A community benefit society based in Uist is to receive support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to help it transition to a trading social enterprise.
Uist Wool is a mill and wool centre on the Island of Grimsay which lies between North Uist and Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides and will receive a £90,000 grant from HIE to help it grow and expand.
Uist Wool spins a range of yarns for knitting and weaving using local fleece and specialises in one of the oldest native Scottish breeds – Hebridean. The yarns will be retailed exclusively under the Uist Wool brand. The emphasis is on using natural blends of wool to give a distinctive and natural finish to the cloth yarn. Makers in the Outer Hebrides and beyond will be commissioned to create high quality garments and furnishings which showcase the natural palette of Uist Wool yarns.
HIE’s support will help cover revenue costs until a steady income stream is established. Uist Wool has already raised more than £1m in public and private funds to construct the mill and centre, acquire and refurbish heritage spinning machinery and train a skilled team.
The social enterprise structure helps Uist Wool achieve economic growth by putting any profits it makes back into the organisation for pursuing other aims. If the mill does well, the benefits get passed back to the crofter as a return for their wool.
Uist Wool was created to revive the traditional wool industry in the islands by providing training and employment. After years of community concern about the decline of the traditional woollen industry in the Uists, the local Wool Development Group formed in 2008 and went on to establish Uist Wool in 2011. The idea to start a wool-spinning mill came about through a series of community meetings and workshops with the public, crofters and craftspeople, and following a major feasibility study.
Last year a new team of six employees started at Uist Wool including one of the founding members and now full-time director, Dana Macphee.
Joanna Peteranna, account manager at HIE in Benbecula, said: “The mill is a welcome boost to the rich textile heritage and economy of the Outer Hebrides which is already well known for Harris Tweed. It’s an excellent addition to the tourism offering providing a new and distinctive experience for visitors including the opportunity to purchase yarns that have a strong provenance and tangible connection with the islands.”
Dana Macphee, said: “This is an exciting time for Uist Wool as we’ve gradually put all the pieces together to finally launch the trading element of the enterprise and move into the recently built Wool Centre annex at the Mill. With the new website now online (www.uistwool.com) and the Mill busy spinning new yarn collections for 2017 it feels good to showcase the fantastic qualities of local wool to a wider audience at home and overseas.”