Inspiring young people to take up the traditional island industry is key to safeguarding the future of abattoirs in the Western Isles.
That was the message from David Stewart, the Business Support Manager for a three year project backed by Prince Charles, which aims secure the future of the industry in rural islands.
Abattoirs in Barra, North Uist and Stornoway are set to benefit from funding, business mentoring support, apprenticeships and marketing initiatives to help drive sustainable business models.
Mr Stewart, who recently visited the three abattoirs in the Western Isles, stressed the importance of the industry which has played a vital role in island life for generations.
Speaking during his visit to Stornoway Mr Stewart explained: “None of the abattoirs are in as good a state as they were 20 years or so ago. I think the decline of throughput in the abattoirs is noticeable and is a threat for each and every one of them.
“The whole idea of the project is to improve upon the fragility we’ve got and improve the sustainability.”
He continued: “There seems to be less animals killed in each of the rural island based abattoirs than there were traditionally.
“If an island abattoir facility was to close the animals would have to be shipped to the mainland to be slaughtered and that has a detrimental effect. It’s stressful, the travel doesn’t help the animal.
“Also if a crofter losses that provenance and if they’re not there at the time of kill you’re losing something that is unique. The project is really asking if there is anyway of safeguarding what we’ve got in the island based communities. “
Mr Stewart is involved in the first stage of the project, looking at each abattoir individually and identifying the issues they face.
This will be followed by looking at joint or individual strategies to help improve the businesses.
“We will be looking at sustainability,” Mr Stewart explained, “not just from a commercial point of view but also from a skills point of view.
“One of the main barriers is a lot of the abattoirs have older staff. You need young blood coming into the industry. It is a skilled job and could be an opportunity for somebody.
“However one of the career prospect difficulties is a lot of the abattoirs, like the one in Stornoway, are not open all the year round, so they are not offering all year round employment.”
He continued: “It would be good to see if there is some way to circumnavigate that problem - it’s too early to say what that could possibly be, but that’s the sort of thing we will identify as a barrier and try to turn it into an opportunity.”
The project is being funded by The Prince’s Countryside Fund and the Scottish Government and is being delivered in partnership with each abattoir by the Scottish Agricultural Organisational Society and Scottish Business in the Community. In total six Scottish island abattoirs are involved.
It is anticipated 15 young people will be offered improved skills and job opportunities through the work.
As well as employment opportunities, funds will also be available for things such as storage and handling facilities in the abattoirs, as well as marketing strategies.
“It’s a valuable commodity that you have here,” Mr Stewart added, “ so let’s look at trying to safeguard and sustain that.”