Scottish island community resists 50-mile round trip for groceries - and buys up village store

An island community has resisted the prospect of a 50-mile round trip to buy their groceries – by buying up their village store.

The shop at Carbost, in Minginish, Skye, was at risk of closing for good after the previous owner struggled to find a buyer so she could retire.

Now it has been bought up by the surrounding community, with the shop now employing four local people and upping its stock to include plenty of cheese, fresh meat and local gin.

Strength of feeling about the possible loss of the store motivated residents – facing long drives amid high fuel prices and the inevitable winter weather – to take matters into their own hands and secure the future of the business.

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David Smith, a volunteer director at Carbost Community Shop Company, said: “If the shop had gone, it would have had a real impact on those living in Minginish. If you lived at Fiskavaig, which is around five miles from Carbost, you would have been looking at a 50-mile round trip to Portree and even further to Broadford. If it had closed down, it would have been very difficult.

"There was so much interest in the shop staying open. It’s a focal point for the community, it’s not just about shopping.”

The community shop paid £140,000 for the premises, with money for the purchase secured from the Scottish Land Fund, which also covered some of the refurbishment and repair costs.

The new-look Carbost Community Shop. PIC: Contributed.

The building – an “old tin shack” – now has a distinctive new red iron roof, with toilets and heating now installed. Along with the four part-time staff, a handful of locals come in to help out and stack shelves, with work experience on offer to local teenagers.

Mr Smith said: "Our staff are well known in the community and trusted by everyone. They get a sense of what people need from the store.

“Before, the shop didn’t stock fresh meat, but now we get two deliveries a week from Lochalsh Butchers at Kyle and people can phone us up to put an order in. We have got more products from Skye on the shelf and a lot more different cheeses. There’s a new distillery in Broadford and we are stocking their gin.”

Inside the Carbost Community Shop, which now employs four part-time staff. PIC: Contributed.

Mr Smith said the shop was constantly reviewing prices and comparing them to the Co-op in Portree.

"Our main competition is people who work in Portree and who do their shopping there,” he said. “Another competitor is the Tesco deliveries to the island, but these slots are few and far between, and not everyone has the internet.

"It would be nice to be cheaper than the Co-op, but in the winter the shop trade does go down a little and we don’t take as much. We do need that benefit to keep us right.”

Mr Smith, who is a retired health leadership consultant, is one of three volunteer directors along with Cathy Simon, who has two young children and Janette Sutherland, who works full time. All give up their spare time for free.

Carbost on the Isle of Skye, where the community has saved its shop from closure after buying it over themselves. PIC: PaulT/Creative Commons.

Linsay Chalmers, development manager at Community Land Scotland, said the shop at Carbost was one of a number of projects on Skye that had allowed people to “reinvigorate their areas and improve the prospects of generations”.

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