Research Report into the future development of the Smithy Community Hub
Compiled and written for Kirkton Woodland & Heritage Group by Fergus Hendry.
Kirkton Woodland & Heritage Group (KWHG) is a community organisation operating out of Lochcarron; it currently owns the Smithy Community Hub site consisting of:
- the Smithy building itself
- Office Unit/Kitchen and Toilets
- John MacPherson’s Tartan
- Birchwood (Kiki’s Craft Corner)
- Pinewood (TIC/iGallery and Office Space)
- The Treehouse
The Smithy building is currently disused and this project would aim to bring this building back to life as part of the community hub alongside providing employment for a Smithy manager to oversee management of the site as a whole.
The site has a number of issues which need to be addressed and part of the responsibility of the Smithy manager would be the implementation of a long-term maintenance plan for the site; if repairs are delayed too long costs invariably get higher and may become increasingly impractical in economic terms.
KWHG currently do not have the resources to either refurbish the Smithy or carry out essential environmental/landscaping works – funding support and professional expertise will be required. Once capital work is completed, the Group would remain responsible for the long-term maintenance of buildings and the rest of the site. Likewise KWHG does not have the resources to employ a Smithy manager at this point in time; however, with income generated from Kirkton Woodland it may be possible for the group to part-fund a salary from 2016/17.
The Group first took over the Smithy Community Hub in 2009 with the Local Development Officer being in post from 2010 to aid the development of the site. The first two phases of the development plan were completed over 2011-12 with aspects of phase three being completed in August 2012:
Phase One – Refurbishment of the water damaged office and storage area; installation of heating, kitchen and WC. (Completed: Spring 2011)
Phase Two – Establish a community Treehouse in the Smithy grounds to provide a venue for small events and workshops. (Completed: May 2012)
Phase Three – Erection of 2 x 96m2 craft workshops; small extension to car park (Completed: August 2012) (additional planned landscaping works were not completed due to shortfall in funding.)
Phase Four – Refurbishment of the Smithy; completion of planned landscaping work; creation of Smithy Hub Manager post and implementation of maintenance plan.
Future Phases of Development – construction of field centre/accommodation unit for use in residency training courses and as an educational resource; pursuit of the dairy project
Kirkton Woodland and Heritage Group is currently managed by a board of seven directors assisted by three office bearers (treasurer, membership secretary and minutes secretary) and three employees (Local Development Officer, Research Assistant and a Forestry Consultant) alongside a significant number of volunteers. Membership of the group currently stands at 155.
As stated in the Memorandum and Articles of Association the aim of the group is: “To manage community land and associated assets for the benefit of the Community and the public in general as an important part of the protection and sustainable development of Scotland’s natural environment, where sustainable development means development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. To advance the education of the Community about its environment, culture and/or history…. [and] to advance the arts, heritage, culture and science”
KWHG acquired ownership of the Smithy Heritage Hub in 2009 and has enhanced the profile of the site significantly through the construction of two new units (the iGallery and Kiki’s Craft Corner) alongside the Treehouse project. KWHG is also actively involved in the community takeover of Kirkton Woodland – a project which will see the 92 hectare wood used for the benefit of the community through the creation of new employment opportunities, income generation via the sale of timber and in the longer term the creation of a recreational space for both locals and tourists. There are numerous other income generation possibilities offered through the potential for woodland crofts, affordable housing and the establishment of a sawmill to name but a few of the proposals. While the project is very much in its infancy, as of November 2014 KWHG has successfully acquired funding to purchase the site and is proceeding with the acquisition with the hiring of Forest Officer due to start work in January 2015.
KWHG is also actively involved in the running of adult education courses which nets around £9,000 per year in non-profit revenue (any income generated goes towards the associated costs of running the courses).
