Isle of Lewis to get Sunday cinema for first time

An Lanntair Arts Centre in Stornoway. Picture: John Maher
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Islanders in the Outer Hebrides could be able to watch movies on the big screen on the Sabbath for the first time ever under new proposals unveiled this week.

An Lanntair, an arts centre and hub for the creative industries in Stornoway, Lewis, has laid out plans to open its cinema and art gallery on Sundays during the winter months.

Lewis and Harris are some of the last places in Scotland where the tradition of giving Sundays over to rest and religious observance has remained a strong part of life up until the modern day.

The situation has been changing slowly over the years, but many public facilities are still shut down on Sundays and certain activities are frowned upon.

Elly Fletcher, An Lanntair chief executive, said organisers had decided to investigate the option for seven-day opening as a result of feedback from locals and visitors who used the charity-run centre.

“During this consultation some support was shown by those consulted for access to the arts centre on Sundays,” she said.

“It was for this reason that we took the decision to consult further with our members and our staff this month about what they would like to see happen this winter, asking specifically if they would like to see a trial of Sunday opening this winter. Our board will be considering all the feedback from this and making a decision about any next steps as soon as they can.”

James Maciver, minister of Stornoway Free Church, says he has “no objection to cinemas per se or to family entertainment, providing these are wholesome”.

But he expressed concern over the proposed opening hours, which he warns could clash with church services.

He added: “The increasing secularisation of the Lord’s Day is a concern, as this leads to the displacement of a spiritual and moral foundation to life which is traditionally presented in the Christian gospel. The sanctity of the Lord’s Day is a crucial element in this.

“As a church we do not seek to impose life choices on anyone but we do aim to present a positive emphasis on what we believe is beneficial to individual, family and community life.”

Critics of religion have welcomed the art centre’s plans.

Alistair McBay, vice-president of the National Secular Society, said: “The proposal to open the arts centre on Sunday afternoons is an excellent idea and long overdue.

“The Sabbatarian community that wants to stay indoors and read bibles can do so. They are not obliged to avail themselves of the facility. However, those other communities who don’t share their religious views should not have them imposed by default.”

Changes in recent years have seen people permitted to hang out washing and take part in some social activities.

However, there has been an ongoing dispute with the local council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, over its refusal to open the public swimming pool in Stornoway on Sundays.

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