Located on the northern fringe of the Orkney archipelago, Papa Westray or Papay as it is known locally, is one of the smallest islands in Orkney, roughly four and a half miles long by a mile wide. Rich in archaeology and a prime destination for birdwatchers, the island is a two-minute hop from its neighbour Westray; the world's shortest scheduled flight.
The island landscape is diverse, ranging from productive farmland and maritime heath, to sweeping sandy bays and steep cliffs. With a relatively stable population of around 80-90 people, islanders make a living through farming, fishing, building trades and increasingly through tourism, the creative industries and distance working.
Thanks to the efforts and skills of the community, Papay has been rejuvenated in recent years as several long-abandoned homes have been restored and brought back to life for local and incoming folk. The island has established a reputation as a vibrant small community, and efforts are underway to ensure Papa Westray has a secure future.
Employment, transport links, opportunities for young people and access to affordable housing are all declared community priorities as are improved tourist facilities, improved energy efficiency and the consolidation of health and education services.
In 2013, Papay Development Trust (PDT) was established and has produced a comprehensive Development Plan for the community, focusing on all these key community priorities.
To help deliver the plan, the Trust employs a part time Community Development Officer (CDO), a post jointly funded through HIE’s Community Capacity Building Programme, and Orkney Islands Council. Through HIE and other partners, such as Voluntary Action Orkney, the CDO has access to professional advice and a range of skills development opportunities.
The Trust owns several assets, and recently secured £179,000 Coastal Communities Funding to support a crafts, arts, and heritage project. With the funding a heritage ranger was appointed to run a programme of heritage and nature events, and a new visitor boat service to the Holm of Papay was developed which supports further part time jobs. Papay Co-op has also purchased a minibus, which the ranger uses for the year-round Papay Peedie Tour of the island.
As the anchor organisation for Papa Westray under HIE’s Community Account Management (CAM), PDT has a board of directors with a wide range of skills and a genuine desire to improve the resilience of the community. Papay’s innovation focuses on making things work in a small community.
The Grade 2 listed former Kelp store at Nouster was built in the 1700’s and continued to be used up until the 1950s. The community was keen to see the part derelict, locally significant building brought back into public use.
As part of a wider funding package, HIE awarded the Trust nearly £38,000 in 2016 towards the renovation of the building into an island arts, crafts and heritage centre.
The Kelp Store now provides a year round, multi-purpose space for the community and a place for visitors to explore and enjoy heritage and nature activities. The centre is a high quality venue for exhibitions, workshops and events, but also incorporates a heritage archive, market garden, catering amenities, shower facilities for visiting boats, and a base for the island’s heritage ranger.
Alistair Hourston, Chair of PDT: "Bringing back the Kelp Store into use again has been a long-term goal of the Papay Development Trust, and it's great to see its transformation into a heritage and craft centre, with displays, films and a space for community groups. We're looking forward to the various community events and activities that will take place in this much-loved building, and we're very grateful to HIE and others for making this restoration possible."
Francesca Couperwhite, Head of Strengthening Communities in Orkney and local account manager for Papay: “These new facilities will foster an even greater sense of community and will help to promote the island’s valuable and distinctive culture. As a community asset in a fragile location, the centre will generate income, support jobs and develop volunteering opportunities for local people. Attracting more visitors will also help sustain other island businesses.”