Point and Sandwick Trust will be giving £5,000 a year for the next five years to Lewis and Harris Auction Mart in Steinish – a donation which should help the cash-strapped mart carry out much-needed repairs and help offset its costs of bringing in the professional buyers for the sales.

Point and Sandwick Trust representatives Donald John MacSween and Gordon Mackay joined Kenny Macleod and Donald MacBain for a photograph as the deal was announced.

PST board member Gordon Mackay was particularly pleased with the Point and Sandwick Trust sponsorship deal because he knows – being a crofter himself, as well as a local postie – how much the help is needed.

Gordon, who lives in Knock, said: “It’s so good that Point and Sandwick Trust are supporting this. It will help them get funding for other things and crofting needs this kind of support.”

An ‘amateur’ crofter, as he says himself, with 14 ewes to the ram, Gordon grew up in a crofting family but only became active himself five years ago. “I was an absentee crofter for 15 years and then all of a sudden I took an interest in it. It keeps the culture going and my kids are encouraged to get involved too.”

Lewis and Harris Auction Mart is a co-operative, owned by the crofters of Lewis and Harris and run by a management committee. It holds five sales in the year, between August and November, and has been operating as a co-operative since 2005, when the previous operation hit financial trouble. 

The building itself is owned by Long Island Rural Trust but is needing work due to its age. However, the mart committee could not contemplate doing any significant work until now as they did not have the money.

Donald MacBain, auction mart vice-chair and secretary, said the money from Point and Sandwick Trust would “make a huge difference, just to keep the business running” and would help keep the fabric of the building going, too.

He said the sponsorship “safeguards” their operation for the next five years and would also allow them to look at upgrading the penning area, to improve the presentation of the stock and potentially attract higher prices.

Point and Sandwick Trust general manager Donald John MacSween said support for crofting was of high importance to Point and Sandwick Trust. “It’s part of our community consultation that we did in 2009 and 2013, which came out strongly in support of crofting. 

“Crofting underpins everything that happens in the Western Isles and it’s very important to keep young people especially involved in crofting. This sponsorship is to help with the process.

Donald John added: “From the very beginning, Point and Sandwick Trust have had a very good relationship with all the crofters in the Point and Sandwick area and they were crucial to the success of our project.”

Donald MacBain said the Point crofters had also been “very supportive of the mart” and mart chair Kenny Macleod said the sponsorship was “very much appreciated” by all the directors at Lewis and Harris Auction Mart. “We’re very grateful to Point and Sandwick Trust. It’s of huge benefit to us, to receive this level of funding from the Point and Sandwick Trust.

“This kind of funding ensures that it’s easier for us to keep this facility going, year after year. It relieves the pressure. The building is now 21 years old.

Regarding crofting, there were “more and more challenges every year” – but said the mart had been lucky over the past few years due to the support it had received. 

“Support from the crofters of Lewis and Harris is good. They are very loyal to the facility and we’ve been seeing over the last few years that more and more people are using the facility.”

The sales at Lewis and Harris Auction Mart are run for them by Dingwall Mart, who return a percentage of the money made. However, the Lewis and Harris Auction Mart committee also pay part of the costs of bringing over the professional buyers from the mainland – and they have to travel by plane due to sales across the region being scheduled so closely together.

Kenny and Donald painted a mixed picture of crofting on Lewis and Harris. For while the number of sheep kept across the Highlands and Islands has dropped by about 50 per cent in the the last 20 years, Lewis and Harris Auction Mart’s share of the number of animals being sold has increased.

It has gone up from between 6,500 and 7,000 animals sold at the mart every year to between 9,000 and 10,000 now. Donald estimated the mart now handled about 70 per cent of the lambs and sheep sold, compared to a previous figure of about 50 per cent.

With these numbers, Kenny said: “You’ve got to be optimistic.”

He added: “We’re seeing a lot of the young people as well. When they start keeping sheep, when they sell for the first time… they’re selling through the local mart which is a good thing.”

Donald said the Point and Sandwick Trust sponsorship deal showed how modern crofting, by utilising some common grazings land for renewables development, was supporting traditional crofting with this reinvestment of profit.