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Collection GD6 - Western Isles Community Education Project (Bernard Van Leer Foundation)

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GB3002 GD6


Western Isles Community Education Project (Bernard Van Leer Foundation)


  • 1980-1997 (Creation)

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133 items

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Name of creator

Western Isles Community Education Project (Bernard Van Leer Foundation) (1980-1997)

Administrative history

Following local government reorganization in 1975, Comhairle nan Eilean employed Dr Finlay Macleod as its Primary Advisor. Shortly afterwards, John Murray, who had been Editor with the Gaelic Books Council, was appointed director of the Bilingual Education Project that was concerned with creating bilingual primary schools across the Western Isles.

Funding was sought for a Community Education Project from the Bernard van Leer Foundation. Bernard van Leer (1883-1958) was a Dutch industrialist and philanthropist who had made his fortune in a packaging company. He set up a Foundation in 1949 with broad humanitarian goals. From 1964, the Foundation focused on young children, primary education and youth, and since 1980 has concentrated exclusively on disadvantaged young children.

The Foundation funded five projects in the United Kingdom, including three in Scotland. David MacKay was employed as leader and Annie Macdonald (later Macsween) was seconded from the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway as a field worker on the feasibility study which looked at the needs of communities throughout the Western Isles, and latterly piloting some of their findings in Ness, Lewis.

A further successful submission was made to Van Leer and Phase 1 of a three year project ran from 1977-1982 based upon the findings of the feasibility study. Projects were located in Ness, Harris and Iochdar in South Uist with Annie Macsween, Morag Macleod and Cailean Maclean as the respective fieldworkers.

Each left their own footprint in those communities with Annie helping to form Comunn Eachdraidh Nis, Morag leading on the Community Newspaper ‘De tha Dol?’ and Cailean helping to establish what was to become the Celtic Film Festival. The project was based on community regeneration and worked closely with other agencies such as the Highland & Islands Development Board who at that time were involved in the development of community co-operatives based on the model developed in Glencolmcille in Ireland. The fieldworkers were also involved in developing pre-school facilities in the three areas.

In 1983, Ian Minty joined as project director to undertake Phase 2 which was to lay its emphasis on early years development and working with parents. The shift in the Foundation’s mandate radically affected the project and the way it approached its tasks. Work was coordinated by Maribel Maclean in North Uist, Annie MacGillvary in Uist and Alice Reid in Lewis and Harris. Former Stornoway Gazette journalist Sheila Macleod was employed as project reporter, and Christina Morrison as project secretary.

Phase 2 had resulted in the linking of all the pre-school resources provided by the communities supported by the fieldworkers. In 1987, the Comhairle turned down the Foundation’s offer of continued financial support and the project continued separate from the Comhairle. What emerged was an informal parent and early childhood education network and the establishment of Guth nam Parant (Voice of the Parents). Guth nam Parant continued to receive funding until 1994. By this time, Government attitudes to pre-school education had developed with more serious attention at a local government level.

Over the span of the project, 52 pre-school groups were supported as community run associations whereas prior to the project’s inception the Comhairle only ran three nurseries. Parents were grateful for the support materials produced by the project. Around 24 individuals were employed through the Manpower Service Commission job creation scheme to contribute to the projects, including artists, writers and producers with their outputs being used by the pre-school groups but also making their way into schools. There were, in addition, many informal adult education programmes, focussed mainly on women’s health, education and family initiatives.

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Scope and content

Phase 2 papers 1983-1987; press cuttings c1980-1992; project reporter articles c1985-1986; project reports and education committee papers 1980-1997; education reports and committee papers 1986-1989; Weekly reports from Iain Minty, Sheila Macleod, Maribel Maclean, Mary Ann Mackay, Christina Morrison, Ian Maciver, Alice Read, Shona Fraser 1955-1987; Western Isles Community Education Project Evaluation report by D D Mackay 1982; Paipear Comhairleachaidh: Review of Education Provision in the Western Isles: Consultative Document 1987

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


Photographs are still to be deposited. Further material is held by the Education Department of the Comhairle.

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Arranged within series. Within series, records are arranged chronologically.

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Paper records, photographs

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