More than 50 tourism related community organisations across the region are working to build back better after lockdown with the support of £1.59m of funding distributed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
Cafes, heritage centres, visitor attractions, and community accommodation operators are amongst those upgrading facilities, and introducing measures to safely welcome tourists back to their communities, with all the subsequent economic benefits this will bring.
The HIE Community-Led Tourism Infrastructure Fund is supporting capital projects including community building upgrades, adaptations for kitchens and take-away points, outdoor seating, and public walkways.
The investments have also supported communities to provide infrastructure addressing local environmental challenges. They are protecting natural capital with campervan waste disposal, enhancing safe toilet provision, improving car and campervan parking, provision of EV charging points and introducing E-bikes as a more sustainable way for visitors to explore destinations.
Neil Ross, HIE’s head of community growth, said: “All through the pandemic community organisations have been vital in ensuring emergency funds have reached those most impacted by the effects of COVID-19. More recently we’ve seen demand grow for help as organisations prepare to restart normal activities. Our short term Covid-19 investment funding has helped kickstart local supply chains and prepare community buildings and social enterprises for a safer re-opening.”
There are active projects in every local authority area from Shetland to Argyll.
One of the projects is the Loch Ness Hub, a new community benefit company revitalising the former tourist information centre in Drumnadrochit. The hub has an ambitious business plan to deliver wide ranging tourism services, including a shuttlebus and baggage service, and green initiatives for both local residents and visitors to the area.
Russell Fraser, manager of Loch Ness Hub commented: “We’re carrying out a complete refurbishment programme of the existing Hub building, new toilet renovations, paintwork throughout, a motorhome service point and a digital booking system for our services. When we open we want to provide a one stop shop for visitors and locals to discover and enjoy our history, heritage, landscape, local products and services.”
Developed following a very successful community shareholders buy-in, the Hub’s aim is to generate profits that will be put back into the community. Find out more about the project at www.hie.co.uk/lochnesshub
Shetland Amenity Trust (SAT) is making use of the Fund to add new outdoor seating and increased accessibility ready for the return of their visitors.
Davy Cooper, SAT’s head of development said: “When restrictions lift it’s really important to us that the tourists and staff at our sites are able to relax and enjoy their visit. This funding from HIE is very welcome. At Viking Unst we’re doing some work improving paths for wheelchair access; creating ramps and an opening in the hull for easier access to the Skidbladner; and carrying out a range of general modifications and improved signage. We’re also putting in a range of new outdoor seating across many of our sites.”
Find out more about the importance of community-led tourism at the UK’s most northerly location in our feature at www.hie.co.uk/unsttourism
The investment comes from HIE’s own funds and aims to support community organisations, local infrastructure and the restart and recovery of a key sector as an economic driver for the region.