Highlands & Islands

Funds raised to open pool in Lewis on Sabbath

Woman swimming Image copyright Thinkstock

A council is being asked to open a leisure centre on the Hebridean island of Lewis on Sundays.

The leisure centres on Lewis and Harris have been traditionally closed on Sundays in observation of the Sabbath.

Islands local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, decided in October against a year-long trial of Sunday opening for cost and "operational reasons".

A crowdfunding campaign, backed by the National Secular Society, has now secured £11,400 to fund a trial.

The comhairle said it had taken a "democratic decision" not to open on Sundays and its councillors were best placed to decide on local demand for a service.

It said the National Secular Society (NSS) was incorrect in its assumption that the sports centre was not open on a Sunday for Sabbatarian reasons.

Leisure centres in other parts of the Western Isles run by the comhairle, including on Benbecula, are open on Sundays.

Lewis-based campaign group Families into Sports for Health (FiSH), backed by the NSS, ran the online fundraising drive.

Pauline Matterson, of the campaign group, said: "FiSH has worked respectfully within the council's processes and procedures for the last decade in raising the issue of Sunday opening.

"While FiSH is a health-focused, community organisation, the Western Isles has a history of Sabbath observance, and some councillors have stated that the issue of Sunday opening is one with religious connotations.

"Prior to the introduction of the Equality Act in 2010, the local council stated religion as a reason for the absence of Sunday operations. Recently, it has stated the reason for not opening is financial.

"FiSH is pleased to help the council overcome their stated financial shortfall."

Sunday ferry

Ms Matterson added that campaigners hoped the comhairle would now run the trial on Lewis.

Alistair McBay, the National Secular Society's spokesman for Scotland, said: "As secularists, we have no objection to Sabbatarians staying indoors on Sunday and observing the Sabbath according to their custom, but they need to understand that not all islanders share their religious beliefs.

"The local council now has no option but to open the leisure facility for the trial year."

However, the council said: "The Comhairle considered this matter in October of this year and agreed not to proceed with a trial Sunday opening.

"This is a democratic decision by the local authority based on an objective assessment of the likely costs and the employment and operational issues involved - not just purely financial issues.

"It is a local matter which should be determined locally by elected councillors who are best placed to assess the issues and the local demand for a service.

"It should be noted that the Lewis Sports Centre already has generous opening hours - amongst the longest in the north of Scotland."

The Sabbath has traditionally been observed on the isles of Lewis and Harris.

In 2010, there was strong opposition to the start of a Sunday ferry service between Stornoway on Lewis and Ullapool on the west Highland coast.

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