The Counselling and Family Mediation Western Isles (CFMWI) and Fèis an Rudha (Point Gaelic Festival) are among the 230 groups in the UK to receive this year’s Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award a voluntary group can achieve in the UK. 

To mark the Awards, representatives from both groups will attend The Queen’s Royal Garden Party in July 2021 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh along with other Scottish recipients of this year’s Awards. 

The Awards will be presented to the groups by HM Lord-Lieutenant of the Western Isles Donald Martin at ceremonies in Stornoway and Point later this year. 

Mr Martin said “I was delighted that the two nominations from the Western Isles had been successful in gaining these well-deserved Awards.  Both groups are an excellent example of the important contribution of our volunteers in providing much valued services and making a difference within their communities.  This is the second year in succession that volunteers from the Western Isles have been honoured with this prestigious Award.  We have so many voluntary groups in our islands doing excellent work and I hope to see more nominations from the Western Isles next year. The closing date for the next round is 25 September 2020 and more information is available on . ”.

Since its establishment in 1990, Counselling & Family Mediation Western Isles has been providing a confidential and free counselling and mediation service through professionally trained volunteer counsellors and mediators to families, adults and young people throughout the Western Isles.  The Chair of the Board, Catriona Stewart said “The Board of CFM Western Isles is extremely proud of the service provided to our communities by our professionally trained volunteers ably managed by our service manager, Christine MacKechnie. The service is funded nationally by Relationship Scotland via Scottish Government grant and supplemented by local funding from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and NHS Western Isles. The increasing demand for our services across the Western Isles both for adults and our young people has meant that we are presently training, to Diploma Level, six new volunteer counsellors to join our six fully trained counsellors and two mediators.  

“This training is supported by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in accordance with the Scottish Government’s announcement to ensure there are additional counsellors available in schools.  There were over 500 enquiries to the service over the last year and most progressed to either counselling or mediation sessions. Flexible working is key to the delivery of our services and our counsellors have been using various technologies to support clients for a number of years now. Skype, Zoom and telephone meetings ensure continuity of counselling regardless of where clients may live across our island chain.

“This is particularly important in the provision of counselling to children and young people who for various reasons are not able to visit our premises. The confidential service provided by our counsellors and mediators is vital to the wellbeing of many people in our communities and is recognised as such by professionals in health services, social services and education services. As a Board we are indebted to all our staff for their dedication and commitment to CFM Western Isles”.

Christine MacKechnie, MBE who has been service manager of CFMWI since 2008 added “It has been both a privilege and a pleasure to be part of CFM Western Isles for the past 12 years.  Our volunteers, through the training they receive, deliver an extremely professional service to our clients.  We know how stressful it can be for people who find themselves in need of our service, the respect and compassion shown by our volunteers goes a long way in helping our clients find their way through a variety of life’s difficulties.   Their compassion, respect and kindness is an inspiration to us all. Our volunteers show dedication and commitment at all times to our clients, colleagues and the organisation, treating everyone with respect and kindness. To be recognised in this way is a most fitting tribute to their work within our community”.

Fèis an Rubha was re-established in 2012, following an initial run of three years from 2006-2008.  The Fèis provides high quality and professional tutoring in Gaelic traditional music, drama and singing for the young people of the Point community in Lewis during an annual week-long summer Fèis.  The Fèis is organised by a committee of volunteers, with support from their parent organisation, Fèisean nan Gàidheal.  Most of the committee are working parents, many of whom give up a week of their annual leave to help out during Fèis week. 

Over the years, Fèis an Rubha has expanded, with over 50 children, from ages 3 to 14, attending most years. Although an emphasis is put on Gaelic language, the Fèis is open to all, not just to children in Gaelic-medium education. The final concert on the Friday night of the Fèis is always well attended by the wider community, and the children gain confidence from public performance of what they have learnt during the week. 

Even though the Fèis participation fees are relatively low, the committee were aware that even this was beyond the budget of some families, especially those with several children who would want to participate.  In order to ensure that children were not excluded on financial grounds, Fèis an Rubha approached the Point and Sandwick Trust, and the resulting grant from PST has allowed them to offer free places at the Fèis for families on low income for the past two years.

Unrelated to the main work of the Fèis but supported by the Fèis committee and funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig, is Taigh Cèilidh an Rubha, a monthly Gaelic event aimed at bringing older and younger Gaelic speakers together in an informal setting for singing, dancing, local history and storytelling. 

Anne Macaulay, who chairs the Fèis, said “We are delighted and honoured that the work of our committee has been recognised in this way.  We have been supported through the years by Fèisean nan Gàidheal, Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar as well as the Point and Sandwick Trust and we thank them all for helping us to continue and expand on the work done by Fèis an Rubha”.

Since the Award was introduced in 2002 four groups in the Western Isles have received the Award – The Eoropie Play Park (GAIN) in 2004; Sporsnis in 2011; Comunn Eachdraidh Nis and Garadh a’ Bhagh a’ Tuath in 2019

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service aims to recognise outstanding work by volunteer groups to benefit their local communities.  It was created in 2002 to celebrate The Queen’s Golden Jubilee and winners are announced each year on 2 June – the anniversary of The Queen’s Coronation.  Award winners this year are from a diverse background which includes community shops, cultural and environmental groups, refugee and vulnerable people centres and community arts centres.