“The crowds, the fact that the street becomes your horizon, the constant sound…” listening to Scotland Outdoors as I navigate the Soval Bends on my drive to Tarbert as a new member of the Full Circle Arts Worker team, these words of naturalist writer Steven Rutt (The Seafarers) catch my attention.
Rutt describes, in negative terms, his everyday experiences in London; to me, having moved to Stornoway in October with my husband Peter, I am reminded of the life I have left behind in York.
Not that life in York was unbearable by any means! I relished the cosmopolitan crowds of a thriving university city and, living as we did under the shadow of York Minster, the architectural magnificence of my horizon, though street-bound, was awesome. Among the constant sounds were the piercing calls of the family of peregrine falcons nesting in the cathedral tower, and when the chimes of Great St Peter took their rest every evening, having rung every quarter from 8am to 8pm, I missed them.
What strikes me is the contrast between here and there: on Eilean Siar there are no crowds but the heather on the hills and the wildlife along the way, the boundless sea, has become my horizon and at times there is no sound at all.
A musician by profession, I was drawn to An Lanntair’s Full Circle programme as a natural continuation of the work I had been doing in York, where I established a Community Interest Company, Music at Heart, teaching families with children from birth. Through shared music making, I encouraged positive nurture and mutual collaboration as a means of realising children’s potential, supporting parents, strengthening relationships and building a sense of belonging. Whilst what I do here hasn’t changed, the setting couldn’t be more different.
In York I was home-based with a dedicated studio, all resources ranged neatly to hand. I lived the same routine daily, welcoming to my classes a steady succession of around 100 young families across my threshold on a weekly basis.
Without deliberate effort, it was possible for me not to step outside my front door from dawn ‘til dusk, and not to relish a single breath of fresh air. The weather impacted little beyond the varying nature and number of coats and shoes that adorned my entrance hall through the changing seasons. In my An Lanntair job, rather than staying in and families coming to me, I go out to them. I pack the tools of my trade in a stack of Really Useful Boxes, get in my car and create pop-up ‘studios’ in community venues across the island, from Tarbert to Ness. I dance in and out of the weather as it ebbs and flows all day long.
On hearing of my move to Stornoway, one of my friends exclaimed: “How liberating!” Her response could not have been more apposite. My nomadic working week has undoubtedly liberated me from the confines of a home studio and broadened my horizons physically, but more than that I sense a disentangling of the mind and a releasing of the spirit – as though I am plugging back into the world.
This has much to do with the change of environment; I am not the first to experience the therapeutic effects of immersion in such beautiful surroundings and I certainly won’t be the last. What has made the most impact, however, is the beauty I encounter in the hearts of the people here.
This is a place where people make other people, rather than other things, their priority. As individuals we all need to believe we matter to someone, but that belief begins to die when we start to feel we are being taken for granted and we are much the poorer for it. Here, perhaps because so many aspects of island life are unpredictable, I notice people don’t take anything or anybody for granted. Simple acts of kindness and words of appreciation are the hallmarks of each moment shared, and as my neighbour recently said: “You’re never a stranger for long here!” Very quickly, I have indeed been made to feel truly fàilte.
I have already received so much from this island community; living on Lewis has already changed me for the better. As the weeks turn to months and the months to years, I hope I can give back as much in return.