Over 1,000 bottles of essential hand sanitiser have now been delivered across the islands of Lewis and Harris by Tarbert-based Essence of Harris, after the company re-purposed its entire operation to provide emergency supplies to island people.

Business-owner Jamie McGowan put on his thinking cap as soon as the crisis began and saw an urgent need that could be met locally – the need for hand sanitiser to protect front-line workers from the spread of infection.

The company immediately switched equipment, staff and some existing supplies to manufacture alcohol-based gel and rub, both designed to clean hands quickly for busy workers who still need to be in contact with others.

Jamie collaborated with Simon Erlanger at the Isle of Harris Distillery to use their alcohol. He also had support from Graphite Signs, who printed the labels, additional glycerine supplied by Stag Bakeries and extra bottles from the Hebridean Soap Company.

The recipe was one recommended by the World Health Organisation and the result, Spirit of the Hebrides hand sanitiser, was coming off the production line within a week.

It’s been described as ‘truly an island project’ and is already in use by organisations from Western Isles Police and island care homes to the families of vulnerable people living at home.

Jamie said: “In the first week we distributed over 1,000 bottles, including to police, fire crews, coastguards, the hospital and to Post Offices. Some organisations have also had 5 litre, 10 litre and 12.5 litre top-up cannisters delivered and we are hoping to operate a weekly refill service in Stornoway for all the major organisations.

“On Friday and Saturday (27 and 28 March) we individually delivered bottles to more than 100 elderly and vulnerable people throughout the island, and we hope to continue providing that service.

“As we’re prioritising our front-line services and essential workers, we are giving out the sanitiser for free – a gesture we hope can improve the safety and well-being of our wonderful key workers throughout the Hebrides.

“This is not a project for financial gain. It’s something we want to do for the Highlands and Islands, which have supported us with our business for so long. It is so important that we look out for each other and support one another through what can seem like very uncertain times.”

Simon Erlanger, managing director of Isle of Harris Distillers Ltd, said: “The Harris Distillery team is very pleased to support this important local initiative which requires high-strength alcohol as a key ingredient.

“It is vital we all keep working together to protect our community at this critical time, and we hope this donation of our spirit will play a small part in keeping our key workers and wider family safe while we face the challenges which lie ahead.”

The initiative has been warmly welcomed by the general public as a whole, and by na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus Brendan MacNeil, who said: “Both companies are to be commended for this further example of the community working together to enable
everyone to follow the guidelines about hand washing and social distancing. This hand gel will be available to public facing workers whether in shops, care settings or other places where it is needed.”

You can contact Essence of Harris at info@essenceofharris or 01859 502768.