Bressay’s fortunes are very much on the up with the transformation of the former primary school into a community hub and the Speldiburn Cafe, officially opened yesterday by MSP Tavish Scott.
The spacious school building, which once had 55 pupils, closed in 2014.
It now houses a good-as-new shop, a library, an art and craft studio, a recycling facility and rooms for workshops, classes and Bressay’s under-5s, as well as the all-important cafe.
The achievement is thanks to the determination of Bressay Development Ltd, whose members could not bear to see the place stand empty.
Mr Scott, once a pupil at the school, said it was “a really important day for the community”. It showed the resilience of the locals and marked the island “moving forward in a positive way”.
Losing the school had had a “major impact”, Mr Scott said, but the “wonderful effort” that had gone into the creation of the new resource had been a “fantastic achievement”.
The official opening is part of a three-day celebraton of what has been achieved since Bressay Development Ltd took over the lease from the council in November 2015. The cafe was open on a trial basis last summer and kept going two days a week in the winter.
Chairwoman Hazel Anderson said: “The hope was we would create something worthwhile for the community, and we’re quite satisfied we’ve reached a point where we can have a celebration.”
Since 2015 the achievements include recruitment of a development officer, creation of a community office and exhibition spaces, besides all the other facilities.
Mrs Anderson said they couldn’t do it without continuing volunteer support, and added that more volunteers were always needed.
Vice-chairwoman Robina Barton said: “When we lost the school it could potentially have been the end of the story. We managed to turn it into something useful for the community, it’s a nice social place and a focal point for the community.”
Ms Bartson said that the project would be working in partnership with the hall, the lighthouse and the newly reopened Maryfield House Hotel.
Development officer Sharon Anderson said: “When the school closed it was a big blow to the community. We wanted to see something happening to the building. It was a huge thing to take on.”
The cafe, housed in the former canteen, in particular had “gone really well”, Ms Anderson said, with soup, hot meals and snacks in the winter and quiches and soup in the summer. It had become a social place for locals and visitors as well as an eatery.
The good as new shop in the former music room, offering “everything you can imagine” from jewellery to furniture, opened in February. Ms Anderson said: “I never thought it would be so busy, it’s completely taken off.”
The profits would go into running costs for the building and night classes, she said.
Classes, workshops and taster sessions in subjects such as yoga, gardening and composting have taken place, and more are planned. Future plans could include furniture upcycling and IT, and Ms Anderson said: “We’re open to all suggestions.”
Additionally, funding is in place to purchase bikes to hire to tourists, which will be another positive development for the isle.