Elgol: Feeding the Community

Show notes (summary)

Food is every community’s most basic need and when your nearest supplies are around 15 miles ‘down a twisty single-track road,’ stocking up can be tricky at the best of times. Hermione Lamond, who helps run a village hall and its small shop on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, tells an inspiring story of how she’s kept the villagers of Elgol supplied throughout the pandemic, by switching to a whole new way of feeding the locals.

Transcript: Season 1 / Episode 5

Johnny Thomson 00:00
Hello and welcome to The Village Halls Podcast sponsored by Allied Westminster, the UK is largest specialist provider of village hall insurance and the home of VillageGuard. I’m Johnny Thomson and today I’m delighted to be joined by someone who lives in, well one of the most beautiful and spectacular parts of the world, Scotland. And more specifically, the Inner Hebrides. Hermione Lamond has been running a village hall on the Isle of Skye, which also has a small shop, for around 20 years. And one of the main things I want to discuss with her today is the way she’s been able to adapt to keep servicing and supply her local community in recent times with everything that’s been going on. Hi, Hermione, how are you today?

Hermione Lamond 00:42
I’m good. Thank you, Johnny. How are you?

Johnny Thomson 00:43
Yeah, I’m not too bad. Not too bad. Now before we get onto the hall, and the shop and the main story of how you’ve responded to the restrictions we’ve all been under, tell me a little bit about you and that beautiful part of the world that you’re from?

Hermione Lamond 00:57
I am a mother of four and a granny of four. My husband’s a fisherman and we live in what some people refer to as the back of beyond! But it is the centre of my universe. So yeah, I’ve been running the wee shop now for 20 years and just, it’s been really good fun and it’s been a really good thing to do while I’ve brought my children up as well.

Johnny Thomson 01:26
And I guess for anyone listening who is not entirely sure the geography here and I have to say, how dare you not, at this point. Basically, I think if you draw a line almost directly west from Aberdeen on the northeast of Scotland, which is where my dad was from by the way, and why I’m so biased.

Hermione Lamond 01:44

Johnny Thomson 01:45
Until you get to the west coast of Scotland. And then you hop onto a wee bonnie boat to Skye, or you can always use the bridge now of course.

Hermione Lamond 01:53
Yeah, you can use the bridge if you want!

Johnny Thomson 01:56
And the village on Skye is Elgol, yeah?

Hermione Lamond 02:01
It is. Yes.

Johnny Thomson 02:02
Yeah. And how many people live there?

Hermione Lamond 02:05
There’s about 120 of us spread over three villages. So we’re really spread out Yeah, it’s three really tiny villages.

Johnny Thomson 02:15
Yeah. And what’s what’s kind of the nearest slightly larger community to you then and what sort of services…

Hermione Lamond 02:22
Well where Elgol is, is 15 miles down a very twisty, singletrack road. So it’s quite, that makes it quite isolated. But our nearest kind of big town is a place called Broadford. And Broadford has a supermarket, a post office, it’s got a fantastic wee hospital. And just, we used to have banks and things in the days when villages had banks, but not anymore. There’s there’s cafes, restaurants, a couple of hotels, so you can survive without going past Broadford, but if you need anything bigger, you have to go further.

Johnny Thomson 02:59
And so you’re part of the team there that’s been running the hall for 20 years, which also features a shop. So pre pandemic, how did how did all that work Hermione and what kind of events and facilities were on offer? The hall was very busy It was built by the people available for… a need was identified for somewhere that was slightly bigger than the school, which is what they were using to have ceilidhs and PE classes and it was it was so well used. So there was nursery groups and the primary school used it. There’s keep-fit classes, there’s concerts, weddings, funerals, birthday parties, just every part of life would take part in there And the shop as well?

Hermione Lamond 03:44
And the wee shop, yes.

Johnny Thomson 03:46
Yeah. And then all I came to a halt of course last year.

Hermione Lamond 03:50
Yeah, didn’t it just!

Johnny Thomson 03:53
So I mean, what what did you do? You know, what was your kind of reaction at that point in time?

Hermione Lamond 04:00
Initially, we were just sort of coming out of our very quiet, slow winter, which is standard, and kind of mentally getting ready for the summer, getting everything organised and looking forward to a busy summer season. And obviously, nothing was gonna happen. And there was just a kind of, where do we go from here? You know, I’d been to trade shows and had a look at things and was was getting, yeah, I had invested time and money in being open and then obviously wasn’t going to be able to. So, I had a slight moment of panic and then identified something that we actually started running the business with 20 years ago, which was grocery boxes and I put a sort of message around the village saying would anybody be interested? And the response was extremely positive.

Johnny Thomson 04:48
Yeah. And then what’s the process of getting the food then to the local community? Talk me through that.

Hermione Lamond 04:55
That’s very straightforward. It comes via lorry for Inverness, and I meet the lottery early on a Friday morning in Broadford and they offload from their lorry into my van. And I drive it down to Elgol and offload it into the hall, because the shop for anyone who may have been in there will appreciate how small actually is. So, the hall committee have let me use the main hall every Friday as like a huge grocery shop. And we sort of distribute from there. People either collect or we deliver.

