Meg Rodger, Owner, Birlinn Yarn Company

A NEW art studio will open in the Outer Hebrides after Business Gateway support helped access £20,000 funding to go towards the construction of the workshop.

Meg Rodger, artist and owner of The Birlinn Yarn Company, approached Business Gateway in 2018 with plans to expand her business by offering a new studio space and wool workshop.

Following 1:1 support on her business plan and providing advice on premises, Business Gateway signposted Meg to the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Grants for Growth Scheme, which unlocked £20,000 of essential funding that enabled her to construct a new studio space.

Situated on Berneray in the Outer Hebrides, the business started as a passion project in Meg’s kitchen and sources wool from her ‘sea faring’ Hebriden sheep bred on the family croft as well as other local island wool producers.  Steeped in history, these ‘sea faring’ sheep originate from Scandinavia and were transported to the Hebrides in longboats by the Vikings in the mid-9th Century. Sustainably produced, the yarn gleans its aesthetic qualities from the stunning landscape with soft, muted colours that celebrate the special way of island life.

The studio, which was originally due to open to the public in July, has now been built and is currently being used as a dedicated creative space with an office and wool store. During lockdown, Birlinn Yarn experienced a significant 700% increase in international online sales compared to 2019 as her customers sought a mindful hobby to occupy their time, and the new studio space has enabled Meg to work efficiently to meet the demand.

The studio will open to the public in summer 2021, when Meg plans to employ a member of staff and open the gallery space to other local creatives to showcase their work.

Artist and business owner, Meg, said: “I’m so grateful for the support of Business Gateway as without the new studio space, I wouldn’t have been able to operate professionally during lockdown. It’s made a huge difference, allowing me to process orders effectively and provide an efficient service to my customers, a third of which are in the US.

“I strongly feel that in the Hebrides we have something very special to offer the world in terms of unique cultural, craft and art products that have provenance. We need to aim high in terms of quality and charge accordingly, and truly value what we have as it can’t be replicated elsewhere.

“I’m very conscious of the special environment in which we live and despite great plans, COVID-19 meant that we couldn’t open the studio this year, but it was the right thing to do to keep our Islanders safe. We’ll be ready to open the shop next spring where I hope to extend the space to other local craft makers and expand my team.”

Alastair MacLeod, adviser, Business Gateway, said: “It has been fantastic to work alongside Meg to grow her business and open the new gallery on Berneray.

“We were able to provide a variety advice and introduce Meg to our wider support network, helping her secure vital funding which enabled her to grow her business and open a venue that complements the visitor experience here in the Outer Hebrides.

“Armed with a new creative space, we look forward to continue working with Meg to engage new customers and raise awareness of both the creative gallery space and the beautiful artwork stocked inside.”