Trust saves the day for Stornoway’s Christmas tree lights

The snow has arrived, just in time for the Christmas lights switch on this evening.
The snow has arrived, just in time for the Christmas lights switch on this evening.

Community-owned wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust have, along with Tesco and the Western Isles Lottery, stepped into the breach left by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s withdrawal of funds to ensure that Stornoway can have Christmas lights after all this year.

The Comhairle’s decision to pull the plug on funding completely this year, after a number of years of reducing their grant to Stornoway Amenity Trust for the festivities, had been met with dismay — but the community rallied round and the switching on ceremony will take place tonight (Friday, December 8), between 7pm and 8pm.

As ever, the event will take place in the town’s civic square. There will be some speeches and prizes will be awarded for shop window displays and the like, ahead of the official switching on.

New Lord Lieutenant of the Western Isles, Donald Martin, will be presiding.

And happily, because they have managed to secure so much funding from the community, the Amenity Trust are looking forward to having a better Christmas lights display than they have had for at least five years, since the Comhairle were forced to start cutting back on their funding.

The money from Point and Sandwick Trust, who make around £800,000 profit a year from their three community-owned turbines at Beinn Ghrideag, was the last part of the Amenity Trust’s festive funding jigsaw — and received with grateful thanks.

Tony Robson, Stornoway Amenity Trust’s project organiser, said: “We had a shortfall which Point and Sandwick Trust were very generous in giving us nearly £2,000 for, to fill the gap.

“We’ve got £2,000 funding from Tesco and then we had £6,000 from Western Isles Lottery and then there was a shortfall because the total price was £10,000 — so we’re very grateful to Point and Sandwick for giving us money towards the lights.”

The total bill included various elements of staging the festive event, such as PA hire, but Point and Sandwick’s donation specifically paid for the LED lights for the tree and Cromwell Street.

It was a highly appropriate use of funds as Point and Sandwick run the LED Energy Communities project in the Point and Sandwick area in partnership with Tighean Innse Gall.

The LED project, which aims to cut fuel poverty in the area while improving living standards, involves installing up to 14 energy saving LED lightbulbs to each home, with the option of having home energy performance surveys done and subsequent work such as insulation.

For Stornoway Amenity Trust, partnership with community organisations and charities such as Point and Sandwick Trust has become essential for certain projects to be able to go ahead due to the scale of financial cutbacks from the Comhairle.

Tony said there was “much more” lighting this year than in recent years, since the community stepped up to the plate.

“It’s certainly bigger than it has been,” he said. “We used to get about £20,000 or £30,000 from the council for all the things in the town. The last annual funding was £4,000.”

This year, however, the council stopped funding the Christmas lights altogether. “We had no funding from the council. This year we had to raise all the money from Tesco, the Western Isles Lottery and Point and Sandwick.”

Acknowledging the difficulty for the Comhairle in being so short of money, he said: “Our view was that we just accepted it as one of those problems that we had to get over.

“That’s one of the reasons the Western Isles Lottery started — because we had to find another source of income for community events.

“In the past, the council have financed various things like floral displays, Christmas lights, various events, but I’m assured that’s all come to an end so now we have to look at other means of raising money.

“Many years ago there was about £20,000 for Christmas lights from the council but that’s got progressively less to the point that we don’t get anything now. This is the first one that’s been funded entirely by donations. It says a lot about people being very generous.”

He added: “Rather than just sit back and saying, ‘there won’t be any Christmas lights this year’ we were very pleased to have the support from the Lottery, Tesco and Point and Sandwick.

“It shows we can sustain it and continue to improve, with community support.”

That community support, he said, was “absolutely essential” in the current climate. “Do we sit back and say, ‘we don’t have any council money now’? I don’t think anybody wants to do that.

“It’s essential and that’s why we’re looking for continued support, so that we can still do things despite the cutbacks.”

Tony also thanked ‘Angus Campbell Electrical Services’for the help they have given towards ensuring a good event.

Point and Sandwick Trust chairman Angus McCormack said: “The first thing is that I’m delighted they are using the LED lights because we’ve been trying to promote them as part of what we are doing with TIG with the LED Energy Communities project.

“But we are very pleased indeed to be able to help the Amenity Trust with the Christmas lights. We are very much in favour of Stornoway having its own Christmas lights and we’re pleased to be able to assist.”

He added: “This is the advantage of having community wind farms. They have the capacity to assist in community situations where sometimes other community organisations cannot.”

The local lottery is online at www.westernisleslottery.co.uk.