Occasions Florists in Stornoway has a new website - www.occasionsofstornoway.co.uk - which brings their offering of flowers to life on-line, just as improvements have been made in the shop

And there is a new website, too, for Willowglen Garden Centre - www.willowglengardencentre.co.uk - both produced by Intermedia Services (Stornoway)Ltd, the parents company of EVENTS.

The new websites aim to let people check out what's inside the shops and display areas before they visit. 

And here feature-writer Elly Welch looks at what the new-look Occasions has to offer now.

“That’s his last job, then we’re done,” says florist Ann Robinson as her son Richard drills a sign on to the swinging counter door at the new-look Occasions Florists in Stornoway.

“Don’t believe her!” laughs Richard, who apart from managing the surrounding Willowglen Pet and Garden Centre also undertook the entire renovation of Occasions. “My work is never done!” he adds, glancing proudly at the delightful new shop space. “This “Shabby Chic” look? It took a fortnight working round the clock to get right!”

There’s a lovely air of family banter drifting through these interlinking shops situated just off Matheson Road near the Co-op.   Ann, a florist of around 50 years experience, her husband Bill and son Richard, originally from Birmingham, have built the place up from scratch over the last two decades and, despite the shop being busier than ever now, the friendly feel of the place and its team of local staff leaves a lasting impression.

“We are always making improvements and trying to maximise every inch of space but its hard finding the time to do anything when you are already flat out!” admits Ann. It’s obvious she is delighted with her newly renovated shop space.

Occasions was always welcoming but it now feels even more so. A new, right-angled counter now looks into the main shop as well the florists and, being more open plan, there is now more work space as well as a bigger, brighter sales space, allowing the light in and the colourful floor to ceiling vision of fresh and silk blooms out.

“When I first moved Occasions into this building it was into a narrow strip down the side,” says Ann, pointing towards the racks of dog leads and squeaky toys. “Believe it or not this is actually our third move within this building – hopefully it’ll be the last!”

The Robinson family swapped the Midlands for Lewis in the mid 1990s and set up the Garden Centre soon after. Ann, who became a florist as soon as she left school, ran Occasions from premises on Cromwell Street for several years before joining the men of the family at Willowglen in 2010. There was another good reason to move closer to the boys too, because it turns out that Richard, despite the tool belt and overalls, is also a dab hand when it comes to flowers.

“People often don’t believe me but I do quite a lot of the flower arrangements myself,” he says. “I guess that’s what happens when you grow up in a florists! The good thing is, though, that when mum isn’t in people can ask me and I can help them to choose their displays.”

Some people might assume that the age of florists shop is fading, with supermarkets now offering fresh bunches off the shelf. But at Occasions trade is as good as ever and Ann can’t see that changing.

“Flowers chosen personally have a power and a sentiment that people will always appreciate,” she says. “They are nearly always a gift for somebody that that person wouldn’t have gone out and bought for themselves. By going to a florists shop and choosing a special bunch its a message that you have cared, and have to gone that extra step.”

As its name suggests Occasions provides flowers for all sorts of events from births and christenings to anniversaries, weddings and fresh and silk wreaths and sprays for funerals and memorials. Ann can advise and create fresh and silk arrangements in vases or wrapped to suit specific needs and styles of event.

“Sometimes people are stressed out with organising an occasion and don’t have the time to really think about what they want and that’s where we come in,” Ann explains. “Funerals in particular are a terribly hard time for families - they know they want something beautiful that will fit the person being remembered but it is hard to make decisions at times of grief. These can be some of the most touching times for us because you really feel like you are able to help.”

Occasions gets deliveries of fresh flowers every week and sends out orders far and wide. Customers can order over the phone and the shop will arrange delivery, six days a week - whether that is on the island of further afield.

For events and larger displays the shop provides fresh cut flowers in flat packs, carefully arranged to survive travel without damage. Or you could purchase a boxed “Aqua Bouquet” arranged in an absorbent “oasis” mould so that you just need to add water when you get home. Alternatively, the Aquapack comes wrapped in cellophane with water, keeping the flowers extremely fresh. You can also buy them hand tied without water - ideal if you are delivering them straight away.

The shop has the largest selection of silk flowers in the Western Isles – sourced from top suppliers. In fact these flowers are so realistic that many people do a double take. There are many varieties of houseplants here, too, and a large range of pots and vases to choose from.  

The extra shop space has come in the nick of time to help accommodate the Christmas rush.

“We are so busy at this time of year with people wanting festive table displays or wreaths or flowers as gifts. Its not unusual to work late into the night on orders,” Ann explains. “And just when you have Christmas done, New Year means it happens all over again! But we aren’t complaining – its great that people still love flowers.”

So whether it’s a Valentines rose you are after, an armful of cut-flowers for the kitchen table, or you are tasked with a whole floral display, Occasions can help you through it – at prices to fit your budget.

As Ann says: “You’ll often hear me say that one carefully chosen rose wrapped nicely in cellophane can say as much as 100 flowers - its getting the sentiment right that matters and that’s what I enjoy the most.”