Voluntary Arts Scotland



Here is the team from Voluntary Arts Scotland (and our wonderful Alex) enjoying a break from their usual surroundings to have their AGM at An Lanntair.

I very much enjoyed presenting the project to the team today, very much enjoyed a bowl of steaming soup in the Cafe Bar with everyone and look forward to continued conversations after this visit.


Licking Scallop Shells

Maggie went to visit the lovely Lena MacBratney, who delights in serving homemade cakes and copious amounts of tea to visitors. Lena is ninety five, lives in Stornoway and gave an amazing account on her early life in Ranish in the Lochs district of the Isle of Lewis.

“My two grannies had a cow and every Saturday we made butter in the shimmid. The milk was put in basins for a few days and then we used a scallop shell to take the cream off the milk, before we put the cream in big urns. When we were finished we were allowed to lick the shells clean. Cream never tasted quite so good since then. My granny would have her white apron on, and we would have blathach to drink and make scones. Lovely!

In the winter the herring drifters would come into the bay in Ranish and you would think it was a village, with all the lights from the boats. My own father was fishing and my grandfather Murdo Nicolson had a drifter. One winter my grandfather bought my father a motor boat and then he caught lots of fish. As children we had to fill the basins with fish and share it out among the people in the village, who had no one to go fishing for them.

In the autumn my mother would send my sister and I, to Johanna’s house in Achmore to help with the hay. We hauled the hay in eallachs on our back, from the bottom of the croft by the loch, up to the house. Johanna was of the Chisholmites and didn’t go to church. She was a great Christian. We had to go on our knees to pray every night and we didn’t wash the dishes on Sunday. My sister and I worked hard but we didn’t get a penny for it. Then we would go to Na Doill in the Glen, to get a creel for my mother. Then we would walk proudly back to Ranish with an Achmore creel on our backs.

At 14 years when my sister and I left school, we went to the fishing. I was there at fourteen, gutting herring on the pier in Stornoway, where the herring girl statue is today. There were lots of Point women busy with barrels at the cutadh as well. I worked for the curer Duncan MacIver and after the season was over in Stornoway, we sailed to Stronsay, then Lowestoft in the winter. The next year we went to Lerwick, then Yarmouth.

It was a hard life we weren’t idle and there was not much pay. If we earned money we would buy things for my mother, like bedding, but nothing for ourselves “

Lena MacBratney age 95

Lena MacBratney age 95

National Care Leavers Week 2016

To celebrate National Care Leavers Week 2016,  we are hosting a lunchtime meeting with the CEO of An Lanntair (Elly), senior programming, outreach and inclusion staff, people living with dementia and care experienced young people on Friday 28th October.

The link between these two communities for us is partially Life Changes Trust, who fund this project and fund projects nationwide supporting care experienced young people and people living with dementia. The other link is volunteering. So many care experienced young people volunteer for us and for local charities and organisations through Volunteer Centre Western Isles and Alzheimer Scotland.

These islands are famous for warm hospitality and we all love getting together for a ceilidh, so what better way to celebrate this national event than to do just that?



Project presentation at the An Lanntair AGM and farewell to Heather

We presented our project at the An Lanntair AGM tonight, along with some of our wonderful friends and collaborators. We don’t often stop and think about what we have done and what we have achieved and this was a lovely opportunity to do so with our colleagues and the An Lanntair board.

We also said farewell to Heather, who has left the project and is going to be focussing on some freelance design work and setting up her own business. All the best, Heather!

Hand to hand

A lady from North Uist said to me yesterday ‘Hand to hand, that is how we learned. And they were very good at it, the weaving. They had to be. You couldn’t have a horse collar falling apart. It wasn’t for fun, these were things we needed for work. And everyone who learned hand to hand like my grandmother and my mother, they became very good at it. It was the best way to learn. No books, no. No need for books.’