A wide range of courses have been put on offer with a particular emphasis on traditional skills with a cross-generational focus (i.e. ensuring that knowledge from the older generation is passed on rather than lost). Examples of the types of courses made available include art/crafts courses (tying in with Kiki’s Craft Corner and artists operating out of the iGallery) with an emphasis on using natural products and traditional skills through the medium of art and crafts, environmentally friendly rural skills for sustainable living such as dry-stone walling and bicycle maintenance, creative recording, bread making, woodwork and Gaelic language courses. Educational talks and intergenerational projects also fall under the remit of adult education, in particular talks held by Paul Swann who has been engaged in a project tracing the lives of soldiers recorded on the local WW1 War Memorial (a good example of why it is important to record the knowledge of the older generation before it is lost); the work being carried out by Paul Swann will ultimately lead to the publication of a book and digital archive which will provide an additional source of income for the group. A series of governance related training courses (e.g. VAT registration, advice on setting up a community company etc.) have also been run which is of specific benefit to the progression of KWHG as an organisation as well as enhancing the knowledge of active volunteers and board members. A substantial amount of additional support (through access to training and advice) has been provided through organisations such as Highlands & Islands Enterprise, the Community Woodlands Association and HISEZ (Highlands & Islands Social Enterprise Zone).
Despite the large amount of community support and volunteer effort that goes into work of the KWHG on an organisational level does not function as effectively as it could. The board is very much reliant on the work being carried out by the Local Development Officer (a post which is reliant on external funding). While this is understandable given that the board is comprised entirely of volunteers (all of whom have other commitments), in the long-term this approach appears unsustainable given the LDO’s involvement in other community projects. The group themselves acknowledge that governance of the organisation could be improved and efforts have been made to rectify the problems associated with the current model.
It was agreed that a more a robust and comprehensive model of governance should be put in place for the future. In the interests of achieving best practice KWHG began to look at the setting up of a trading arm specifically for the purpose of separating the running of Kirkton Woodland with that of the Smithy Heritage Hub. Advice from the Development Trust Association of Scotland (DTAS) was sought and the group has subsequently decided to affiliate itself with this organisation to better access knowledge about the governance models adopted by other community organisations and the wealth of experience gathered from their involvement in similar projects. Over time it had become apparent that the inherited name of ‘Kirkton Woodland & Heritage Group’ name was perhaps not the most accurate or informative of portrayals of the groups activities as a) it did not convey the community nature of the organisation, b) it did not acknowledge the activities of the group outside of Kirkton Woodland/the Smithy Community Hub, and c) the use of the word ‘Kirkton’ referred to a specific area of Lochcarron, one that has very little meaning to those not familiar with the area. Ultimately it was decided that the name of the organisation should be changed to Lochcarron Community Development Company with the trading arm to be entitled Kirkton Trading Company as the operations of the trading arm would be specifically concerned with Kirkton Woodland. In addition to separating the Smithy and Woodland operations, the decision to set up a trading arm also provided the opportunity to increase the number of board members across the two groups, thus bringing in new individuals with skills and knowledge specifically concerning the woodland to the trading arm and some new faces to the anchor organisation which will hopefully lead to better delegation of tasks, clarification of responsibilities and roles, increased communication and decreasing the already substantial workload of the Local Development Officer. To ensure sustainability of both Kirton woodland, the Smithy Community hub and any future development projects it is vital that there is no reliance on one individual. A resilient and adaptive organisational structure needs to be created and maintained to lead any community development and further the aims and objectives of the organisation.
For the purposes of this report the organisation will continue to be referred to as Kirkton Woodland & Heritage Group (KWHG) as these changes are still in the process of being enacted.
The area of Lochcarron is located on the coast of Wester Ross, along the sea loch of Loch Carron. The wider community area totals 320km² and encompasses the villages of Strathcarron, Kishorn and Lochcarron itself which is by far the largest settlement in the area and stretches around two miles along the loch.
The recent community ballot (conducted as part of the application to the National Forest Land Scheme) placed the population as follows:
Adult population: 755
Children in secondary education: 48
Children in primary education: 41
Under the age of five: 23
Of the adult population, around 41% are aged over 60 years. As with many rural Highland communities, the area is characterised by an ageing population and falling school rolls. Employment opportunities are limited and many youngsters opt to move from the area in order to find work; as a result there is a low number of people of employable age and often those who do manage to find work find themselves underemployed. The area is also highly attractive to people coming to retire and there is a high number of holiday houses and second homes; in combination with trends in Government policy dating back to Housing Act of 1980, this has resulted in a shortage of affordable housing. The area is also characterised by falling school rolls which is also partially due to the diminishing resident working population.
