Plans for a St Kilda Centre to be located in the Uig area of Lewis took a major step forward last Thursday when a high-powered conference at An Lanntair gave a ringing endorsement to the concept.
The focus of the event was a draft masterplan – covering design, contents and commercial viability – which had been drawn together from three consultants’ reports that were funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
One of the most powerful messages came from Peter Debrine, Director of World Heritage Sites and Sustainable Tourism for UNESCO in Paris who described the project as “outstanding” and confirmed that it is seen as a model for many other sites around the world where access is challenging.
Like other speakers, Mr Debrine stressed that the project must aim for an “iconic, world-class” centre in order to do justice to the St Kilda story. He said that the UNESCO World
Heritage movement is fully behind it and would work with others to bring it to fruition.
One of the day’s most passionate speeches came from Scotland Office Minister, Lord Dunlop, who spoke about his own two visits to St Kilda and the value of a centre which would allow a far larger audience to have access to all aspects of that history and its wider significance.
Alex Paterson, chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, also gave a strong endorsement to the proposed Centre which he believed could be of immense economic benefit to the Western Isles as a whole.
He urged promoters of the project not to be too modest in what they aspired to.
Much of the day was taken up with presentations by the three groups of consultants under the chairmanship of James Rebanks, the well-known author and expert on UNESCO World Heritage sites who was responsible for an earlier feasibility study which paved away for the three more detailed reports.
Mr Rebanks was particularly concerned to test the business model for the project since this will clearly be of great interest to potential funders who were represented in the
The plans are based on a phased approach which will include research facilities as well as a state-of- the-art visitor centre.
The masterplan will now be revised to take account of comments and concerns raised during the symposium.
The chairman of Ionad Hiort, Iain Buchanan, told the Gazette: “It was a fantastic and inspiring day and there is now a great deal more work to be done.
“This event was a critical landmark in the whole process. We have taken the whole thing to the point where we have a strong base for a world-class project. But a small community cannot do that on its own and we now need the help of others”.