Change is the only constant in life, and 2020 has certainly proved that to be true. Here in Harris, sensing the steady ebb and flow of time’s tides, and the regular rhythms of the seasons, is second nature, but the coronavirus crisis shifted our sands a little more than usual.
We started the year with big plans, looking forward to meeting tens of thousands of new friends as they joined us here at the distillery in Tarbert to share our spirit and story in person. But, in March, like so many other businesses, we took the tough decision to close.
It was important for us to protect our staff but also our community, and for the last four months the distillery fire, once so warm and welcoming, has remained unlit as our doors stayed shut to the public.
Our team was scattered to their home villages across the island and beyond, as working from home began in earnest. The recent arrival of high-speed broadband in Harris proved to be a huge blessing as the world of Zoom calls and virtual meetings became the norm.
Our distillers continued to work safely behind the scenes however, and were soon turning their hands to a new trade, collaborating to create hand-sanitiser from their high-strength alcoholic spirit to donate and distribute to local emergency services and healthcare workers.
We also began to donate 10% of the sales of our special I Love Harris Gin bottles to NHS Charities Together, raising over £3000 for this collection of 250 charitable organisations supporting the National Health Service in its time of need.
While we couldn’t remain social here at the distillery, we redoubled our efforts to keep people connected to our island online, sharing a series of mindful moments through our Harris Pause short films shot in peaceful places, far from city lockdown life.
And, to keep spirits high, our staff worked together to combine their favourite Hebridean ceilidh tunes and ‘released’ a series of online albums for customers to stream at home through the Spotify music platform.
There were live walks around the Scalpay coastline, music from the croft of musician Colin Macleod shared on Instagram, and guided tastings from our brand ambassadors Calum and Iona broadcast on Facebook.
And, all the while our Isle of Harris Gin flowed, with thousands of bottles being sent across the globe to help ease the stress and strain of this strange new world we all suddenly found ourselves living in.
Every order kept our enterprise alive and helped us protect vital jobs here in Harris, allowing us to emerge from this strange time with an undaunted sense of place and purpose.
Change is happening again, cautious and measured, as we begin to look to the future and understand what this new reality might bring. We have been working hard to adapt to fresh challenges and we remain confident and resilient in the face of so much uncertainty.
Next week, we take our first steps as Shona, Sandy and Alex return to the distillery to unlock the doors and allow people back inside some 140 days on. The Shop shelves will be lined with beautiful bottles and a warm welcome awaits once more.
Things will be different, there are rules in place to keep us all safe, from face-coverings to hand-sanitising stations, clear screens, and guidance to help keep your distance. We’re also, sadly, unable to offer tours or open the Canteen at this time.
But, it’s progress, and we’re sure the news will be welcomed by the many travellers who have already made the journey to our shores this summer or are making plans to be here very soon.
The new uptick of unusual cars and lumbering campervans are as much a reminder of an island summer as the skinny, freshly shorn sheep now grumpily giving up their right of way on our once quiet single-track roads.
The machair blooms, wildlife fills mountain, moor, and sky, and the peats are dried and ready to gather. Life goes on here in the Outer Hebrides, one way or another.
Our big plans remain in place and we’ll be sharing more new things and good things with you over the coming months. We’ll be staying social, even while social-distancing, so let’s, as always, stay connected as we go forward together.
THE ISLE OF HARRIS DISTILLERY SHOP REOPENS IN TARBERT
WEDNESDAY 5TH AUGUST 2020 (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)
MONDAY - FRIDAYS 10AM - 4PM
SATURDAYS - 10AM - 12.30PM
CANTEEN AND TOURS REMAIN CLOSED