The area does benefit from its popularity with tourists due to its scenic beauty and convenient location for access to Skye/Lochalsh and the Torridon/Applecross areas; tourism is currently the area’s biggest employment sector followed by crofting and fish-farming. The importance of tourism is highlighted by the number of businesses offering accommodation (there are currently three hotels, two guest houses and over forty B&B/self-catering cottages operating in the immediate area).
The Smithy Community Hub comprises of the following buildings:
- the Smithy building itself
- Office Space & Toilets (attached to Smithy)
- 1 Unit currently occupied by MacPherson’s Tartan
- Birchwood: currently occupied by Kiki’s Craft Corner
- Pinewood, currently comprising:
- the iGallery (short for Information & Gallery)
- 2 Office Spaces (1 currently unoccupied)
There is also a large natural space behind the buildings above including a wooded area with a path leading up the Treehouse (a unique environmental community space) and a picnic area consisting of three wooden tables towards the rear of the site. The natural space also includes planted trees of native species with name plays in Gaelic, Latin and English, a section of willow art and access to the riverbank, alongside natural ground flora.
The group generates the majority of on-site income through the rental of the three units (including the additional office space in Pinewood), with additional income being generated through hire of the Treehouse, sale of KWHG goods in the iGallery and events such as the open day. Aspects of the adult education programme are also run on site.
The two craft units provide a steady stream of revenue to KWHG in the form of rent (currently standing at £320 per month for Kiki’s Craft Corner and £120pm for the Tartan shop) as well as contributing significantly to visitor numbers on the site. Kiki’s Craft Corner in particular has proved to be an extremely successful venture both in the sale of craft goods and the numerous training courses running throughout the year which have attracted visitors from all over Scotland. Locals also participate regularly in these courses some of whom have gone on to utilise their skills in starting their own arts and craft businesses. Indeed several participants have since opted to rent space in the iGallery to showcase their goods – thus providing another source of revenue for KWHG.
The iGallery itself serves two primary functions: firstly, providing information to tourists, leaflets on the local area (produced by KWHG itself) and more general leaflets on tourist activities in Scotland (courtesy of VisitScotland); and secondly, providing an opportunity for local artists and craftspeople to showcase and sell their goods. A monthly fee (currently set at: £40 per table and wall space, £20 per half table, £12 for a showcase space) is charged for the rent of space in the iGallery, providing the bulk of revenue generated from the building. In Autumn 2014 the iGallery underwent alteration with the construction of two new office spaces – as well as utilising space more effectively (no showcase space was lost a result of the renovation and locals have commented the iGallery now has a ‘cosier’ feel to it). This has also provided the opportunity to let the office space for rent. One office is currently occupied by the Local Development Officer while the other is currently vacant (while this is partially due to only being advertised for a short-period of time, finding a tenant for the second office should be amongst the priorities for 2015).
The sale of KWHG products and leaflets also provides additional revenue although there is scope for the expansion of this aspect of income generation; one of the suggested responsibilities of the new manager post would be to investigate and implement the possibilities for expansion in this area. The sale of Ordinance Survey maps, for instance, would both meet an identified need (iGallery volunteers note that tourists have enquired about maps on several occasions) and provide a not insubstantial form of additional revenue (as the mark-up on these products tends to be significant). Through the course of public consultation it was also noted that local shops sell a significant amount of fishing equipment over the course of the year; with the closure of the Butcher’s shop in Lochcarron there is no longer a formal location for visitors to acquire fishing permits – this is another area where the Smithy Hub Manager may wish to look at possible ways of generating additional income (e.g. the iGallery could perhaps serve as a location for the acquisition of fishing permits, possibly charging a fee for the service).
