They say people use the internet for one of two things — to find information or be entertained. Today I want to use my blog to give you some information about a business that I believe is bringing something different and special to the island of Lewis and our wider Hebridean archipelago, while hopefully also entertaining you with the story behind it.
It proves that you should, literally, follow your dreams.
You should also, if at all possible, find a way to make of your passion a living – and the renovation job that Alistair Glover’s done on the once dilapidated Glen House in Willowglen, creating his base for all things cycling and a cafe along with it, shows you what amazing things can be achieved by individuals went they have good ideas and the drive to follow them through.
Glen House is, of course, now known as The Hub and opened up this summer after about 18 months of painstaking renovation. The building was in a very sorry state before Alistair got the keys from the Stornoway Trust and he’s done a superb job of bringing it back to life.
It was a project undertaken in partnership with Graham Pilson, who has established an excellent cafe upstairs in Glen House, while the many facets of Alistair’s bicycle business occupy the downstairs.
It’s not a project that Alistair and Graham did in isolation. They had a lot of help from the community, from donations such as kitchen equipment to workmen who gave of their time for very little reward – all of which gave Alistair that good feeling that this was something the community wanted to see happen.
None of it would have happened without his insight and ideas though, so since I have this blog I’m using it loud and proud here to give Alistair, Bespoke Bicycle Repairs and Upgrades, Graham’s cafe and The Hub in general an almighty shout out.
Alistair set up Bespoke in 2014, initially on a part-time basis, and my first experience of what he did was when he helped me get my old bicycle back on the road after years of neglect.
He came and picked it up in his van, when we were living in Grimersta, took it away and replaced all sorts of bits and pieces — I’m not techy enough to tell you what he did – before bringing me back a fully-functioning trail bike that I could use again.
Obviously though, bikes are going to take up a lot of room and as his business grew it became clear he’d need proper premises. There have been a number, along the way, but they didn’t work out. But when Glen House was suggested, he knew it could be perfect.
It’s a prime location in Stornoway, right on the A859 heading out of town – and is also just inside the periphery of Lews Castle Grounds, which is now home to a number of excellent mountain biking trails, thanks to good work done by the Trust.
Downstairs, Alistair has his workhsop, a small social area, and a shop for biking paraphernalia. He is also running his bike hire from here and will hopefully be doing classes through the winter.
Upstairs, Graham has created Nice ‘n’ Chilled at the HUB and I can vouch for it as being one of the best new cafes to have opened in Stornoway in years. For a start, it has a very pleasant atmosphere — the green colours toning soothingly with the trees outside — but it’s also a really good place to eat.
It’ll give the Woodlands Centre a run for its money as, much as I love the Woodlands, I have to say that this is a bit cheaper and the food is at least just as good.
Graham has created a fantastic range of burgers, including a couple of bespoke (see what I did there) veggie burgers, with witty titles such as ‘Gone with the Wind’ (one of my favourites).
They’re all made from scratch and come in all sorts of variations — the Mississippi burger, topped with pulled pork, BBQ sauce and cheese is Alistair’s favourite — but there is also an extensive offering of hot and cold rolls, plus full cooked breakfasts, coffee and cake and another favourite of mine, the Piri Piri chips.
Recently, I’ve taken to cycling round to The Hub when I’ve got some writing to do and am getting too distracted at home — the perils of the freelancer — and I feel very at home there. You always get a friendly blether and one day I spent time asking Alistair about his back story.
I’ll start of the very beginning. It’s the early 1990s, Alistair is 16 and he’s taken up mountain biking…
Back on the mainland after some years in Lewis, all the trail centres were beginning to spring up and he made the most of it.
That hobby crossed over into work and he cut his teeth in retail at Dales Cycles in Glasgow, one of the oldest bike shops in Scotland, and then at Alpine Bikes, before coming back to Lewis and leaving that business behind.
For a time, he worked for his stepfather-in-law, Stuart Bagshaw, as an architectural technician, but he began to get itchy feet. The bikes were calling…
In 2014, Alistair, who is married to Lida and has four children, went part-time to start up a business working on people’s bikes but it proved so successful that he had gone full-time within six months.
