An invited audience from all over Scotland attended a key event on Thursday (26 February) to progress the St Kilda Centre – Ionad Hiort – in the Uig area of the Isle of Lewis.
The interim conclusions on the project’s business case by James Rebanks, the consultant appointed with support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to advise on the next stages of the project, were presented at the event. The final report is due at the end of March.
Mr Rebanks, from Cumbria, has an international reputation as the leading specialist in World Heritage tourism. St Kilda is the UK’s only double World Heritage Site and the Uig project is the official UNESCO case study on “remote access” to World Heritage Sites in general.
The presentation took place in the council chamber of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in Stornoway followed by a site visit in Uig.
The initiative to create an Ionad Hiort/St Kilda Centre came from five organisations – HIE, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, National Trust for Scotland, Visit Scotland and the National Gaelic Arts Agency. In 2010, an ad hoc group which invited communities to put forward proposals for the Centre.
The clifftop site at Mangersta was unanimously selected, though it has always been clear that other communities in the Western Isles will be involved. Since then, an enormous amount of work has been undertaken by the local community company that was established to define and advance the project.
The project is being led by the community group and it has already explored potential markets as well as content and interpretation with a team from the Glasgow School of Art.
HIE’s Innse Gall and Community Assets teams have also provided support for the transfer of the land and for previous consultancy work to help progress the project.
Iain Begg, senior development manager at HIE, said: “This is a great example of a community taking the initiative to maximise benefits from local assets to boost the local economy. Clearly it is still early days and a lot of work still to do, but there is potential here to attract more visitors to the area and enhance their experience, as well as create local employment. I am very pleased we are able to provide further support for the project. This will help Ionad Hiort produce a sound business case that will attract investment and make the most of their distinctive regional opportunity.”
James Rebanks has engaged widely with stakeholder bodies, the local community and many other interested and potentially interested parties. He has examined the economic feasibility of the project and the many associated issues involved in ensuring that it is a sustainable undertaking in every sense of the term.
Iain Buchanan, chairman of Ionad Hiort steering group, said: “The response to this event has been excellent. It confirms how much interest there is, at national and international levels as well as locally, in St Kilda, its unique history and heritage.
“This is an opportunity for our various partners to discuss this important study before it is concluded in March and will be a key milestone in the development of Ionad Hiort.”
Cllr Alasdair Macleod, Chair of Sustainable Development Committee at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said, "Ionad Hiort is an exciting and innovative project and although there are many challenges ahead, with the support of the stakeholders and the professional and focussed input of the Project Team, the St Kilda centre could become an iconic, international tourism attraction in the not too distant future."
Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, St Kilda is the UK’s only UNESCO dual world heritage site renowned for its natural and cultural significance. The evacuation of its native population in 1930 brought to a close an extraordinary story of survival. Now, with around a million birds at the height of the season it is Europe's most important seabird breeding area and is a national nature reserve.