Plan for a strong heart in Leverburgh

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An ambitious business plan to breathe life back into an old building whilst strengthening the heart of a South Harris community has been lodged with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The ‘old block’ at Leverhulme Memorial School in Leverburgh, Harris, is the focus of a project which could see this building transform into a multi-purpose community hub offering everything from a social meeting point to an educational resource.

The concept for the building - created following suggestions by residents, research trips to other facilities and the consideration of what the area needed - was first fully aired at a packed-out meeting last week in the village and resulted in a large majority supporting the plan.

The Leverhulme Memorial School Steering Group (LMS) who have driven forward the project to this stage took shape last October following concerns that the Comhairle were looking to demolish the ‘old block’, with the cost of this estimated at around £400,000. In fact, options for the building are still being considered.

Now the LMS steering group have set out the community’s preference, which would see the building accommodating a tea-room, laundrette facility, gym and charity shop, as well as a potential base for a historical society for the area, given that the building was constructed by Lord Leverhulme.

Crucially, it is thought the structure would need little alteration to its current layout in order to fulfil all of these different uses.

Chairman of LMS steering group, Angus MacLeod, explained the benefits: “We believe that these particular facilities would benefit the community in a whole host of ways; socially, culturally and economically, to name but a few.

“The tea room in the local shop closed last year, and so we feel there is a gap in the market for this kind of eating establishment. It would also be one of the main revenue generators and we would hope to, eventually,be in a position to employ people to work there.

“We feel the increasing number of self-catering and B&B properties would mean that a laundrette facility would be well-used, and would generate income. The machines would be coin-operated, with their own entrance so the facility could be used out-of-hours.

“A gym would provide a local, accessible, affordable exercise space for South Harris. The proposal of a gym in Leverburgh has been met with positive enthusiasm and agreement that it is a much needed facility.”

He added that the historical aspect of the project would be a fantastic resource for school pupils, as there would be a range of local artefacts and local history within walking distance.

“It is important for young people to understand the place, history, heritage and culture of Harris and have the opportunity to appreciate local heritage,” Angus continued: “The local care home have indicated that such a place would be suitable for their residents to visit, without having to travel too far.”

The ground work to bring the plan to fruition has already started as a recent survey indicated that the building is in good condition for its age, with only minor repairs needed. And with the total estimated cost of the project at £323,00, the steering group are now researching grant funding from sources such as the Community Land Fund and have also made contact with HIE for advice.

The potential annual income for the building has been assessed following information received from similar community resources and it is calculated that approximately £50,000 could be generated annually.