By Rachel Mackenzie, Highlands and Islands Enterprise area manager in the Outer Hebrides

News that BiFab was awarded a new contract to produce 150 monopiles for the Moray East Offshore Windfarm development has been welcomed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The announcement by Canadian company DF Barnes, the new owners of BiFab, confirms commitment in their efforts to bring work back to Arnish and has already created new jobs for 60 people and is set to create more. 

DF Barnes has considerable experience in manufacturing, machining and fabrication of complex offshore structures and systems across the world. The yard is in an excellent position to deliver part of this major contract and positions itself as a key player in the offshore wind supply chain.

Over the years, we have provided significant investment of more than £23m in the Arnish Business Park, part of which is the BiFab yard since we began leasing it from the Stornoway Trust in 2002. Our investment ensures the latest upgrades are suitable for the growing marine renewables sector. The world-class facility has excellent infrastructure and equipment and matches a superb natural location for renewables manufacturing. 

As the regional development agency, part of our role is to support the industry in its diversification into renewables and decommissioning and we have invested in the port at Arnish to make sure it is best placed to meet the future needs of industry and attract large-scale contracts. Arnish Business Park is a valuable asset to the region and is very well placed to accommodate further major contracts. The high-quality skills among the local workforce on the Isle of Lewis is also critical to the company’s long-term success.

Arnish Business Park will be boosted further when new jobs are created at Hebridean Seaweed which has invested in a new factory to help grow the business. The expansion is set to double the number of employees to 26. The company has experienced increasing demand from around the world for its seaweed products for various uses including animal feed supplement and soil enhancement. We were delighted to support the company towards its goal of creating the most modern seaweed factory in the world as part of its £7m expansion project.

Other investment in the thriving life sciences sector in the Isle of Lewis include chemicals giant BASF which has demonstrated its commitment by creating an impressive new warehouse. BASF Pharma (Callanish) has already achieved a great deal on Lewis by developing a highly successful scientific business providing well paid employment for around 80 people and trading internationally from an island location. We have supported the company’s growth over several years and are pleased to see it expanding its operations from the Breasclete location and contributing to the island’s economy and local communities. 

We recently awarded funding support to another project on the west side of Lewis. Urras Choimhearsnachd Bhràgair is Arnoil received £100,000 towards the regeneration of the old Bragar School which it plans to transform into a new vibrant community hub known as the Grinneabhat Centre, offering more social and learning opportunities for residents in the surrounding villages as well as visitors. It’s good news for the area that new jobs will be created at the Centre and the project will build on work to promote and celebrate the community’s rich Gaelic cultural heritage and provide an added attraction for the growing number of passing visitors. We were delighted that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar was successful in attracting regeneration grant funding from the Scottish Government for the Grinneabhat Centre.

Two other former primary schools in Lewis have been supported towards the creation of heritage hubs with renovation work currently taking place at Comunn Eachraidh Nis (Ness Historical Society) and at the Kinloch Historical Society in Lochs. The museum in Ness is being extended to include a new exhibition space to showcase more of the collection which has been donated by the community over 40 years. The ground floor is being transformed to incorporate a conference and events room for genealogy tourist groups. The new centre in Lochs will support the community’s aspirations by creating museum storage and dedicated space to display the society’s permanent collection. 

These are all fantastic examples of projects which benefit local communities, attract more visitors and create jobs. They emphasise our unique integrated approach to business and community development which helps to transform the islands’ economy. The Outer Hebrides have pioneered community-led development and established a reputation at the forefront of a strong social enterprise sector. 

Community ownership of land and assets helps to improve the resilience of some of our most fragile areas and it continues to grow with eleven community owned estates located in the Outer Hebrides. HIE is currently funding local development officer posts in North Uist, Carloway, Calanish, Uig, and Harris  to help drive forward community growth plans.