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A bagpipe chanter reed-maker has set up shop in North Shawbost after winning support from Business Gateway.

James Duncan Mackenzie makes each reed by hand using Arundo donax cane grown in plantations in northern Spain to create vibrant and stable reeds with a refined tone.

James, a successful competitive piper and professional musician who has toured internationally with the critically acclaimed folk band, Breabach, had gradually built up a collection of reed-making tools and equipment after relocating back to his native Isle of Lewis from Glasgow in 2020.

During the pandemic lockdown, he began making his own reeds and soon realised there was a gap in the market for top-of-the-range bagpipe reeds made in the Hebrides.

Having identified an established consumer base of pipers and instructors on the island, across the UK and worldwide, James approached Business Gateway for advice on developing his idea into an operational business.

He now counts a fan base of prominent pipers from around the globe after switching to Hebridean Reeds, with repeat business from across Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Germany.

His reeds have also graced the stage at some of the biggest venues in Scotland, including the OVO Hydro in Glasgow and across the city during Celtic Connections 2023.

Through Business Gateway’s start-up services, James accessed one-to-one support from a dedicated business adviser and advice on developing a robust business plan.

James also benefited from grant funding through the Comhairle’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Grant Scheme (CERGS) and the Outer Hebrides Young Enterprise Support Scheme, which is fully funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and delivered by Business Gateway. This funding was essential to help James purchase additional equipment and convert his workshop space.

Said James: “Business Gateway has been a fantastic support in the run-up to launching my business. The funding and advice have been a crucial part of getting Hebridean Reeds to the place it is currently, and after only three months of trading, I am looking forward to what the future has in store for my business.”

Fiona Chisholm, Business Gateway adviser, added: “Hebridean Reeds fill a real gap in the market, and it’s been fantastic to watch the business grow since launching. We were able to support James through a range of our start-up business services, which have helped him get his feet off the ground.”

You can hear James in action with a Hebridean reed in this video.

Image credit: Murdo Macleod