Uist Wool - Transforming the islands through textile tradition

What are the aims of your project?

The Uist Wool ‘Transforming the Islands Through Textile Tradition’ project secured funding in July 2012 with the aim of:

  • Constructing the production area of the new mill on North Uist
  • Establishing an office base and fixed point of contact for Uist Wool
  • Appointing a part-time project coordinator 
  • Creating a visual and digital presence for the organisation
  • Researching and developing a range of high quality wool products

Where is it?

Uist Wool was established in July 2011 and completed construction of the new Mill on a croft at Scotvein on Grimsay, North Uist in June 2013.

Who’s involved?

Uist Wool is a Community Benefit Society and Scottish Charity governed by a Management Committee, Mary Norton (Chairperson), John Huson, Ronald J. Maclean and Sheila Roderick with a vacancy for a representative from the Friends of Uist Wool membership body.

The ‘Friends’ group is open to anyone for a £5 fee covering a lifetime membership. There are currently 198 ‘Friends of Uist Wool’. Th

e training and development programme ‘CALANAS’ has been underway since 2012 and is managed by Dana MacPhee who was also employed as coordinator (part-time) for the Transforming the Islands Through Textile Tradition project.

How is it funded?

Part-funding for the construction of the mill and project co-ordination was secured from Outer Hebrides LEADER in July 2012 with the match funding contributed by Uist Wool plus a small start-up grant from Firstport Ltd.

Support for the acquisition and refurbishment of the mill machinery was also given by the local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar through the Community Land Resources Development Programme.

Uist Wool is now in the final year of the CALANAS training programme that has received funding from the European Social FundAwards for All, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Trusthouse Charitable Foundation.

Ultimately Uist Wool will move from training to trading by Summer 2015 and become self-financing through sales of artisan yarns and well-designed wool products.

Where did you go for help and advice?

A major feasibility study and community consultation, led by the creative consultancy Exfactor, was commissioned in 2009/10 by the Wool Development Group that went on to establish Uist Wool in 2011. The collective skills and knowledge of the volunteers involved in setting up Uist Wool have been solely central to the development of the organisation.

External advice on technical aspects of production spinning has been given by specialist engineers from within the Harris Tweed industry in the Outer Hebrides and other mills in the UK. Significant assistance was given by Outer Hebrides LEADER staff in Benbecula and Stornoway in preparing the application and administering the grant claim process.

What’s been your greatest achievement so far?

Watching the development of the trainee Mill Craft Engineers in learning about Mill production and the excitement of creating the first run of Uist Wool test yarns made from local fleece.

And the biggest challenge?

Most of the main challenges in setting up the Mill relate to technical aspects of yarn production but this is part of the learning experience. Dealing with the administration of grants and an unrelenting timetable for fundraising can be tiresome but must be viewed as a means to an end. However, we recognise that the biggest challenge will be when Uist Wool launches the product range in mid-2015 and gets underway with trading for a profitable future.

Any tips for someone for someone setting up a similar project?

Dogged persistence and maintain belief in what you want to do. If you get knocked back by one funder, ask why, draw breath, and tackle the next one on the list.

Don’t expect quick results and prepare your plan or project carefully – small steps in development will allow your organisation to gradually become more confident, particularly if reliant on volunteer time.

What’s next for your project?

Fundraising is well underway for Phase 2 of capital development on the Mill site – £50,000 has already been secured from the Community Capital Fund operated by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and a Stage 2 application has been made to the Coastal Communities Fund for £125,000.

Phase 2, namely the Wool Centre and Drying loft will provide an exhibition and workshop area, office and retail space, distribution and storage plus a unique wool drying loft using a combination of wind and solar gain to passively air dry fleece.

The aim is to coincide with the launch of the trading operation of Uist Wool and have the Mill and Wool Centre open to the public by Summer 2015.

Contact details

  • Dana MacPhee
  • Uist Wool, 5 Scotvein, Grimsay, North Uist, Outer Hebrides
  • info@uistwool.co.uk
  • 01870 602597

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