Johnny Thomson 05:29
Fantastic, and what kind of produce do you supply? What is it the locals like to receive from you?

Hermione Lamond 05:35
It’s all fresh fruit and vegetables and cheeses, and then the local butchers he’s involved. So anything you can think of a butcher would supply, the local fish van’s involved. He comes down every Friday, so people can have fresh, fresh meat, fresh fruit and veg. Sorted!

Johnny Thomson 05:54
So that really good healthy local produce, in essence, yeah?

Hermione Lamond 05:58
Yeah, as much as we can.

Johnny Thomson 06:00
Sounds good to me. And it sounds like it’ll come from a variety of sources?

Hermione Lamond 06:04
Yeah, I’ve got a lot of people on board. One of my main suppliers is a company called Williamson’s food service in Inverness, who I’ve used for years for the shop, because we would make soup and sandwiches and things. So they supplied me with everything for that. I got in touch with them with my initial idea of doing these grocery boxes. And they’ve been so helpful. So, so helpful to you know, you can phone them up and say, can I have six bananas in a box of bananas or 10 carrots or a 10 kilo bag of carrots and nothing is too much trouble for them. It’s just worked, I think because it’s so simple, it’s worked so well.

Johnny Thomson 06:44
Yeah. So I mean, how do you place your order? Is this like an online ordering system or over the phone?

Hermione Lamond 06:50
It’s very sociable! A lot of my customers phone me on a Wednesday, and they tell me exactly what they want. Some email, some use Facebook Messenger. So I spend Wednesday taking everybody’s orders. Put it all together and then phone my suppliers. There’s the bakery, Scotbake in Inverness and Williamsons and the butcher, phone them all up first thing Thursday morning, have a chat, put my orders in and that’s it.

Johnny Thomson 07:18
And then Friday is the day is that right?

Hermione Lamond 07:21
Friday is the big day.

Johnny Thomson 07:23
Yeah. That’s when everything goes a bit mad?

Hermione Lamond 07:25
Yeah. Yeah. But it’s really good. It’s a good mad.

Johnny Thomson 07:29
Yeah. And so everybody kind of comes for their slot and picks their picks their boxes up and are happy for the weekend because they’ve got their fresh food, fresh veg and so on.

Hermione Lamond 07:39
And those who don’t want to come in, they don’t need to come in. We know our customers well enough. Some, some are quite happy to come down to the… Elgol is very, very steep and the hall’s almost at the bottom of the village. So that’s why I refer to come down. They they’ll come down, pick their stuff up. There’s a few that aren’t able to, don’t want to, so we deliver at the end of the day. Whatever’s left, we’re just go and drop off on people’s doorsteps.

Johnny Thomson 08:07
I mean, so it’s yeah, it’s fascinating, because, I mean, I happen to know about this thing in high-end retail strategic-thinking, you know, and it’s called omnichannel.

Hermione Lamond 08:17

Johnny Thomson 08:18
Where there’s this idea that you service your customers through a mix of sort of online, offline processes and things like that and I mean, wow…

Hermione Lamond 08:25
Well, I’ve nailed that!

Johnny Thomson 08:26
Exactly. And when I listen to you and what you’re doing, you’re really, you’re at the front end of retail thinking here, basically. I mean, I’m fascinated to know what the locals think of this new way, this new way of supplying them?

Hermione Lamond 08:42
Well, I, I did honestly think that come July, August time, you know, when, when all our restrictions sort of lifted a bit last year, that things would tail off. And people would go back to their old ways and do what they were doing before, but it’s just continued. We’ve got a steady number of orders every single week, right the way through, and it’s just, it’s just so good to get the support from from our local community like that, to stand up and support their shop, in that sense has it’s just it’s overwhelming actually. It’s just been so good. And and in supporting me they’re also supporting the hall, because I have to pay rent to the hall. So the hall’s continued to have a bit of income. So it all goes round and round, it’s good.

Johnny Thomson 09:30
Yeah. And it flows further afield, doesn’t it? Because I guess it’s also helping those suppliers to you.

Hermione Lamond 09:36

Johnny Thomson 09:37
And wherever they are, they’re keeping going as well. So it’s it’s a win, win, win, isn’t it?

Hermione Lamond 09:41
Oh, it is. Yeah, it’s it’s just worked so well. And I know I’m not the only one who’s doing this. I think it’s, there’s lots of this going on across the country. And I think it’s, it’s gonna be a very positive thing for local shopping, but not I’m not talking about the big High Street thing that’s obviously in a major turmoil. But the local actually local produce and keeping your family’s fed? This is this is a good way to do it.

Johnny Thomson 10:07
Yeah, brilliant. What about tourism as well, because the region depends quite heavily on tourism doesn’t it? How’s that has been affected?