Currently the iGallery is run entirely by volunteers; while this approach has proved successful in establishing the iGallery as a business, in many ways it has become a victim of its own success. As visitor numbers have increased it has become apparent that a more robust organisational structure is necessary to sustain the business. The initial idea was to form a crafts collective with organisational oversight of the running of the iGallery; however, due to the unwillingness of the craftmakers this particular model was never enacted. A lack of experience with running a business of this nature and a reluctance to tenant the space on a shared basis with tourism information/KWHG goods contributed towards this decision. As a short-term solution, KWHG opted to rent out space to the craftmakers on an individual basis with the craftmakers taking responsibility for the manning of the tourist information desk. However, over time the iGallery contributors have become more experienced and as of Winter 2014 have taken steps to organise themselves on a more collective basis, albeit not as a formally constituted group. This has reopened the possibility of changing current arrangements for the rent of space and the running of the iGallery itself. The possibility of craftmakers taking a greater degree of organisational control and rent being charged for use of the space as a whole (rather than current individual arrangements) was mooted at a meeting in December 2014 and met positively by members of the currently ad hoc craft group.
Invariably the use of volunteers does mean that the problems associated with volunteer fatigue (e.g. stress, disengagement, loss of enthusiasm) do show themselves from time to time. While many of the volunteers possess excellent customer service skills and local knowledge, this does not apply across the board (both of these issues were identified in the context of interviews alongside personal observation). With the crafts group now taking steps to organise themselves on a more collective basis, this has opened up new possibilities for the employment of an individual to run and market the iGallery. One of the suggested responsibilities of the Smithy Manager is a 25% (10hr) contribution towards the running of the iGallery (as this corresponds with the space currently taken up by KWHG goods and two new offices) – if the craft group were to become a formal organisation there would be scope for them to offer a contribution towards the Smithy Hub Manager’s salary to increase the proposed 10hr contribution, or alternately to look at the feasibility of hiring someone on a full or part-time basis to run the business.
The two other craft units (Kiki’s Craft Corner & John MacPherson’s Tartan) have maintenance issues (namely grass cutting and, in the case of the unit occupied John MacPherson’s Tartan, timber re-staining and repair of gaps in the timber with sealant) which will need to be addressed as the Board is liable. There is also the need to clarify responsibilities over who should liaise with tenants and ensure adherence to tenancy agreements; this is partially due to the Board being comprised entirely of volunteers as directors are reluctant to take on additional responsibilities when they are already giving up free time to run the organisation. However, both of these issues will need to be addressed in the near future; maintenance problems can to some extent be solved through volunteer workparties (however, again a comprehensive maintenance plan for the site as a whole is needed) but the question of who is responsible for liaising with tenants needs to be addressed. In the longer-term it seems unrealistic to expect the Board to take on ever-increasing responsibilities as this approach is simply unsustainable given volunteer capacity has already been reached; having an individual on site with specific responsibility over tenancy arrangements would help significantly in this regard.
The Smithy building, built in the 1820’s, is currently not open to the public despite the site as a whole being classed as a heritage location by VisitScotland. The building last functioned as a museum in 2006 and has since fallen into a dilapidated state. A significant number of visitors to the iGallery make enquiries about access to the building and several comments have been recorded in the visitor book about the possible renovation of the Smithy. The issue was also raised several times in the context of interviews with members of local village businesses, many of whom feel that a functioning heritage centre would be an asset not only to the site but the village as a whole. There exists a substantial amount of primary source material specifically concerning local history and a strong feeling was expressed by interviewees that this material should be available for public access. We will examine the possible options for refurbishment of the Smithy building in greater detail later on in this document.
The office unit attached to the Smithy was built around 1990/1991 and serves several purposes including kitchen space (often used in the context of open days and similar events held on site), archive storage and a meeting space. There is also a toilet for use of the tenant of the small workshop, volunteers and people using the Treehouse/the office itself. As with much of the rest of the site, there are drainage problems associated with this building as the timber cladding often sits in water. Between 2005 and 2009 the building suffered from damp and rot with several archives being lost; ultimately the building needed to be refurbished. Storage has also been a problem and remains so though this can be addressed through additional shelving and archive boxes.