#WorldMentalHealthDay 10 things for #dementia

To mark #WorldMentalHealthDay we list ten of the things we are working on together with carers and people living with dementia. Social media does love a list. Of course we are also raising awareness with Dementia Friends sessions and speaking at conferences and we are on the journey of improving our own organisation to be as dementia friendly as possible too.

1: In response to requests for real human contact across the South Isles, our collaboratively funded Practitioner posts are open to applications now and we are working on a network of well supported volunteers through the Volunteer Centre Western Isles WAVE award (Western Isles Award for Volunteering Excellence).

2: To support carers, our project response to requests for opportunities to try new crafts at home are almost complete – patchwork cushion kit and pin cushion kit.


3: Personal support to carers is available through our informal and collaboration Carers’ High Tea sessions with Alzheimer Scotland once a month. Please book through Bells Road Alzheimer Scotland Lewis & Harris Branch – coming soon to the South Isles.

4: Hand memory support and research through our Woven Communities collaboration project with St Andrews’ University. Sessions are being offered jointly with St. Andrews University, Remoage and Alzheimer Scotland to value the hand memory of people living with dementia, re-making Uist heritage marram grass items such as a ciosan basket and horse collars. These sessions are intergenerational and aim to pass almost lost skills on to a new generation and to work together to create new pieces. An exhibition and publication will follow.


5: Memory Box support through the mobile library network across the South Isles on several local themes. These can be booked by individuals and by care centres to use the resources on island and culturally specific themes. For example, the Sensory Box is filled with dried seaweed to small, leaf tea to smell and brew, local tweeds, hand creams for massage, lights, podcasts of local songs and stories, bubbles, a DVD of the Paul Strand film from Uist Film and many images, clays, paints, waxes and sun print paper to recreate aspects of recent local exhibitions. Feedback is gathered through a book and email and used to develop the boxes.

6: For people living in hospital or staying there for some time, our hospital ward based Tuesday Ceilidhs reconnect people with their ceilidh culture and each other. We take along local village magazines, images, aspects of exhibitions, once Calum Martin offered some Gaelic singing. This is in collaboration with Alzheimer Scotland and also offers information about what is available in the community for people going home and what support is available for carers.

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7: Podcasts – we have recorded and are continuing to record and collect playlists for people across the community. These are available on our Soundcloud and as CDs. We record our newsletters and listings for events as a podcast on Soundcloud too.
* Some people sing for other islanders – islander to islander 
* We have recorded some ‘Gaelic Without Trying‘ lessons to support paid carers with people reverting to their first language through dementia
* We have recorded local songs and stories as bilingual cultural podcasts to share
* We have gathered playlists of folk music, pipe music, waulking songs, local songs etc.to support Playlist for Life
* We have started to record ‘In Conversation‘ pieces, between people working on a task right now, in conversation with people with a historic knowledge and experience of the task – for example a performance car engineer met and talked with a retired Aston Martin racing engineer.

8: Performance and creative opportunities – people living with dementia are invited and encouraged to be inspired by exhibitions and art works at An Lanntair and its many festivals. These often lead to creative opportunities for art work and performances – for example: foil fish etching for the Herring Girls exhibition and a public exhibition on the gallery stairway, wax and watercolour for the Katie Morag exhibition, waulking songs performance in the gallery for the public during the Harris Tweed Festival and alternative process photography printing through the Eileen/Island exhibition.


9: Special sessions – An Lanntair runs special ‘dementia friendly’ screenings of films by request  (the most recent being South Pacific for the singalong factor!) – these are sometimes short films, sometimes local films and sometimes a classic by request. We also run closes exhibition sessions for people needing a higher level of support. For example, the How Big can we Grow? Exhibit by Dutch bubble artist Peter Schrader was particularly suited to people with more advanced dementia and we closed the Auditorium off to the public for this closed session and created bubble pictures afterwards.


10: DEEP Group membership. We are now members of the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project, in order to support the voices of people living with dementia across the islands, particularly those living in care settings and those with more advanced dementia. The work we do seeks out those voices through arts and engagement sessions and looks to make the requested changes with the support of a national network.




