The Scotsman 19th June 2002
by Robert McNeil
£50,000 purchase of butcher's shop by community project
brings wider benefits
IN a blue butcher's shop on the colourful waterfront of Tobermory,
customers queued for sausages and sirloin steaks.
Nothing unusual in that, you might think. But the opening of the only
independent butcher's shop on Mull yesterday has saved the island's
abattoir. And unlikely though it might at first sound, the abattoir is
crucial to the island's tourism and environment.
Mull Butchers Limited - soon to be given a more imaginative name - is
a community project that has united farmers and environmentalists.
The island's abattoir has been under threat for years. However, as
part of the Green Futures Mull and Iona project, it has been saved and
the island now has its own butcher serving local produce.
Pat Logan, a business development project worker with the Mull and
Iona Community Trust, explained the connections between abattoir and
environment: "It's holistic. If the abattoir wasn't here, farming
would be further in jeopardy. Without cattle, particularly Highland
cattle, you don't have the grasslands and the rare fauna that the Argyll
islands are famous for. Keeping the abattoir and helping farming
also helps tourism.
"Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection
of Birds support us. They realise the importance of keeping the
agriculture conditions right for biodiversity. Trying to save the
abattoir itself has raised bigger questions about how we use the
The abattoir, near the village of Salen, has been run for 22 years
as a voluntary farmers' co-operative. But transport costs and the
roundabout nature of modern markets had put it in jeopardy. That's where
the butcher's shop comes in.
"The system at the moment is nonsense," said Logan, who'd been
busy all morning making burgers. "The beef is fattened here then sold
off the island so that, if you want it, you have to buy it back
"Six or seven vans come into Mull and supply the local shops,
B&Bs and hotels with food from elsewhere. That's a travesty. We
want to service local demand with local produce."
The only other butcher on the land is part of the Co-op, and the
trust is hopeful that the store may take the new shop's local meat. Mull
once had three butcher's shops but the last one closed a year ago. The
trust bought it for £50,000 and, with the help of local
contractors giving time for free, has given it a make-over.
Logan added: "It was the last remaining independent shop in Mull. We
were worried that it was going to become a jumper shop or something
selling plastic gifts from Hong Kong."
Yesterday, spared that fate, the shop saw butcher Tony Weatherhill
frantically slicing popeseye steaks in the minutes running up to the
opening. "I came here for the relaxing way of life," he said, prompting
an ironic laugh from an equally harassed assistant behind him.
Weatherhill left his job at Safeway and moved from Shropshire with
his wife and two daughters after seeing the job advertised.
"It's a big move, a new challenge and it's different because it's
linked with sustainable development. To me personally, it offers a new
way of life."
His first customer yesterday was the doctor's wife. Buying three
sirloin steaks and a pound of tomato sausages, she declared herself
impressed with the shiny new premises.
The Scottish Executive provided £58,000 over three years to
employ two marketing and sales staff at the abattoir, a sum matched by
the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, which helps communities find local
solutions to problems.
The Lottery's Scottish Land Fund supplied 75 per cent of the
£50,000 needed to buy the shop. 75 per cent of the remainder was
supplied by the Highland and Islands Community Land Unit, and
£4,000 was raised from community donations, mainly from
Argyll and Islands Enterprise provided guidance and made further
finance available, while the Charities Aid Foundation supplied a
low-interest loan of £30,000 to help pay salaries. In addition,
the Crofter's Commission community development scheme gave incentive
money worth £7,000 to the abattoir. Argyll and Bute Council funded
the shop's business plan and feasibility study.
James Hilder, the trust's development secretary, said: "This is the
biggest project we've taken on. It's a win-win situation. The
environment wins if we can maintain the cattle on the hill. We create a
sustainable local business and local jobs.
"The farmers get a better price and can sell direct to the customer.
And the customers win because they get good food that comes straight
from the field to the table."
Logan added: "Every other island in the Hebrides is jealous that we
have our own abattoir and they are watching the scheme keenly."
And, so saying, she returned to help make more burgers.