Western Isles Transport Preservation Group is celebrating a major landmark in their transformation of the old fish factory at Marybank – having been awarded a certificate from building control for the first phase of the work.
The building, formerly owned by McConnells (pictured below) was bought by the Transport Preservation Group in 2010 and they ultimately hope to turn it into a Transport Heritage Centre for the Western Isles.
Plans have been drawn up for the transformation of the whole building but they are so extensive and costly that the group decided to tackle the project in phases.
However, they ran out of time and money at the same time, as some initial improvements were still needed but the planners were refusing to give them any more extensions to their building warrant.
That’s when community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust came to their aid with a grant of more than £7,000 to buy what was necessary for completion of the first phase.
Now they are looking forward to hosting a winter programme of social evenings, open to the public, after building control signed off on phase one, which involved the creation of office space, a public meeting area, cafeteria space, a kitchen and toilets.
This part of the building equates to around 20 per cent of the overall footprint – but Transport Preservation Group Chair James Macleod said it was a major step forward as it was now fully complaint with regulations, allowing them to open it to the public.
This means they can open out their winter social evenings – held on the third Wednesday of every month at 8pm, beginning September – to anyone who is interested, whereas previously it was only members of the group who were allowed in.
James said the donation from Point and Sandwick Trust allowed them to buy heaters, install a hearing loop and intercom, improve the kitchen and cafeteria area, and also install fire alarms.
The timing was also critical due to the “no more extensions” ruling by the planning department.
Although all the work was carried out by volunteers, working on Saturdays, there was still not enough cash in the coffers.
James said: “We had applied for a number of extensions but the work was never complete and we were being warned by building control that they weren’t prepared to give us any more extensions.
“We were being told we’d have to go through the whole planning process again and start from scratch, more or less.
“We didn’t know where to turn for completing the work and we were within days of the deadline, when Point and Sandwick Trust came to our aid. We were panicking, thinking, ‘how on earth can we do this before they cut us off?’ It was the final straw.
“The assistance from Point and Sandwick got us over the threshold to get the building finished and we are very, very grateful to them for coming to our rescue at a crucial time.”
Donald John MacSween, general manager of Point and Sandwick Trust, said they were more than happy to help Western Isles Transport Preservation Group – and that the office and meeting space would also be a useful facility for the Marybank community and beyond.
He also spoke of the importance in giving local voluntary groups that little bit of extra help, to support their own hard work.
“There is a lot of interest in these old vehicles and the Transport Preservation Group have ambitious plans for a Heritage Centre, which we are sure would be a popular attraction.
“It’s important to give these community groups, who do so much to preserve the history of the place, a leg up when they are struggling.
“We were very pleased to help them in their time of need and would like to congratulate all the members of the group who worked on this for creating a public area that is fit for purpose.
“Congratulations to them all and we hope their winter programme of meetings – which also serves an important social purpose – goes well.”
The group still hope to realise their dream of turning the building as a whole into a Transport Heritage Centre, but that would involve “huge” sums of money, said James, and would depend on whether they could make a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery, among others.
They also hope to buy a MacBraynes bus they have been offered – refurbished and in working order, if they can raise enough money.
However, the building is already a treasure trove of old vehicles and other artefacts with interesting stories behind them.
There are a couple of Leyland Leopards, an old Kenneth Mackenzie van which delivered the tweeds in the 1950s and an old engine from the former whaling station in Harris, which Leverhulme had taken up to the castle only for it to be later dismantled and buried around the castle grounds. The parts were unearthed many years later and put back together again in working order.
The building has also become a valuable asset for the wider community due to the big roof height inside and expansive floor space.
Part of it is already hired out for storage – it has proved ideal for boats – and James said it was good to be able to provide that to the community.
Ultimately though, the group’s interest is in “preserving the transport heritage of the Western Isles”, from the biggest vehicles to the smallest photographs, of which there are many.
The group also have a lot of knowledge from the past and were able, for example, to help Colin Tucker recently when he was researching material for the book about Mitchell’s garage and bus business (see feature opposite).
The Transport Preservation Group have a website – www.witpg.org.uk – and a Facebook page, @witpg2000.