Claddach Kirkibost Café

Part of the community-led Claddach Kirkibost Centre on the west coast of North Uist, the café offers high quality food and service all year round, together with stunning views and friendly staff. The café is unique in North Uist as a meet-up place for a snack, a meal or just a cup of tea.

Four older women sitting around café table, laughing

Background

Claddach Kirkibost Centre is run by a charitable trust Ùrachadh Uibhist (Uist Renewal). The trust was started in 1995 by five local women to create and sustain employment and training opportunities in the area.

After some years of fundraising, the Claddach Kirkibost Centre was opened as a social enterprise in the old school building in June 2000. As well as a café, the centre houses a food production business (the Hebridean Kitchen), a small gift shop, a nursery with after-school and holiday care, internet access and meeting facilities, as well as a programme of walks, talks and other learning events.

In 2002 the charity created a trading subsidiary for the café and food production.

Further funding in 2007 enabled the charity to extend and improve the café, kitchen and nursery and to develop the food production business.

Membership of the Ùrachadh Uibhist trust is open to anyone in North Uist for a small annual fee. It is run by a board of eight directors who are volunteers.

How it works

Between April and October the café is open from Monday to Saturday, with Sunday opening in July and August. From November to March the cafe is open from Wednesday to Saturday. It seats 25 people inside plus an outdoor terrace.

Customers are mainly locals in winter, and tourists in summer when it is very busy. The quietest times are January and February. There are an average of 700 customers per week in summer and 85 in winter months.

The café provides employment for local people – a food enterprise manager, two cooks, two waitresses, two assistants, one cleaner and up to five additional temporary staff in summer. Training opportunities are provided. All waiting staff speak Gaelic. The centre’s nursery also enables local parents to take on full-time employment.

The menu ranges from warming soups, sandwiches, hoagies, toasties and home baking through to more substantial three-course meals. In summer there is also a Sunday brunch menu. On the last Friday of the month, the café offers home-cooked curries to take away.

Most food is cooked from scratch and as much as possible is local to North Uist, the Hebrides or Scotland. Several local people grow vegetables and supply the kitchen on a paid or barter basis. Fairtrade coffee and tea is supplied by a specialist shop in Perth.

Pricing is a fine balance between making it affordable for locals, but knowing that tourists can pay a bit more, and trying to make a profit. Everything is under £10, with pricing based on the raw ingredients plus up to around 70%.

The café occasionally does outside catering for events, weddings and private parties.

Marketing so far has been small scale, with adverts in the local press and Visit Scotland publications and websites, the Hebridean magazine and by word of mouth.

Funding

The café business is self-funding and had a turnover of around £89,000 for 2013-14.

The whole Claddach Kirkibost Centre received start-up funding from the Big Lottery Fund (BIG), the local council and enterprise agency, the European Regional Development and Rural Challenge Funds, Lloyds TSB and Children in Need. In 2007 further capital funding was received from a wide variety of sources to extend the building and develop the food production business.

The centre receives revenue funding from the local council through a service level agreement to run the nursery with after-school and holiday care. In 2010-11 revenue funding was also received from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Lloyds TSB, Bòrd na Gàidhlig and HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise).

The building is owned by the council and is leased to the trust for a peppercorn rent of £1 a year.

Challenges

The café’s turnover increased dramatically between 2006 and 2010, reaching over £100,000. This was partly due to the café deciding to stay open in winter because of demand from local people, but mostly due to very high tourism figures.

An adverse effect of this is that the trading company became VAT registered and so pays a great deal more tax (around £12,00o in 2013), which has been hard to absorb through increased prices particularly given the economic downturn. Consequently, the café has had to reduce its opening hours in the winter to try to get the business back below the VAT threshold.

A challenge for the centre as a whole is the future opening of a new large primary school with nursery. This will mean the closure of the centre’s nursery. However, it hopes to take on the school-based nursery service, offering extended hours, under a third sector partnership agreement with the council. Other uses for the various spaces in the building will be sought.

Achievements

People enjoy the food, the atmosphere, the friendliness of staff, and appreciate the value for money – clearly evidenced by the café’s comment book! It received TripAdvisor Certificates of Excellence between 2012-2014.

Local people say that the café has become a focal point for the community and has made a big difference. North Uist, especially the west side, is lacking places to eat and meet people. It is a key part of making the Claddach Kirkibost Centre “somewhere to meet, eat, learn, and have your children catered for”.

The café uses local food, including seafood, and so supports local producers.

Quotes from customers

“The view, excellent service, relaxed atmosphere”

“Good food, hygiene, view, community feel”

“Portions not too big, good selection, friendly staff”

“Local, peaceful, beautiful. Excellent service and cleanliness, well priced, real flowers on the table.”

“The food, service, ambience and browsing local produce. The free tablet also delights!”

Published: February 9, 2015