The Treehouse is a unique community space built in 2011 as part of a project between KWHG and architect and production company October Films. It was one of three such structures featured in Sky TV’s Great British Treehouse Challenge. A significant amount of volunteer support went into the building of this environmentally friendly structure and visitors to the iGallery often enquire about the building. The Treehouse is available for hire (currently standing at £5 per hour) and provides a small but steady stream of revenue for KWHG with funds raised going towards the community buyout of Kirkton Woodland. As it currently stands the Treehouse is somewhat underutilised, although over the course of the past six months there has been an improvement in the amount of hire. As the Treehouse represents a valuable asset to the site it is vital that KWHG takes full advantage of this unique building in looking at additional ways to increase interest in bookings.
There are several possibilities to increase use of the building. However, a fundamental problem is that cleaning, maintenance, marketing and bookings of the Treehouse are currently handled by one volunteer who also works full-time; this area in particular is one where volunteer capacity has been reached. Having an employee on site with specific responsibility for the marketing (and management of booking) of the Treehouse alongside identifying new ways of expanding use of the building would help substantially in increasing bookings. Possible options include: fine dining (KWHG may well want to look at collaborating with local restaurants to make this as viable prospect as it has the potential to significantly increase the income currently generated through bookings), tailored events such as weddings and birthday parties, and finally use of the Treehouse as a music space. The Treehouse boasts superb acoustics and has hosted several music events – both live performances as well as a training course on sound recording which was conducted last year as part of KWHG’s adult education programme. Wester Ross has a thriving music scene and the School of Traditional Music operates out of Plockton (which serves as the local high school for the area). While use of the Treehouse as a venue for live performances has limited potential for income generation (the Treehouse can only seat 15 indoors and due to the costs associated with events/entertainment licenses it is difficult to turn a profit) there are other options to take advantage of the high-quality acoustics including as a potential location for recording and as a practice space for musicians.
The wooded area needs regular maintenance, this is done at the moment by two volunteer workparties a year, who can only manage a minimum of seasonal tidying. Currently grass cutting to the front of the site and around the paths is done by one volunteer. The paths require drainage and regular clearing to stop the build up of mud. There is also a large amount of bracken around the site, and a lot of work will be required to stop it proliferating and dominating the site to the detriment of other native plants; brambles also need cutting back.
The wooded area was once deer fenced and contained raised beds with heritage plants and an early attempt at a tree nursery. The fencing was damaged by building work and when the Treehouse was made, the cut sections of fence are still in place creating an eyesore and a potential health and safety hazard. Now that the deer are on site the trees are suffering damage, particularly the willow structure and younger trees. A decision needs to be taken about removal of fence, removal of damaged sections of fence, reinstating it or fencing a small area to protect young trees and provide opportunity for community/pilot growing projects. A willow bed had been planted in 2013 to provide weaving willow to supply regular training sessions, despite regular volunteer efforts the deer damage has made it impossible for the willow slips to grow and the bed has failed. The Board will want to look at replacing missing trees with adequate deer protection.
Much of the rest of the ground is currently underutilised. The picnic area is situated a long way from the car park and it is not at all apparent from the road that the Smithy site offers an opportunity for tourists to stop for picnic breaks- The tables are in poor condition and close together, which is useful for organised events but not best layout for impromptu individual seating by visitors. It is strongly recommended that KWHG looks at the possibility of providing additional picnic tables and benches situated throughout the site, preferably with some situated by the roadside to make their existence apparent. The ground situated in front of the iGallery and Kiki’s Craft Corner is currently overgrown with severe drainage problems and with some landscaping and the inclusion of picnic tables could be far more visually attractive. Improving the overall image of the site from the road (an issue identified in both interviews and tourist information surveys) would contribute significantly to higher visitor numbers (and thus higher income generation) at a relatively low cost. In the past bird feeding stations on site were very popular and a bird watchers diary revealed that a wide variety of birds were visiting the area when fed the correct mixtures, this fell by the wayside due to a lack of volunteers to fill the feeders and a lack of funding for seeds, occasionally local shops donated bird food – one possible recommendation would be for the Board to look at reinstating this at some point in the future.
