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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 land."

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 in.

"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 farmers.

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.

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