THE Western Isles has been awarded ‘World Craft City’ status, in what is a massive boost to the Harris Tweed industry in the Outer Hebrides.

The World Crafts Council Europe, which is staging its general assembly in Edinburgh, made the announcement yesterday.

Though obviously not a ‘city’, the Western Isles is famed for the production of Harris Tweed and it is that industry which has been recognised in the award.

The Western Isles becomes only the second region in Europe and the first in the UK to be given World Craft City status.

The first region in Europe to gain the award was Bornholm in Denmark. It is also an island community and is famed for its design of glass and other traditional products.

The award is particularly appropriate as the World Crafts Council Europe’s general assembly is meeting in Scotland for the first time in 15 years and has been honoured with a civic reception by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Frank Ross, and a Scottish Government reception in Edinburgh Castle last night.

Only 23 other regions and cities across the globe have been awarded Craft City status, with Thailand, Iran, India, Jordan and China featuring in the list of successful countries.

The Harris Tweed trademark ensures that any product carrying the familiar Orb sign is made from cloth woven by hand in the Western Isles with wool yarn from island sheep.

Lorna Macaulay, chief executive of the Harris Tweed Authority, told The National that the award would help the industry to gain the much-coveted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) from the European Union.

She said: “It is a real honour to be recognised in this way. There are some prestigious craft names, particularly in the Asian and Pacific area, and it puts us in the same division as them.

“We have been trying to get PGI protection for years as we strongly feel Harris Tweed deserves it and would benefit from it.

“It’s another string to our bow as we campaign for PGI status though obviously things are a bit stuck at the moment.”

She added: “Whilst the Outer Hebrides is of course not a city, our island community punches well above its weight in terms of the reputation of Harris Tweed globally and its importance to the history, culture and economy of our island home.

“The Harris Tweed Authority’s application to and adjudication by the World Craft Council was thorough and required that we met the highest standards of craftsmanship and skill.

“This award recognises that the skill and craft of the current generation of weavers, mill workers, designers and makers for whom Harris Tweed cloth and Harris Tweed products are not just made by their hands, but also courses through their blood.”

The World Crafts Council was established in 1964 as a non-profit membership organisation. It was set up to promote an international interest in crafts and encourage contact between the craftspeople of different countries.

The council helps to run the Unesco Creative Cities programme to foster interaction between crafts and other creative industries.

The Scottish Government’s International Development Minister, Alasdair Allan said: “Scotland has long and proud tradition as being the home of skilled and innovative crafts men and women – and today our creative industries continue to be economically and culturally important.

“I welcome that the meeting of the World Crafts Council Europe is being held in Edinburgh, hosted by Craft Scotland. It is both significant and well deserved that the Outer Hebrides has been awarded World Craft City status for Harris Tweed.

“This is a tribute to the international reputation of this iconic and high-quality product, further reinforcing the position of Harris Tweed on the world craft stage.”

Rosy Greenlees, executive director, UK Crafts Council said: “I am delighted that the region of the Outer Hebrides has been recognised for its Harris Tweed as part of the World Crafts Council Craft Cities programme.”