The Smithy Community Hub is situated about one mile from the village of Lochcarron; it is in a prime location for attracting visitors due to its close proximity to the A890 – the main route between Inverness and Skye/Wester Ross. Despite the advantages of its location the site suffers from a lack of visibility; current signage is inadequate and both tourists and visitors have commented that often the Tourist Information Centre/iGallery has the appearance of being closed.
As can be seen from the photo to the left the two workshops constructed in 2012 are not immediately visible upon approaching the site from the east (the main route taken by visitors entering the village). The site also happens to be situated on one of the few dual- track sections of the road meaning that often road users are inclined to drive to the speed limit which reduces the amount of time visitors have to take in the features of the site. The photo also highlights the haphazard nature of current signage; these smaller boards advertise the businesses contained within the Smithy Hub on an individual basis. In the future, installation a larger sign unifying the different elements of the site would be more eye-catching and visually attractive as well as offering a cohesive overview of the facilities/attractions offered by the Smithy Community Hub.
There are also visibility problems relating to internal site layout/landscaping. Due to the positioning of the Birchwood and Pinewood, the iGallery/TIC is not visible from the car park (see picture to right). It has been noted that several visitors have gone into the Birchwood Cabin to enquire about tourist information, not realising the iGallery is in fact situated in Pinewood. Visibility can be partially improved through the extension of existing paving all the way up to Birchwood – this would make the existence of the second building more apparent. The installation of a banner/sign situated on the verge in front of the cabin would also help to improve roadside visibility; additional colourful artwork/flags (sail-flag type banners have been suggested) would also help in making visitors more aware of the iGallery’s presence. Another suggestion which arose in the course of consultation was the use of colourful stones painted with the ‘i’ tourist information symbol to create a trail leading up to Pinewood from the car park.
The area between the Pinewood and Birchwood cabins deteriorates quickly in poor weather (see below); a path connecting the cabins to the woodland walk was planned as part of Phase 3 of development but never occurred due to a shortfall in funding) – this would enhance site connectivity and, alongside further artistic interpretation of the space, improve the visual appeal of the site for visitors.
As with much of the site, the car park suffers from severe drainage problems and over time the pot holes have increasingly worsened to the extent where they now represent a hazard. Manual filling in of potholes provides only temporary relief and a longer-term solution is required.
The following photographs highlight the various maintenance work needed around the site.
The photo to the right shows the currently un-utilised area between the Pinewood and Birchwood cabin – a path situated here would enhance site connectivity.
The photo immediately below highlights the state of the car park:
|Paths around the site have a tendency to deteriorate in poor weather; drainage improvements are required.|
Of the existing buildings there are several maintenance issues which need to be addressed.
The timber cladding of the office unit next to the Smithy often sits in water during wet weather:
Drainage remains a problem for the site as a whole and a long-term solution will need to be identified and implemented.
The small craft workshop (occupied by John MacPherson) also has several maintenance issues which need to be addressed – including re-staining of timber cladding:
Over the course of July/August a series of interviews were conducted within the Lochcarron area to generate additional community input into the development process. In order to establish a reasonable cross-range of opinion a variety of local businesses were engaged alongside individuals with specific knowledge relevant to the project. Of the businesses interviewed many of them are, to varying degrees, reliant on tourism for trade; likewise of the individuals interviewed several of them are actively involved in the self-catering industry. This in many ways is representative of the Lochcarron area as a whole – with the decline of the traditional crofting and fishing industries, tourism has become vital for the long-term sustainability of the Lochcarron community as a whole. Several of the individuals interviewed also had a specific knowledge of marketing which proved to be useful as improving the visibility of the site had been identified as a major necessity early on in the development process.
Lochcarron being a fairly close-knit rural community, often people were very reluctant to give input which might be regarded as being critical of the way things are currently done. Several of those interviewed did so under condition that their comments would not be attributed to them; for this purpose the responses have been amalgamated in order to maintain the privacy of respondents.
