Loch Ness Hub
Tourism development with community benefit at its heart
Tourism development with community benefit at its heart
When the Tourist Information Centre closed in Drumnadrochit, the community saw an opportunity to revitalise the building, and develop new expanded services which could benefit both local residents and visitors.
The project to develop the Loch Ness Hub has brought together the community, business and the public sector. Its innovative model demonstrates many of the benefits of community-led development:
Find out more about the Loch Ness Hub, and about the community's journey developing it.
The best experiences come from the connections we make to people and places. The Hub will open up the bigger story of our area, helping tourists and locals discover and enjoy our history, heritage, landscape, local products and services.Russell Fraser, manager, Loch Ness Hub
Picture courtesy of Highland Celtic Art
The Hub in Drumnadrochit will offer a one stop shop for information, tours and tickets for all things Glen Urquhart and Loch Ness. It'll also provide a shuttlebus and door to door bag transfer for walkers/cyclists enjoying the routes of The Great Glen Way, Loch Ness 360 and The Affric Kintail Way.
The Community Transport Hub will promote health walks and greener modes of transport, including an e-bike hire service. The Hub will sell local crafts and gifts, and collaborate with other local enterprises and organisations.
The project has been developed with the support of two experienced local organisations - development trust Glen Urquhart Rural Community Association (GURCA) and Soirbheas, a local development charity.
To re-open the building, deliver tourism services, and generate the community benefits, the hub has developed a multi-faceted business plan to generate the revenue funding needed to support jobs and running costs.
Part of the business plan was the purchase and running of an existing baggage transfer business, Loch Ness Travel. Loch Ness Travel provides bag transfers and a shuttle service for people exploring the Loch's treks and trails.
The building is currently undergoing a complete refurbishment, renovation of toilets, the introduction of a motorhome service point, and they're developing a digital booking system to deliver services.
In addition, Loch Ness Hub is developing a range of 'green' initiatives and services with Soirbheas to incorporate a community transport hub.
Loch Ness Hub has been set up as a Community Benefit Company. Regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, this provides protection for the members and management committee, allows the Hub to deliver business services and employ staff, while committing to its ethos of assets being used for benefit of the community.
Identifying the best model for your community project is important. Advice is available from organisations including HIE, and the Community Ownership Supports Service.
GURCA was awarded £88,225 from the Scottish Land Fund for the purchase the local tourist information office.
With the help of Community Shares Scotland, Loch Ness Hub set up and raised £110,000 with a community share offer. All those who buy shares automatically become voting members of the Society.
SSE has supported the project through its Highland Sustainable Development Fund.
Local Energy Scotland has provided funding for green energy installation, including the Air Source Heat pump and solar energy, through the CARES funding.
HIE has supported various aspects of the project, including building upgrade work and the e-bike project, with a Community-Led Tourism Infrastructure capital investment. Across the region this HIE fund has distributed £1.5m to community groups to help them to build back from the impacts of COVID.
As a newly incepted company, on the back of a very successful community shareholders buy in, our aim is to generate profits that will be put back into the community.Patricia Fearn, chair, Loch Ness Hub
What's been happening at the Loch Ness Hub?
In 2019, GURCA made a successful bid for a Community Asset Transfer of the former Tourist Information Centre in Drumnadrochit.
The building had been owned by Highland Council and had been dormant since it was vacated by VisitScotland in 2018.
The community re-opened the Tourism Information Centre and trialled a service in 2019. In addition many local groups supported the centre by volunteering and with exhibitions and sales of produce and crafts.
GURCA now owns and is leasing the building to the Loch Ness Hub.
Loch Ness Hub manager Russell officially receives the keys from Lynn Woolley, Area Supervisor for The Highland Council.
One of the benefits of community asset ownership, is that it places control and benefits into the hands of local people.
This can return social and economic community benefits - including local employment and supporting local supply chains.
A range of local contractors are currently upgrading the building, in preparation for re-opening when COVID restrictions allow.
Works include refurbishment of the public toilets, providing a motorhome facility, introducing electronic technology and signage, installing an air-source heat pump system, new windows, solar electricity panels, and upgrading the insulation.
Keep an eye on the Hub's social media for latest developments.
Heating community buildings is an important aspect in meeting Scotland's netzero ambitions.
Loch Ness Hub has had support through Local Energy Scotland with CARES funding for its solar energy and Air Source Heat pump.
George Simpson hands over the reins of Loch Ness Travel to Julie Dell, vice chair of Loch Ness Hub.
"Having founded Loch Ness Travel on 1st August 1991, some 30 years ago now, it gives me great satisfaction to transfer my business into the safe and capable hands of Loch Ness Hub," he said.
Following Soirbheas' Transport Feasibility Study for Glen Urquhart and Strathglass, the partnership has ambitious plans to decarbonise, by helping locals and visitors reduce their reliance on cars, and consider community transport and active travel.
Loch Ness Hub could be the perfect fit for the planned community transport hub, providing information and co-ordinating transport options.
The first new project is already underway, with a community eBike trial planned for April. eBikes will be available for 3-4 week free loans, and there'll be a programme of road safety training and bike maintenance. The project will run for 12-18 months, and then the eBikes will be available for hire to visitors and locals.
Photo courtesy of Toby Stainton
The manager at Loch Ness Hub, Russell Fraser, was one of the participants of a ground-breaking Scotland wide community tourism pilot programme.
During the past year, three cohorts of 15 people have taken part in the Communities Leading in Tourism development programme, delivered by HIE and South of Scotland Enterprise. It provides specialist tourism knowledge and insights, and supports those involved in community-led development to influence, plan and manage sustainable tourism - particularly in response to the impacts of COVID-19.
Russell, who's also chairman of the Glenurquhart Highland Gathering and Games, says the programme is proving hugely useful in his role with the Loch Ness Hub. He commented:
"The programme provided detailed expert insight into many aspects of international and domestic tourism: policy, politics and practicalities. Improving our 'slow' tourism offering here is very relevant - providing cultural and authentic experiences, while taking the impact on the environment and society into account.
Good communication is vital for community organisations, ensuring local people know about and can help shape plans."
One of the aims of the programme is to build a legacy network where participants can continue to help each other.