In February 1955 a meeting was held in Stornoway to discuss the idea of setting up a crofters co-operative in Lewis. In July 1958 Lewis Crofters Ltd became a reality. And July 2018 sees the Crofters invite all to celebrate six decades of the community co-operative by hosting a 60th Anniversary BBQ and Exhibition.
“It’s shaping up to be a great day,” said Caitlin MacIver, Lewis Crofters. “We’re using all the local butchers for the BBQ and we’ll also have mussels, as well as local baking, teas, coffees and beer.
“The celebration is an open invite and a thank you to all our loyal suppliers and customers throughout the years, so we look forward to seeing everyone there!”
Running from 11am to 5.30pm on Friday, July 13th, on display at the anniversary celebrations will be an exhibition of photos and artefacts looking back at crofting in the islands over the years.
And Caitlin and the Crofters’ team ask anyone with any interesting photographs or old tools they wish to lend to the exhibition to get in touch.
“We’ll also be selling our new special edition Crofters Sandwick Bay Candles,” Caitlin continued. “They have a lovely Machair Flowers scent and it’s great to be able to team up with another local company like Sandwick Bay Candles to create something like this as a special edition.”
A special edition scented candle would not have been in the minds of those at the first meeting back in 1955; but it highlights just how the crofters co-operative has developed, moved with the times, and diversified to ensure its success over half a century later.
October 1959 saw the newly established Lewis Crofters Ltd opened at its first premises, 18 Inaclete Road, by Scottish Agriculture Secretary Matthew Campbell.
Donald Murray, North Shawbost, became the first Crofters committee chairman in May 1960, having served on the provisional committee since 1956; and Colin F Macdonald, the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) officer, was first manager of the Crofters shop.
Only one year after opening, the Inacelte Road premises were already proving too small, and in March 1961, the purchase of additional land with buildings on Rigs Road was approved by the Crofters committee.
The early 1960s proved a tough time for Lewis Crofters Ltd, with deep trading difficulties seeing manager Malcolm Gillies resign in September 1963 in a bid to cut costs.
By December 1966, then manager Ken Macdonald took action and called for the creation of a large modern shop, with general goods for sale alongside all the original crofting provisions.
In May 1972, the late Dr Alasdair Fraser is elected committee chairman; and in 1974 a new shop and premises on Island Road – where the Crofters still remains today – was opened to the public.
Expanding further, in 1978 a town-centre premises was purchased on Cromwell Street, refurbished and opened in December of that year – lasting until 1992 when the shop was closed and the building rented to the then Western Isles Tourist Board.
That year the Lewis Crofters also purchased their Island Road home, previously leased from Highlands and Islands Enterprise; and with the turning of a century, in November 1999, Lewis Crofters Ltd reported turnover had passed the £1million mark for the first time.
The first years of the 21st century has seen Lewis Crofters continue to succeed and expand, with refurbishments to both shop and yard taking place.
And as 60 years of Lewis Crofters Ltd is celebrated, the team prepare for yet another expansion, with the purchase of a new storeroom, soon to be put into action, nearby its Island Road home.
“We started as a community co-operative and we always aim to continue operating as a community based co-operative, offering the crofters of Lewis and Harris the most affordable prices,” said Caitlin.
“The need and importance of crofting as a community is still very much alive on our islands and hopefully our 60th Anniversary celebrations will help inspire interest in younger people to ensure crofting continues to grow and develop in the future,” she added.
The Lewis Crofters 60th Anniversary BBQ and Exhibition takes place on Friday, July 13th, from 11am to 5.30pm.
To keep up to date with the Crofters, visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lewiscrofters; and to find out more about the crofting co-operative and what it offers, visit website www.lewiscrofters.co.uk