Crucial funding secured for Lews Castle

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Crucial funding has been secured for Lews Castle with a lifeline contribution from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The Heritage Lottery Fund today (Tuesday) announced an investment of £4.6million and HIE are to provide a £1million funding package.

The Castle, currently owned by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, will be transformed into a new cultural and visitor destination standing at the gateway to the Outer Hebrides.

The £14.3 million project, part funded by a number of private and public sector partners, will create a new home for Museum nan Eilean and archive service for the Outer Hebrides. There will also be a high quality hotel development opportunity in part of the 17th Century castle.

The current museum is based in the centre of Stornoway and has limited room for expansion. The new museum to be built adjacent to Lews Castle will include four gallery spaces, a special gallery for temporary and touring exhibitions and a courtyard which will reveal surviving sections of the 17th Century Seaforth Lodge.

The new Archive Centre will hold and provide access to a range of historically important records held by the community and organisations including Stornoway Trust. This will allow for return to the islands of important records currently held at the National Archive for Scotland and elsewhere.

Archie MacDonald, HIE Innse Gall area manager, said: “We have worked with the Comhairle for a number of years to find a suitable option for the redevelopment of Lews Castle. We are delighted to now be playing a part in the revival of such an iconic and important location. The new centre will provide a hub for the local community and will also prove a huge attraction to national and international visitors. The hotel development opportunity is itself unique and we look forward to seeing Lews Castle returned to its former glory as the heart of the Outer Hebrides.”

“HIE is delighted that our investment will help pave the way for the project to develop a cultural and visitor destination of national significance, and a gateway to the rich Gaelic heritage of the Outer Hebrides.”

Commenting on the investment Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said:

“The transformation of Lews Castle has the potential to make a real difference to the economy of Lewis and indeed the Western Isles through job creation and tourism. Breathing new life into this grand castle will breathe new life into Stornoway itself. It will provide a safe and accessible home for the collections and artefacts that make these wonderful islands what they are today while providing support to the network of heritage societies and local museums that exist across the Outer Hebrides.

“The innovative combination of providing a new-build museum combined with the restoration of the Castle as a high quality hotel is an example of partnership working on many levels, and is a new model that we may see more of in the future.”

 Welcoming the HLF announcement, Angus Campbell, the Council Leader and Chairman of the Lews Castle Trust Steering Group said:

“This is a hugely significant and exciting moment for the Comhairle and the communities of the Outer Hebrides.  This award from HLF puts us within reach of delivering a generational project which will have benefits throughout our islands.

“Culture and heritage are one of our most important assets and the new museum and archive will allow more people to enjoy and appreciate these, bringing benefits to visitors and local communities across the Outer Hebrides. Lews Castle and its grounds are unique in being community owned since the 1920’s and the whole community looks forward to the castle coming back to life and being a focus for cultural, social and economic activity.

“The Heritage Lottery Fund has recognised the significance of the project and the major economic benefits that it will deliver.  The Comhairle has also demonstrated its commitment with an investment in excess of £4.5m.   We now seek the support of the other funding partners to finalise the funding package and enable us to begin work on this long-awaited project as soon as possible.”

 Alasdair Allan, MSP for the Western Isles, commented:

 “Today’s announcement from the Heritage Lottery Fund is an important step towards revitalising, not only Lews Castle, but the wider tourist economy in the islands. The Comhairle and other agencies locally have been working tirelessly to progress plans that would ensure Lews Castle becomes both a cultural and economic asset to the islands.

“I will be working with them to get us to the next stage in this process, which is Lews Castle providing both museum and hotel facilities of which the Western Isles can be proud.”

Currently vacant and on the Buildings at Risk register, Lews Castle was built in 1847 for James Matheson who made his fortune in the Chinese opium trade. It changed hands in 1918, a year before the Iolaire disaster, when William Lever, Lord Leverhulme, of Lever Brothers/Unilever acquired the island. He invested in the castle introducing central heating, electric lighting and internal telephones and extended the ballroom to accommodate his parties. He then gifted it to the people of Stornoway in 1923.

During World War 2 it served as a naval hospital and accommodation for the air and ground crew of 700 Naval Air Squadron who operated a detachment of amphibious bi-planes from a slipway in the grounds.  After the war, the Castle was used as a technical college and school for over 30 years.