The £500k project for Old Knock School is now underway after funding of £190k was found.

A project to redevelop the Old Knock School in Point is finally to go ahead – complete with state-of-the-art green energy features, after additional funding of £190,000 was secured towards reducing the building’s carbon footprint.

By John A. MacInnes
Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 8:58 am
The old Knock School
The old Knock School

It has been confirmed that the £1million renovation of the community hub, which has been home to community wind farm organisation Point and Sandwick Trust as well as the Buth an Rubha shop and Cafe Roo since 2014, is to get underway on April 12. The contract has been awarded to O’Mac Construction and work is expected to take 15 months.

After 10 years of effort, project leaders at Urras Stòras an Rubha were “absolutely delighted” to be able to announce the awarding of the contract.

They also warmly welcomed the grant and loan from the Scottish Government’s CARES scheme, which will allow them to get started on their ambitious plan to create a ‘smart local grid’ for the building and enable it to operate independently of the main network.

Sign up to our daily Stornoway Gazette Today newsletter

Catriona Dunn, secretary of Urras Stòras an Rubha, and husband Mike Dunn moving boxes out of the site

That project, known as the Knock Energy Hub, will be carried out in three distinct and separate phases as further funding will need to be sourced as the project moves along.

However, the first phase will include the installation of solar PV panels, an air source heat pump in addition to an intelligent control system – a vital first step in the programme, created by GreenspaceLive, which will see the building become ‘virtually self-sufficient’ in energy and ultimately powered by three local turbines of its own, in addition to solar.

As well as giving the building resilience in the event of power outages in the main network, the project will also serve as a showcase for smart local grid solutions for the built environment.

Donald Macritchie, managing director of GreenspaceLive, said the project was the first of its kind for the energy systems specialists, who are based in Stornoway, and would be a good “demonstration” model of what was possible.

Image from the design plans by Malcolm Crate

The two further phases will include the installation of local wind turbines, additions to the intelligent control system and increased battery storage. The third phase will involve more battery storage and charging points for electric vehicles.

The funding for phase one was secured by Point and Sandwick Trust community consultant Alasdair Nicholson, working to support the Urras, and comprises a grant of £101,891 from CARES and a soft loan of £83,761. CARES had also previously funded the feasibility study, which allowed GreenspaceLive to look at three options for the building – with the Urras deciding to pursue the most ambitious of the three.

Donald Macritchie said it would be a “tight, energy-efficient building”, which fitted with government aspirations around becoming carbon neutral.

Overall, their energy vision will cost more than £500,000 but Alasdair Nicholson said this first phase of money was a “significant step” forward.

Urras chair Angus Lamont said their ultimate ambitions were to become “90 per cent off-grid”, although that would come “a bit further down the line”.

In terms of the building redevelopment as a whole, he said it had been “a lot of work” to get the project to this stage and paid tribute to a couple of people for their contributions – Urras secretary Catriona Dunn and also Donna Smith from Tighean Innse Gall, who produced the business plan and would effectively be project managing when work begins.

“I think their commitment has been a big factor in getting us to this stage,” he said. “The councillors and the council officials also have been helpful. It’s really good to get to the point where we’ve got the money in place and we can start working on the building. We’re absolutely delighted.”

Although all the other tenants have now moved out of the building, including the Comunn Eachdraidh historical society, the Buth an Rubha shop is going to continue trading on site, albeit from a different part of the building during the first phase of work, on the shop and cafe area.

The building is to be extensively remodelled – including a wall of glass and a mezzanine level at the cafe’s gable end to make the most of the views – under the plans drawn up by Malcolm Crate. The two main, historic parts of the building will be kept but extensive work will be done on the later, flat-roofed extensions.

The new building will include dedicated museum and exhibition space for Comann Eachdraidh an Rubha and Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe, plus improved offices for PST, archive and storage facilities for the Rudhach community paper and a meeting room. There will also be a multi-use area, which could be used for hotdesking, complete with office facilities and good wifi.

During the past decade, the project suffered numerous setbacks, including having to go back to the drawing board on design. And most recently, the break in the subsea power cable impacted Point and Sandwick Trust’s ability, as one of the key funders of the project, to provide its money up front. However, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar agreed to provide a loan to plug that gap.

Catriona Dunn said: “It’s been a long haul and we can hardly believe we’re at this stage. We are relieved and delighted that we’ve managed to secure the funding to get the project going.

“We’re looking forward to it operating as a full community hub with a lot of activity going on. This is such a key site in Point. It’s a community hub already and that will continue and get even better with really good facilities. It’s amazing how it has operated, even with facilities that aren’t really fit for purpose at the moment, but with proper facilities it will be something the community can be proud of. It’s just marvellous.”

Catriona said Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – both elected members and officers – had been “extremely supportive” in helping out after that blow to the finance package, which is a combination of monies from the Comhairle (and the Crown Estate and Regeneration Funds), PST, HIE and the Scottish Landfill Fund.

Norman Mackenzie, chair of PST and treasurer of the Urras, said: “This is fantastic news for the people of Point and, some might say, the most significant community development for the area since the formation of Point and Sandwick Trust.

“I have served on the board of the Urras since its formation in 2010 and I know the difficulties that have been encountered. We did have our fair share of disappointment and uncertainty along the way and at times the obstacles seemed insurmountable but because of a stubborn resolve to see the project through we have reached our goal.

“The final design of the building is a much simplified version of what was originally planned but often simple is better and we will have a flexible space that I am confident will fully meet the needs of the community. We can now look forward to seeing the development progress over the next 15 months before finally moving in to the new community shop and hub.”