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Urrachadh Uibhist has announced it is winding up Claddach Kirkibost Centre’s soft play and selling off the equipment.

There is to be an open viewing day on Saturday, April 20. It is hoped that the equipment will be sold off to individuals, community halls, or businesses.  

The announcement has been greeted with dismay by parents of young children, who complain that the soft play facility is one of the few venues for younger children in North Uist.

It is understood that there have been long-running challenges in operating the soft play facility at the centre. These were exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdown and the staffing resources required to operate the facility efficiently. Last November, the Claddach Kirkibost Centre narrowly avoided closure.

However, the plans to abandon the soft play have sparked a change.org petition, which attracted 135 signatures in hours.

The petition, launched by Yvonne Irving, points out that the centre’s soft play is more than a playground; it’s a vital community asset for parents and carers and a safe haven for children to learn, grow, and interact with their peers.

The petition page states: “For many young families in Uist, the loss of this facility has been devastating. We must ensure adequate facilities as we strive to encourage and retain young families on our beautiful island. The soft play at Claddach Kirkibost was one such facility that played an integral role in achieving this goal.”

The petition cites a University of Cambridge study which found that community resources are crucial for early childhood development. The research found that community resources provide opportunities for children to develop social skills and cognitive abilities while fostering a sense of belonging within the community.

“By closing down the soft play at Claddach Kirkibost, we risk depriving our children of these essential developmental experiences. We also risk weakening the bonds within our community as fewer opportunities exist for parents and carers to connect,” the petition concludes.

“We urge the committee at Claddach Kirkibost  to reconsider their decision about closing down this valuable asset and selling on the equipment.”

The community-run centre was formerly a school built in 1885. However, it closed in 1975 due to its dwindling school roll, which reached a maximum of 75 pupils in 1890.

The remaining pupils were transferred to Carinish and Bayhead.

The former school had a short-lived period as an educational resource centre before falling into disuse.

A community trust, Ùrachadh Uibhist, was formed by five local women to create local employment and encourage sustainable development in the community. 

Its development followed that of Còthrom in South Uist, which had been formed not long before and was developing its own community project. 

The original renovation project was completed in June 2000, followed by a major extension in 2007. Until the opening of Sgoil Uibhist a Tuath in 2017, Saoghal Beag Nursery was based in the Claddach Kirkibost Centre but this was relocated to run the pre-school within Sgoil Uibhist a Tuath. At the time the £9m school opened there were 30 children in the Nursery classes.