Two workers at Scotland’s only commercial sheepskin tannery are being given the opportunity to go on a specially designed college course to learn more about the ancient art of tanning.
Development manager Jessica Hartwell and trainee tanner Peter Winterburn from SkyeSkyns are set to embark next month on a week’s study at the British School of Leather Technology which is part of the University of Northampton.
Their attendance on the course has been made possible thanks to assistance from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), in support of the company’s plans for continuing growth and development.
Funding was granted for an expansion of the tannery last year and additional grant aid will be forthcoming for a new information technology system in order to modernise stock control.
HIE area manager for Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross, Robert Muir, said: “We are delighted to be able to continue to support SkyeSkyns. The company are not only providing much needed employment in a remote area, but are also keeping alive one of the oldest crafts known to man.”
He added: “In general, the UK sheepskin sector has a skills shortage in that there are only ten remaining tanners with many of them in their mid-sixties. We’re pleased to have a hand in redressing that.”
SkyeSkyns, which celebrates its quarter century this year, is located on the Waternish Peninsula in the Isle-of-Skye. The company was started by Clive and Lydia Hartwell who continue to run it along with their daughter, Jessica.
Clive is also a founder member of Visit Waternish. He said: “We see ourselves as an integral part of Visit Waternish, our group of local businesses that are so much stronger sine working together. We understand that we must have confidence in ourselves as a strong alliance to provide a future for the next generation within a mutually supportive community proud of its culture and traditions.”
A hugely popular, four-star visitor attraction, SkyeSkyns is open all year round. Visitors can browse round the showroom and workshop where guides explain the tanning process which uses traditional techniques such as hand fleshing to make the leather exceptionally smooth.
The company celebrated its 25th anniversary this year by extending their working areas and showroom. Constituency MP Charles Kennedy performed the opening ceremony on 22nd September.
Mr Hartwell said that trainee tanner Peter Winterburn, a former Royal Marine, had been taken on as a result of the expansion. The SkyeSkyns work force now numbers 13 full and part-time workers.
He said: “We’re now aiming to get Peter and Jessica qualified and are sending the two of them off on the 1st of December to undertake a tailor-made course at the leather technology school.
“SkyeSkyns has had a long contact with the school. They helped us set up 25 years ago and know our business well. They will adapt the course to take into account our own process and will also give the theoretical background to what we do.
“Jessica and Peter will learn a lot of leather technology theory and also about the chemistry behind the tanning process. That knowledge will reinforce the on-the-job training that they are already receiving.”