Hermione Lamond 10:15
Well, obviously, none until mid summer, last year, then it was very, very busy. Which was, which was nice, because people, obviously, we are so lucky here. Anybody who’s been to this part of the world will know, when I when I talk about space. We all have so much space. And I don’t just mean physically, you know, headspace, you can go out for a walk and it’s big, and it’s open. And it’s fantastic. But if you’d been stuck in a city, or in a flat with all your children for three months, the opportunity to come to a place like this, doesn’t matter if it’s this place or anywhere else, and just have a bit freedom. And, you know, to see people visibly relax and enjoy being here last summer. It was it was such a positive thing. It was lovely, actually.

Johnny Thomson 11:11
So there was almost like a change in attitude almost from the tourists. Yeah?

Hermione Lamond 11:15
I would say we saw a big change in attitude. And one way I can I can I feel like I’m qualified to say that is because I speak to tourists, visitors face to face on a daily basis. And last year, they had time to talk. And they weren’t trying to do a million things in two days. They were here for a week to 10 days and they were relaxing and they were enjoying being here, which was, which it was lovely to see people appreciate the place that you live in.

Johnny Thomson 11:46
And I’m assuming Elgol must have a Bonnie Prince Charlie connection or something somewhere as well?

Hermione Lamond 11:52
Have you been doing your history? Oh, yes. Yes. We have a cave and a connection.

Johnny Thomson 12:00
Yeah. Fantastic. So there’s somewhere, there’s somewhere where people can visit and get all of that?

Hermione Lamond 12:05
Oh, yes. Yes.

Johnny Thomson 12:05
When things open up.

Hermione Lamond 12:07
And one of the boat trips has great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather, took him in the boat. So there’s there’s a connection there as well. So it’s all quite good, fun.

Johnny Thomson 12:18
Perfect. Okay, so we’ve done our bit for the Scottish Tourist Board, which is brilliant. And, and so getting back to the hall and the shop. It sounds to me like when things go back to relative normality,you’re not going back to how things used to be. Is that right?

Hermione Lamond 12:35
No, we were actually talking about this last week with a couple of customers that I would like to keep my Fridays as appointment only. And, and have, because some people are quite nervous, understandably, about having thousands of strangers in your tiny little place. So I think it would be quite nice to maintain that just for a while. I’m not saying for the next 20 years. So we would open as normal and yeah, maybe just keep keep our Fridays for our local customers.

Johnny Thomson 13:08
And I guess it’s just a bit more convenient isn’t as well for for people to do their shopping in this way?

Hermione Lamond 13:14
Yeah. It seems to be. Yeah.

Johnny Thomson 13:16
And finally, what is it that you personally are looking forward to when it comes to restrictions being lifted?

Hermione Lamond 13:23
Oh, visiting my sisters. They’re, they’re not that far away, but they’re far enough that I can’t justify going to see them. So visiting family that that’s the big one for that. I think everybody

Johnny Thomson 13:35
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s the thing everybody’s been missing more than anything. So yeah, I’m with you on that, 100%.

Hermione Lamond 13:43
So I can’t wait for that one.

Johnny Thomson 13:45
Yeah, brilliant. Well, wonderful. Thank you. Thanks for telling us your story Hermione. I think, you know, there’s an important message in there and it’s just around simply finding a way to carry on, isn’t it?

Hermione Lamond 13:55
Yeah, yeah. As I say there was that initial, oh, my goodness, where are we going to go from here? And and then a very simple solution was staring me in the face. And off we went. And it’s just it’s been one of the best things ever.

Johnny Thomson 14:09
Yeah and I mean, there’s no more basic need than food as well, of course, and you’ve been able to keep on supply in the local community. And…

Hermione Lamond 14:16
We’ve lots of treats in there.

Johnny Thomson 14:18
Yeah, yeah. I was gonna say what could be more important and I hope there’s some good whiskey being added to a few of those boxes every now and then as well, too. Yeah?

Hermione Lamond 14:26
Yeah, definitely cake.

Johnny Thomson 14:28
Definitely cake. Yeah, we’re not. We’ll sidestep the whiskey. Yeah?

Hermione Lamond 14:33

Johnny Thomson 14:35
Well, thanks Hermione, and if you out there have a story to tell, you known wherever your village is located, please, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. But Hermione thanks again. I’ve really enjoyed our our conversation today.

Hermione Lamond 14:50
Thank you.

Johnny Thomson 14:52
And as always, many thanks to our headline sponsor and specialist insurance provider, Allied Westminster for making our podcast possible and whose services you can discover more about at villageguard.com. And also to online booking system provider Hallmaster, who also sponsor our podcast and can be found at hallmaster.co.uk. You’ve been listening to The Village Halls Podcast, a new and unique listening community for Britain’s village church and community halls, and anyone interested in the vital community services they provide? Yes, we’ll be back soon. So if you haven’t already, please visit thevillagehallspodcast.com to subscribe, sign up for updates, link through to social media and to find out more. Until the next time. Good bye for now.