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The Urachadh Uibhist board of directors have pledged to work with local community groups or businesses to ensure North Uist soft play has a sustainable future.

The board spoke out last night following the backlash that greeted its decision last week to put the Claddach Kirkibost Centre’s soft play equipment up for sale.

Commenting that they are conscious of the lack of facilities for 0-5-year-olds in North Uist, the centre’s board of directors took the step of issuing a statement discussing the background of their decision.

“While there was a great deal of excitement around the opening of the soft play facilities at its launch, the momentum sadly was not maintained,” explained Urachadh Uibhist. 

“While U-U did host some wonderful soft play parties and lots of fun sessions, at its peak in 2019, that year’s income from soft play averaged under £60 a week, offset by running costs.”

However, after 15 months of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, strict indoor safety restrictions on numbers and new cleaning guidelines made it “impossible” to return to pre-COVID operational levels.

“It was only with the support of £ 4,738 of Recovery Funding that the soft play could be opened - in the event, its total income for 2021-22  was only £800, under £16 a week,” Urachadh Uibhist continued.

“An additional burden of the pandemic had seen staff on furlough, some of whom sought work elsewhere. Another aspect of challenging the hours of use of the soft play was the extension of funded hours at our nursery Saoghal Beag to 30 hours per week for all 3-5 yr olds.”

When the nursery relocated in 2016 to the newly-opened Sgoil Uibhist a Tuath, Urachadh Uibhist lost a substantial revenue stream. This shortfall was met by offering rooms previously utilised by the nursery to existing small and start-up businesses. Room rental has proven successful, but it is currently the sole means of income generation for the Claddach Kirkibost Centre.

“Urachadh Uibhist no longer have a team of employed support staff. We are currently managing with exceptional goodwill and generosity from volunteers to support the work of the board. U-U is not in a position to offer any soft play going forward,” said Urachadh Uibhist.  

“We recognise that this is a resource which should be used and welcome discussions with interested constituted groups, charities or local businesses who feel they have the capacity to continue to offer soft play within our community.”

After narrowly averting closure last November, Urachadh Uibhist warned that without room rental income, the Claddach Kirkibost Centre would be in “very real danger” of closing its doors permanently.

A Change.org petition opposing the sale of the centre’s soft play equipment has now received 216 signatures, exceeding the original target of 200.