Am Bratach No. 224
June 2010

Former seaman’s mission to retain nautical influences

A sea-life centre with lobster nursery and related seafaring archive are some of the attractions likely to be on offer when the refurbished Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen building in Lochinver opens its doors under new ownership, probably in May of next year. The mission was closed in 2009.

The latest social enterprise to be floated in Assynt will be geared towards providing good, reasonably priced meals, simple overnight accommodation and varied visitor attractions like that described above.

“What we’re looking for is a profitable business,” emphasises Assynt Community Association vice-chairman, Roger Glover, whose group is behind the development.

Mr Glover, who lives at Altnabran, near Clachtoll, was talking about the dividend expected from this small, unincorporated voluntary organisation after an impressive investment of £433,840 by the Village SOS Learning Campaign, a programme of the Big Lottery Fund and the BBC. The idea behind the campaign is to “inspire a rural revival across the UK”. The association’s income in 2009 was £255.00.

The lobster nursery, where bought-in hatchlings will be released into the sea after they’ve been brought on, will also help conserve stocks of the valuable crustaceans while the marine archive will provide information on local seafaring tradition. The archive, located upstairs, will be computer-based and will have its own website. “We’re looking to display there the sort of things that actually live where we are,” said Mr Glover. “We all know a lot about the land and its history, but there isn’t a awful known about the shoreline.”

He hopes the archive will be powered by a solar voltaic panel. “If we can get one of those on the roof that produces electricity that we can sell to the Grid, then the income from that will pay for the archive.” It has been said that the annual running costs of the building were £10,000. The association hopes to get the running costs down below £2,000 per annum with the help of improved insulation, the solar panel and a wood pellet boiler.

There was a café in the building before and that was the first thing people missed, said Mr Glover. “It was the main benefit to the community of having the mission, together with the meeting room.”

The new cafeteria will offer cooked meals during the day and into the evening, all the year round. The mission superintendent’s upstairs flat will be transformed into a 3-room, 14-bed bunkhouse.

There will be free entrance to the visitor centre. “We think if we got a visitor centre with free entry — although we’ll lose out on the actual admission charge — we do think, particularly in bad weather, people might want to go in there every day with the children. So we don’t want to put a bar there. And, of course, mum and dad can be having a cup of tea in the cafeteria while the children are playing in the ‘touchpool’, or whatever. We’re looking to have a TV monitor there so that you can see what’s going on.” A touchpool, Mr Glover explains, is where children can actually put their hands in and touch things, in this case stuff to be found in rock pools or on the shore.

The generous sum of money already granted to the association by the Village SOS Learning Campaign is not sufficient to meet in full all the requirements of the project, however. “We need to raise another £170,000 to achieve everything we’ve got in it,” said the vice-chairman. A grant towards the purchase of the building has been received from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and a price agreed with the Fishermen’s Mission. “We’re talking to Community Energy Scotland, LEADER, HIE and I’m off tomorrow to Inverness to see the ERDF [European Regional Development Fund] people.” The land on which the building stands is owned by Highland Council and will probably be leased from them.

One of the wonderful things about this scheme is that they give you a full-time employee for a year, Mr Glover told us. Already Violaine Roberts, chosen from a pool of experts found through a nationwide search by the BBC and Enterprise UK, has been helping out and is expected to take up the full-time post at the end of this month, no doubt a great boon to the hard-pressed voluntary committee that’s worked its socks off bringing the ambitious project this far.

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