Lews Castle transformation on the final lap

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The transformation of Lews Castle including the new Museum and Archive continues apace with public opening of the new museum and archive facilities to be phased in from early 2016.

The Comhairle’s Heritage staff relocated to the new building during the summer and, working with specialist contractors, they are in the final stages of preparing and fine-tuning the new galleries for the installation of objects, including six of the Lewis Chessmen from the British Museum (BM).

While the majority of objects will be from the Museum nan Eilean and local collections, nearly a third of objects are on loan from National Museums Scotland, including a spectacular Viking hacksilver hoard and a vintage 1923 Morgan 3-wheeler car which was driven on the islands until the 1950’s.

Displaying such priceless objects from national museums comes with exacting requirements in terms of security and environmental conditions. The Comhairle is working closely with its national partners to ensure that all these requirements are met and to agree dates for installation of their loan objects.

Work on the Castle will be ongoing into 2016 and the opening of the new facilities will be phased around these works. The Learning and Community spaces have already been used for a number of events and will become fully available to schools and other groups from early in the New Year.

The new archive will also open to the public early in the New Year under the direction of newly appointed archivist Seonaid McDonald, formerly the archivist of HBOS at the Museum on the Mound, Edinburgh.

Following the installation of the British Museum and National Museums Scotland loan objects the museum will fully open to the public.

Angus Campbell, Comhairle Leader and Chair of the Project Board said: “This is a hugely exciting and important project for the Comhairle and the community.

“The Comhairle’s Heritage Team is working with a range of specialists and national partners to complete the development. There are stringent conditions attached to the long-term loan of priceless objects and we are enhancing certain aspects of our security system to achieve best practice.

“These additional measures will be delivered over the next few weeks and thereafter we will be in a position to confirm the opening date of the museum.”

Following the award of the £3.5 million third phase contract to Graham Construction Ltd, work on the hospitality elements of the project within the Castle is set to start shortly.

This will include fitting out the visitor and hospitality areas on the ground floor of the Castle and the creation of luxury accommodation on the upper floors.

Completion of this work is scheduled for the second half of the year.