Coronavirus: How Galson Estate Trust is helping Lewis residents

The National, by Karin Goodwin
12th April 2020

“At a time of crisis, community will look to their own,”says Lisa Maclean, manger of Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (the Galson Estate Trust) in Lewis. “I fully believe it’s all about trust.”

The estate – which was bought by the community under right to buy legislation back in January 2007 – stretches across 56,000 acres of coast, agricultural land and moor in the north west of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It takes in 22 villages running from Upper Barvas to Port of Ness with a population of nearly 2000 people. Now, in these extraordinary times, every single one of them is accounted for to ensure if they need support, they will get it.

Set up and appointed by the people who live here, the trust works on the understanding that its work is not simply about land ownership, but about the people that live and work on that land too.

When news of Covid-19 broke, Maclean and her team went straight into action, establishing a group of volunteers from each of the 22 villages to collate a list of mobile numbers and landlines and set up a network on WhatsApp.

Maclean explains: “I’d heard the First Minister speak on the radio on my way to work about streets setting up groups and thought we could do this for whole villages.

“The groups allow for neighbours to help each other out, more a means of offering mutual support, which I believe is more sustainable and also could create a legacy long beyond Covid-19.”

By mid-March the team had sent out self-isolation forms, so that the type of help that everyone needed was understood well before lockdown measures were brought in. A volunteer Facebook group was set-up to share help and guidance.

“We were asked by the two surgeries on the estate to deliver prescriptions and the Facebook group allowed us to quickly establish suitable volunteers to carry out this task,” says Maclean. “We have a rota in place and volunteers deliver five days per week across the entire estate.”

There’s also a pick-up service running for the local crofting co-operative Lewis Crofters, who have had to close but have set up a drive-through operation.

“We were kindly provided with a van from local company Car Hire Hebrides, and we re-deployed a member of staff to collected orders three times per week. We are using large car parks at community buildings and this allows people to safely collect their supplies.” The community newspaper has furloughed staff and production has now stopped and yet again the trust has stepped in. Its first community newsletter was printed on Friday.

Bookbug sessions in both Gaelic and English will be running online three times a week and there are online bedtime stories in Gaelic on Youtube as well as gentle exercise classes to encourage residents.

Maclean says: “We are about to launch ‘mini beast’ activities for children who can get into the garden or the croft.”

The trust is also offering help for businesses, sign posting to support schemes and contacting them to find out what other help they might need.

‘‘It’s a lot of work for the team but Zoom coffee breaks and regular meetings help keep them motivated,’’ says Maclean.