In celebration of #woolweek Chris Hammacott has come up with a new kit idea for carers and people living with dementia to have a go at stitching on a repeating pattern with the wool used to make Harris Tweeds.

The idea is for carers or people earlier in the stages of memory problems to be able to make a pin cushion for future projects or for people living with more advanced stages of dementia to repeat a pattern with natural materials that feel and smell good.

These stitching kits will be available from November.

Chris and I will be finishing the filming for the ‘Carers’ Cushion Kit’ on Wednesday and these how-to videos, together with printable instructions will be available online from next week for anyone to have a go with their own materials or a limited number of the kits will be available (free) to carers of people living with dementia across the Western isles. Contact me at paula@lanntair.com


DEEP members

We are all now members of the DEEP (Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project), which is funded by Life Changes Trust, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Comic Relief.

Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project Website

Paul Thomas, DEEP Northern Co-ordinator came to visit us to see the work we are doing recently and he said that he was moved by the warm welcome of people attending groups, living in care centres and spending time in hospital and the carers and staff members that he met. He encouraged us to join as a project and to continue working hard to collect and amplify the voices of people living with dementia.

I have been discussing with Paul the possibility of funding to take forward initial ideas from people living with dementia locally so that changes can be seen, experienced and felt. More news on that once we have the paperwork.

You will also notice shortly, that we will be given a presence on the DEEP website to update with news about what is happening locally.

Nationally, through DEEP, we will be invited to share our island perspective with the other groups.


Ta in conversation with Maggie Smith

Norman Smith (Ta) talks about his work as a herdsboy on the moorland between Ness and Tolsta, and some aspects of crofting life in Eoropie , Ness, isle of Lewis.

A picture of Ta courtesy of Ali Finlayson
Transcribed by Maggie Smith, Arora project Gaelic Co-ordinator

‘Bàrr taisgeil ’s slisinn bhos a chionn’ sin an comharr a bha again. Bha mise na mo bhuachaille air a dh’ fhag mi sgoil. Bhiodh sinn a coiseachd eadar Nis agus Tolstadh 12 mìle a dol aon taobh. Anns a’ gheamhradh cha deanadh tu chùis air a’ choiseachd, bheireadh e mu ceithir uairean a thide. Bhiodh sinn uaireannan a fuireach an Taigh Tharmoid Ailein an Tolstadh, ’s e buachaille a bh’annsan agus na athair roimhe. Ma bha sin a trusadh bhiodh e dubh dòrch air a thilleadh sin dhachaigh a Sgiogarstaidh. Bha mi fhìn agus fear eile ann..bha… aig seachd bliadhna deug. Bha sinn a faighinn one and six am beathach airson an cumail bho na creagan agus na briaghlaich.

Tha cuimhne agam trì mairt a bhith anns an taigh. Bha còignear a theaglach, m’athair, mo mhàthair, is mo sheanair is mo sheamhair. Naoidhnear againn an ura ris na trì màrt sin.

Bha fear anns a’ bhaile bha togail geòlaichean agus bha àite math iasgaich man a taigh solais. Biodh iad a faighinn truisg, bioraich, cnòdan agus leòbagan. Fad an t-sàmhraidh bhiodh iad gan tiorramachadh a muigh air an fheur. Cha robh na faoilleagan cho paillt’ ’s tha iad an diugh. Anns a’ gheamhradh bhathas a sàilleadh an èisg. Cha robh freezers ann an uairsin.

Bhiodh sinn a buain mhònach an Cuisiadar, bha sin còig mìle à Sgiogarstaidh. Bhiodh làraidh Aonghais Droggaidh a dol timcheall a cruinneachadh nan daoine airson a dhol a mach gu na pùill. Lathaichean geala a dhuine!

Tarmod Mac A Ghobhainn Eòropaidh

Tha an dealbh seo le cead bho Ali Finlayson