The revival of the Millport Field Studies Centre on the island of Cumbrae reached a major milestone on Wednesday 1 July with the completion of phase one of its multi-million pound redevelopment.
Just two years ago the centre was temporarily closed with its future uncertain. But following major investment from North Ayrshire Council, the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise the educational and research base is now thriving again.
Used primarily for marine science field study or training, the centre has been transformed and expanded for its new operators, the Field Studies Council.
HIE representatives, local councillors and Field Studies Council staff and board members were joined by MSP Margaret Burgess, Minister for Housing and Welfare, and guests from the other partner agencies at the official opening.
A new accommodation building with 32 twin en-suite rooms, a 150-seat lecture theatre and teaching laboratory/teaching room have been built, along with a car park and access roads. Also included in the work is an environmentally-friendly Biomass District Heating system, which will significantly reduce the centre’s carbon footprint and operating costs.
The total cost of phase one was just over £3m, including HIE’s investment of £1m.
HIE chief executive Alex Paterson, said: “This project has enabled the Field Studies Council to expand its provision into Millport, securing jobs and boosting economic activity on Cumbrae and the wider area. It will increase community resilience, and build on the area’s significant strengths in environmental education and tourism.
“We are very pleased to be involved in the project and to be helping the Field Studies Centre to further develop the education and visitor facilities on site. Progress so far is excellent. New courses are being run and high numbers of students are already visiting the island and accessing the opportunities offered by the centre.”
Rob Lucas, Field Studies Council Chief Executive, said: “Today is a really important day for FSC Millport and has seen us take a big step forward thanks to the support of North Ayrshire Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and the Scottish Government.
“We are working hard to develop the centre into a leading site for marine and outdoor education, and these facilities will help us to attract more university and school students as well as providing facilities for a suite of professional development courses.”
Previously owned by University of London, Millport Marine Station was scheduled for closure in 2013 with the potential loss of 30 jobs on the fragile island of Cumbrae. After a number of discussions between the Universities of London and St Andrews, HIE, North Ayrshire Council and Scottish Government, in mid-2013 the Field Studies Council (FSC) came forward with proposals to transfer the facility.
These discussions came to fruition in late 2013 and to enable FSC to take on the facilities in early 2014.
This project is recognised by HIE as a Regionally Significant Investment, due to the extreme fragility of Cumbrae and the impact of safeguarding over 20 jobs on the island.
FSC is also in the process of delivering a second phase, the £1m redevelopment of associated educational and aquarium facilities at the site, through which it will provide high quality marine and outdoor education courses and experiences. HIE has invested £58K in this second phase and supported a graduate placement post to focus on development of the original aquarium, educational resources and marketing.
FSC has also put together a range of adult and family courses for 2015 which are likely increase summer occupancy.