He had been “doing more and more people’s bikes” on a casual basis, in the evenings and weekends, but once he made the leap to cutting his hours with Stuart, it quickly took off.
The challenge was always going to be suitable premises. It was Stuart, knowledgable of businesses as an architect, who first suggested Glen House.
Alistair managed to obtain a 40-year lease to the building from the Stornoway Trust but he very nearly didn’t get it as the Trust told him the local Scouts had expressed an interest before him.
“I accepted that,” he said, “Then I had a dream that I was here and woke up and had such a feeling that ‘this is where I need to be; nothing’s going to stop me’… so I went back to them.
“I kind of knew the Scouts weren’t going to be developing it, so I said ‘let me have my chance’ and six months later I had the keys.
“It was all based on a dream. It was quite scary. I’d never had that feeling (before).
“I had such a feeling in my heart. It had such a feeling of rightness. I knew that whatever happened, I would be in here. “
Alistair’s not a religious man. He doesn’t believe it was a message from God. But it certainly was a message.
Describing the concept for the place, he said: “The whole thing about The Hub is it being synonymous with everything cycling related.”
The shop is at one end of the ground floor and will be selling everything you can think of to do with bikes — helmets, pumps, repair kits, hydration products, tyres, even bike mounts for the back of your car.
At the other end is his workshop, for all the oily hands-on stuff, and this is where he keeps his stock of hire bikes. These are mainly trail (hybrid) bikes — perfect for the Castle Grounds —but he also has some e-bikes, which give you the option of a bit of extra push up the hills.
He’s also planning a programme of cycling-related activities, including introductory mountain biking lessons and bike maintenance classes.
You could count me in for that — I did the Hebridean Triathlon this summer (read my blog on that event here), knowing full well that if I got a puncture I wouldn’t be able to fix it and that would be the end of my race.
He’s got other ideas too and it’s nice to see that they’re already in action. His first squad of ‘Trail Trolls’ met up recently. In return for a free hot roll and a cup of coffee, these volunteers will be spending one Saturday morning a month cleaning up and stabilising the bike trails in the Castle Grounds.
The plan is to meet monthly, concentrating on a different area each time. This time it was the Sawmill Trail; next month they’ll be working on Gallows Hill.
Keep watching Bespoke’s Facebook page for more information on that.
Of course, Alistair isn’t the only person in the bicycle business in Lewis — there’s Alex Dan’s, the cycle shop and Bike Hebrides — but he has a handle on so many elements of cycling and I found him invaluable this summer, when I was preparing for the triathlon (read more about that experience here).
When I was considering what bike to buy, it was Alistair I went to for advice. What he doesn’t know about bikes isn’t worth knowing and he can help you find the right bicycle for you. Alistair has access to all the different stockists around the country and will act like a kind of broker for you. As for prices, they’re usually set, so there’s very little variation wherever you go.
In the end, I didn’t buy through him but that was only because I was looking for finance, which he doesn’t offer, as yet anyway.
When my bike arrived, it was Alistair I went to for all the small adjustments it needed. And when I put clips on it next year, it’ll be Alistair that I’ll go to for that too.
He’s an expert and an enthusiast in the most genuine sense of the word and has also been instrumental in the creation of an infrastructure to support people cycling the Hebridean Way (launched last year by Mark Beaumont — check out my blog on that here).
He has taken his concept of mobile repairs and expanded it out, while linking up with other biking providers in the isles — most notably Tony Flanagan of Barra Bike Hire but also recent start-up Berneray Bikes — to create something of a safety net for riders undertaking this challenge.
He even offers a bike ferrying service when folk really can’t face pedalling their next stage…
So whether it’s a puncture or an off-putting forecast, Alistair’s support network means that cyclists pedalling through the islands are pretty well covered.
It was natural for him to extend his mobile repair business — what he started out doing, after all — to emergency call-outs for people doing the Hebridean Way.
“I think I had the world’s most expensive repair when I took an inner tube down to Leverburgh (they cost a fiver) but it allowed them to carry on their holiday. It allows the person to carry on their holiday so it’s fairly vital.”
It’s all fitting into place — and he’s tired, but admits it “feels great”.
Alistair hasn’t been for a ride on his bike for a year and a half. I think he’s earned a spin.