The efforts to create a St Kilda Centre in the Uig area of Lewis have entered a new phase with the establishment of a company, Ionad Hiort Ltd, to drive the project forward.
This follows an extensive Community Appraisal which found strong support for the concept of creating a St Kilda Centre on a cliff-top site at Mangersta in Uig. The site was chosen in 2010 following a competition initiated by the Western Isles Council.
Until now, the project has been in the hands of a local voluntary group, Buidheann Leasachaidh Ionad Hiort. At the same time, the new company was being formed and registered as a charity.
The winding-up report of BLIH highlighted the progress so far, stating: “We pass on a project which has been advanced to a significant and perhaps remarkable degree given the relatively small number of people involved and the barriers of credibility that have had to be overcome.
“We also recognise how much is still to be done in order to bring the project to fruition and wish the new company great success in achieving this on behalf of Uig, the Western Isles and the memory of the St Kildan people.”
The report noted: “The relationship formed with UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre has transformed this from purely a local project into one which commands national and international recognition and support.”
UNESCO have designated the St Kilda project as a model for the development of sustainable tourism and remote access with a view to applying the lessons learned to World Heritage Sites around the globe.
The site identified as the location for the Centre has been gifted to the community by the landlord with the area to be decrofted approved by the local grazings committee. An information board and high-powered binoculars will be installed shortly at the site.
A strategic brief for the project has been developed and discussions are well advanced with a range of stakeholders. Scottish Natural Heritage have expressed full support while the National Trust for Scotland’s five-year plan for the management of St Kilda commits to working with Ionad Hiort to advance knowledge of the islands.
The new company plans to appoint a project development manager later this year to oversee the next phase of activity which will include the design of the centre and contacts with potential funding bodies.
Prior to the handover and the decision to move to the next phase, a major Community Appraisal was carried out to guage support within the Uig community. The chairman of Ionad Hiort Ltd, Iain Buchanan, said that this was essential both for their own confidence in the project and also that of outside bodies.
Mr Buchanan said: “Our strong relationship with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre is very much based on this being a project that has its roots in the community and is not something grafted on from the outside. That is the model they are interested in developing at other World Heritage Sites, the vast majority of which bring little or no economic benefit to their local communities.”
The postal survey attracted an unusually high level of return with 72 per cent of respondents in favour of the project, 15 per cent against and 13 per cent either unsure or making no comment. The full details of the appraisal responses are on-line at: www.ionadhiort.org http://www.facebook.com/StKildaCentre?fref=ts