in our communities being recognised for the important work they do.

“We are always glad to hear from our Tenants and work closely with the Forum to ensure that all voices are heard to shape and improve the service we provide.”

If you would like to get involved in the Western Isles Housing Association Communities Forum then please contact Jane Ballantyne on 07487 891242 or by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Alasdair Mackenzie by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Alternatively, please contact Hebridean Housing Partnership directly at their Stornoway or Balivanich offices, or on 0300 123 0773.

From left, Jane Ballantyne, TPAS; Alasdair Mackenzie, HHP Board Member; Lorna Shaw. Sue Irving, Loreburn Housing Association; James Bee, event host.

An alarming picture has been painted by the official report into the project to build two new ferries for CalMac, including the one for the Tarbert-Uig-Lochmaddy services.

The report to the Scottish Government says there have been a number of issues that have been the root cause of the long delays to the project. These include:

  • lack of project management, particularly critical on 801/02 which are complex ships where no one person has understood and controlled the overall programme
  • an absence of project planning and control systems has resulted in a lack of integrated working, out-of-sequence activities and no useful management information
  • Engineering processes and controls are weak. Specifications from the customer were not fully understood before design work was carried out resulting in an incomplete design and causing significant rework.

As a result of the long delays, the vessels have suffered damage. 

“Vessel 801 has been in the water for two years and the underwater condition has not been established. However, a drydocking has been planned early in the programme. Internally, the care and protection has been poor resulting in equipment damage.

“Vessel 802 has been on the berth for over two years and the paint protection has degraded in this time both on external surfaces and internally due to rainwater ingress into areas of the ship.

“As a result of the immature design and out of sequence working there has been a significant number of defects raised by the customer which have all been reviewed and where required included in the cost and programme. These include a major departure from the specification, the widespread use of axilock couplings, which together with other work, has driven the decision to remove most of the pipework within the engine room.”

The costs for delivery of the vessels are likely to total £110m and they won’t be available until late 2021 and mid-to-late 2022 at the earliest.

“As part of the programme, a remediation package of work has been identified which includes not only the clean-up and defect clearance on the vessels but also plans to improve key areas of the organisation in engineering, project management and planning and controls. Also, improvement of processes in a number of areas is planned, particularly around planning and project controls.

“On completion of the remediation phase, circa seven months, a review of the programme, costs and risks will be undertaken to better refine cost and delivery forecasts.

"In summary, the work has shown that the vessels can be delivered within the time and cost shown above but is not without significant challenges to improve the organisation and its processes in order to ensure the issues around rework and control do not occur. In particular the challenges are:

  •  The re-energising of a demoralised workforce and the improvement of productivity.
  •  The ability to attract the right talent to achieve the resource profiles with sufficiently competent people.
  •  The ability to put in place and operate the new processes required
  •  The impact of future as yet unidentified rework to the project
  •  The control and management of the design subcontractor

During this review phase it has been very difficult to identify management information to use as a baseline for determining the project status. The business does not operate an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system or a document management system and therefore what information exists is fragmented and sits in isolation, the report says.

The basic design, i.e. the development of the vessels structural drawings and system design has still not achieved completion and approval by Customer, Lloyds and/or MCA except in a small number of areas. This is several years behind schedule and has been a key cause of rework on the vessels.

The status of the detailed design, i.e. the spacial layout of systems and equipment in the 3D model and issuing of information to production, has been difficult to establish. This is because the detailed design has been subcontracted to Vera Navis based in Portugal and there was limited management control established to manage this key contractor. Quantifying the work left to complete has been difficult.

There is no single source of information to define the status of the bill of material. It remains uncertain as to whether all equipment has been purchased, particularly where change has occurred. In particular, the estimate of total pipe quantities is uncertain and this is a key component for determining the programme timescales.

As a consequence of inadequate planning and a lack of production information work has been undertaken out of sequence in a number of areas particularly where insulation, ceilings and cladding have been installed. This gives the appearance of good progress but in reality this will be substantially deconstructed in order for other work to progress, particularly where hotwork is required.

There has been inadequate control of onsite subcontractors who are performing the design and installation of electrical, HVAC and accommodation outfit. This has resulted in limited design oversight and limited integration of the work at the vessel with the overall workscope. The subcontractors have therefore been frustrated in their ability to perform the work and in a number of instances this has resulted in claims, the report says. 

Reacting, Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron said: “The SNP Government seems to possess no understanding of how critically important the ferry service is to island communities like those I represent in Argyll and Bute, Skye and the Western Isles.

“It is bitterly disappointing that the vessel destined for the Skye, Harris and North Uist route will not be ready until the summer of 2022.

“This saga is entirely the fault of the SNP government. Confidence is steadily draining away as the service deteriorates and costs escalate.

“No wonder hard-pressed businesses based on the islands take such a dim view of the SNP’s twelve-year record as custodians of our vital transport infrastructure.

“Nicola Sturgeon's government needs to stop obsessing about another independence referendum and instead do the job they are paid to do, which includes keeping our lifeline ferry services fit for purpose.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan questioned Economy Secretary Derek Mackay on Wednesday about the project at the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow. 

The Cabinet Secretary gave an update to Parliament about progress on the two new dual-fuel ferries are under construction for CalMac. The yard was officially taken into public ownership earlier this month after t Ferguson Marine Engineering went into administration.

Alasdair Allan MSP said: “The delays to the delivery of these vessels have been unacceptable. As I said in Parliament earlier today, it is vitally important to my constituents in Harris and Uist that vessel 802 in particular enters into service as soon as possible and relieves pressure on an ageing fleet.

“Without the Scottish Government stepping in to purchase Ferguson Marine, and bring it under public ownership, there would be no obvious means of ensuring completion of the new ferries. The Tories have let their ideology trump the needs of our island communities by continuing their opposition to this move.

“The recently-published report on the costs and proposals around these vessels lays out in some detail the how the previous failings in management have caused such significant delays. I hope vital lessons will be learned from this and that we get the building of these vessels back on track and delivered as soon as possible.”

The Programme Review Board report is available on the Scottish Government website

A number of graduates from the University of the Highlands and Islands were among this year’s winners and performers at the MG Alba Trad Music Awards. 

Breabach received the album of the year award for their sixth album, Frenzy of the Meeting.

Band member, piper James MacKenzie, started his studies at Lews Castle College UHI, graduating with an HNC in music. He has now returned to the university as a professional practice tutor on the applied music course.    

Trad video of the year was given to Heroes by Tide Lines. Band piper Ali Turner also studied HNC music at Lews Castle College UHI on the Benbecula campus.

Following ten consecutive sell-outs, the Tiree Music Festival received the event of the year award. Applied Music graduate Jamie MacDonald, also a member of the band Eabhal, is the festival officer and community village coordinator.  

The musician of the year award, sponsored by the University of the Highlands and Islands, was presented to Jenn Butterworth by Anna-Wendy Stevenson who leads the Lews Castle College music in Benbecula.

Anna-Wendy, a previous event winner and BA (hons) applied music programme leader explains why the university chose to become a sponsor:

“We were thrilled to be able to support and celebrate Scotland’s dynamic musical scene. The University of the Highlands and Islands is proud to be part of this exciting industry, delivering music education provision across the region and internationally.

“It is important that we continue to support events like the Trad Music Awards to recognise the achievements of our students, alumni and all those working across the music industry.”

Performing live at the ceremony was Heisk. Band members Megan MacDonald and Becca Skeoch are both graduates from the university’s applied music degree.