Convener hails impact of twinning

Comhairle convener Alex Macdonald and ex-Pendleton mayor Carol Burdette at the bench.

Comhairle convener Alex Macdonald and ex-Pendleton mayor Carol Burdette at the bench.

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ALEX Macdonald has overseen countless policy changes and has had his hand in more initiatives and programmes to benefit the Western Isles than he cares to remember.

But one which he reflects with on particular pride, and one which brings one of the biggest smiles to his face, is helping to nurture and develop the link between Stornoway and Pendleton.

Nicolson Institute staff and pupils in Pendleton in 1996.

Nicolson Institute staff and pupils in Pendleton in 1996.

In a lengthy chat in the council chambers, the Comhairle Convener spoke of his great pride in playing a part in fostering the link and looking back over the past two decades on the dawn of the it’s anniversary.

At times Mr Macdonald almost breaks into giddy laughter as he recalls humorous incidents over the past 12 of the 20-years of the partnership he has been involved in and at others he is clearly humbled when he discusses his pride at having a bench named after him in the South Carolina township – a permanent record of the part he played in the link.

He is fully aware of the impact the twin ship has had on the towns, and their people, on both sides of the Atlantic and he couldn’t be prouder.

“How important is the link between the two towns?” he muses, sitting back in a leather recliner with a broadening grin, speaking excitedly between gulps of tea.

“Well, I think it means a lot to people here, especially the children, and it’s not a case of councillors jetting off to the States as some would have you believe.

“It’s primarily for educational purposes but we’ve built up some wonderful relationships and it has become a family which is what I believe twinning is all about.

“It is one of the most pleasing things I’ve had to do. It’s great to see so many friendships blossom and just last week when the most recent group of American pupils were leaving Stornoway they were crying their eyes out.

“It shows the real relationships built up by people during the exchanges.”

The link between the two towns has come so far from the initial youth exchange programme with the two now officially twinned. Mr Macdonald himself has left his own footprint on the history of the link by having a bench erected in his honour on South Carolina and personally donating a bench on home soil to former mayor Carol

Burdette to reciprocate.

“Getting the bench was a total surprise,” he confessed as he recalls the shock of having it sprung on him.

“We had been told there was an event in the park but the bench was hidden under an American flag. Then they suddenly pulled the flag off to reveal the bench which was presented to me and my wife.

“It was such a shock but I saw the opportunity the next time they were over here to do the same thing and I took them out to the water mill and presented a bench to Carol Burdette.

“The bench was a personal gift from me and not from the Council as I paid from my own pocket but it was something I wanted to do. When the most recent group of American’s were over they all went out to see the bench and it means a lot to all of us.”

The link with Pendleton has brought Mr Macdonald nothing but joy and plenty of surprises with another shock coming when he bumped into an old class mate from his home village who he had lost touch with half a century earlier.

“I was across with my wife Morag and we were chatting in Gaelic outside the Pendleton High School when a couple walked by,” he beamed.

“The woman stopped when she heard us speaking Gaelic and said she knew

me.

“It turned out she was from Carloway and had been in school with me but had left in

the early 1950s. Had we been speaking any other language then she’d have walked right past us.”

So what of the future for the link? Well, Mr Macdonald is set to retire from the Comhairle in the coming year but he is sure the bond across the Atlantic will continue to bloom in his absence.

“I’ll be leaving the Council this April after 28-years but I’d like to keep up the connection with Pendleton and I believe it is important to maintain the link,” he said.

“There were so many friendships made through the trips that it was suggested the two towns twinned.

“We did that 10-years ago and it has worked particularly well and it has been so good to compare the educational system over there with our own here. Pendleton is a small town but there are many similarities with us.”