Official opening of Lews Castle, Museum and Archive

Published: 06/03/2017

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) supported the £19.5million project with a £1.7 million investment.

The project has fully restored Stornoway’s main landmark building as a visitor and hospitality destination which will deliver significant cultural, heritage and economic benefits for the Outer Hebrides.

At the heart of the scheme is a new Museum nan Eilean and Tasglann nan Eilean - the first public archive for the islands.  

Since public opening in July 2016, over 34,000 people have visited the museum and archive, with many more enjoying the restored public rooms of the castle, the Storehouse Café in the dramatic glass roofed courtyard and the adjacent Outfitters Shop.

The museum galleries examine the long human occupation of the Outer Hebrides with themed displays focusing on the relationship between the people the land and the sea, working life, community life and contemporary issues.

An innovative Gaelic-led approach to interpretation mixes objects, images, audio visual displays and interactive exhibits to provide an accessible and family-friendly experience which is proving popular with local people as well as visitors to the islands.

Through a partnership with the British Museum, six of the world famous Lewis Chessmen take their place as a centrepiece within the main gallery.  

The restoration of the Lews Castle fulfils a long-held aspiration of the local community to see the iconic building brought back to life.  The 19th century castle had lain vacant for almost 20 years and was at risk by the time the initial repair works started in 2012.

The final phase of the project has created luxury holiday accommodation on the upper floors of the Castle with 23 bedrooms in a flexible configuration of individual suites and apartments with one to three bedrooms.  The accommodation is scheduled for launch by Natural Retreats in April.

The Lews Castle Museum and Archive project has been funded by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, HIE, Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, the Scottish Government, the European Regional Development Fund and Bòrd na Gàidhlig along with significant private investment in the hospitality elements from Natural Assets, the parent company of the Castle operator Natural Retreats.

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said:

“The opening of the Lews Castle development  is a historic occasion for Stornoway and the whole of the Outer Hebrides and I’m delighted I could be part of the event. I’m pleased the Scottish Government and its agencies could provide funding to help restore this iconic castle to its former glory as well as providing a key cultural and heritage hub for the area.

“It is also very fitting that the refurbishment has been completed this year – the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. The Comhairle and its partners must be congratulated on developing what is now a beautiful venue for both local residents and visitors to the island to enjoy, telling the unique story of the islands in an amazing setting. It will also be a fantastic boost for the local economy, increasing tourism, creating jobs and bringing additional revenue to the islands.”

Lorne Crerar, HIE Chairman who attended the opening, said: “We are delighted to have played a role, in collaboration with our partners from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and others, in the restoration of Lews Castle. The development has created a cultural centre and visitor destination of national significance, creating employment opportunities and improving the tourist offering in the Outer Hebrides. The facility is a major cultural and economic asset for the region and one which will bring benefits for generations to come.”

Comhairle Leader and Chair of Lews Castle Project Board, Cllr Angus Campbell, said: “I am delighted that we are at the stage of officially opening this iconic Outer Hebrides landmark, which is a truly magnificent facility for visitors and residents alike.

“Not only is the castle a major economic boost for the Western Isles - with the creation of many jobs and more still to come - it is also a symbol of island regeneration and cultural renaissance.”

“Projects of this nature and scale are never easy and can present many challenges.

“The Comhairle and the whole community can be extremely proud of what has been achieved and I am confident that the benefits of this substantial investment will be felt right across our islands in the years to come.”