FERRY operator CalMac is to offer a permanent bilingual English and Gaelic customer care service.

A pilot project over the summer created a new customer care centre in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis. CalMac has now confirmed this as a permanent fixture.

CalMac’s managing director, Robbie Drummond, said: “We are committed to looking at ways of spreading jobs more evenly across our area of operations and I’m delighted to confirm that the summer pilot we ran in Stornoway will now be a permanent fixture in the town.”

“Given the prevalence of the Gaelic language in the Western Isles it was a natural step to make this the centre of our new bilingual customer service offering. This is something we have been keen to introduce for some time and this new centre now gives us the capacity to support this.”

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Previously, assistance from a Gaelic speaker was only available to customers telephoning or visiting port offices in Gaelic-speaking areas, but now anyone who would like to make an enquiry in Gaelic can be transferred to a native speaker. There are around 60,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, and the majority of people living in the Western Isles are able to speak Gaelic.

Shona MacLennan, chief executive of the Bord na Gaidhlig welcomed the news.

“We always welcome new developments which contribute to the National Gaelic Language Plan’s aim that more people use Gaelic more often in more situations.

“CalMac’s introduction of this service will support that aim, and is particularly appropriate in their customer care centre based in Stornoway.

“By locating those jobs in the a Gaelic-speaking community this will bring important economic benefits to the Western Isles,” she said.

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The Stornoway team will also be steadily transforming CalMac’s social media into bilingual channels. Drummond said: “Our social media platforms have a large and loyal following which continues to grow as passenger numbers increase.

“Being able to offer bilingual messages allows us to focus even more closely on how we speak to customers in a way that suits them best.”