All the interviews conducted were one-on-one sessions usually lasting between 15 to 30 minutes, although in some instances they extended beyond an hour. A conscious effort was made to avoid leading interviewees wherever possible. The interviews were designed to be as open-ended as possible: rather than prompt people to elicit certain answers, interviewees were asked questions such as how they saw the Smithy site in five to ten years, aspects of what we currently do that could be improved and, for those familiar with the workings of KWHG, what improvements could be made on an organisational level. In the few instances where respondents were not familiar with the site and its various components, respondents were given an overview of the current situation alongside broad suggestions as to the sort of areas where KWHG were looking to make improvements. Otherwise there was no form of prompting whatsoever. For individuals who were unable to formulate thoughts specifically in regards to the Smithy, respondents were asked more general questions about the area such as how to better encourage tourists to stay longer in the Lochcarron district and asking them to identify areas in which the wider Lochcarron area is currently lacking in provision for both tourists and locals.
By and large almost all of the interviews were extremely productive. Most interviewees had a lot of ideas and thoughts about the project and were happy to share them. Ideas generated were extremely diverse and often original, however over the course of the interviews several common themes emerged. It is worth noting that respondents gave their answers entirely independently of one another – part of the reason for holding the sessions on a one-to-one basis was to avoid the potential pitfalls of groupthink and confirmation bias.
A more detailed breakdown of comments is given in the appendix.
Overview of local businesses/individuals interviewed
Alistair Baxter – Chair of Lochcarron & District Business Asssociation, also runs a self-catering business
The Bistro – restaurant run by Alex Ferguson and Stephen McLachlan situated in a prominent position on Lochcarron main street. The Bistro also features a gift shop including a selection of crafts from local artists.
Carron Pottery – pottery, gift shop and gallery run by Rob and Jan Teago situated near the village of Strathcarron.
iGallery Volunteers – the local craftspeople and artists who volunteer to run the iGallery. This was particularly useful as, as well as being extremely familiar with the Smithy site, many of them had a good level of insight into how KWHG and the iGallery function (or perhaps could function better) at an organisational level.
Joanne Macpherson – responsible for Attadale Estate (which also encompasses Attadale Gardens, a major tourist attraction in the area) and runs a self-catering business on the estate. Extensive background in marketing and advertising.
John MacPherson – artisan tartan weaver based on the Smithy site.
Kiki’s Craft Corner – craft shop specialising in materials and tools for textile and fibre artists run by Keira and Bart MacFleet. Situated in one of the two new units on the Smithy site.
Kishorn Seafood Bar – award winning seafood restaurant run by Viv Rollo situated in the village of Kishorn.
Lochcarron Garage – shop, garage and filling station situated in a prominent position at the entrance to the village. Run by Duncan Ross.
Lochcarron Spar – highly successful village shop and has received recognition for this in the form of several ‘village shop of the year’ awards. Owned by Tony Wilkinson who also has the prior experience of running the Lochcarron Hotel.
Lochcarron Weavers – shop featuring tartan and highland wear from Lochcarron of Scotland, managed by Joy Moran. Although this site is situated a little way out of the village it still manages to attract a large number of tourists due to its reputation.
Michael Stuart Green – local artist and graphics designer who runs a studio from his house on Lochcarron main street.
Participants in Producer’s Day – monthly event hosted in the village hall by KWHG. Stall holders and visitors/locals were interviewd in a series of shorter (5-10 minute) consultations.
Strathcarron Hotel – bar, hotel and live music venue situated in the village of Strathcarron on the main road between Inverness and Skye. Run by Andrew and Eileen Flett.
Waterside Cafe – restaurant situated on Lochcarron main street. Managed by Kate and Geoff Ellis who are also involved in self-catering.
Summary of Responses
In the interests of brevity responses have been summarised; a more detailed account of specific recommendations is given in the Appendix. The main themes identified were as follows:
- The need for improved signage. Many respondents were of the view that current temporary improvised signage was neither sufficiently eye-catching or situated prominently enough to attract more tourists from the road.
- The overall landscaping of the site. Many respondents felt that the site would be considerably improved through landscaping; maintenance issues were also highlighted.
- The refurbishment of the Smithy building was a common theme; many respondents remembered when the Smithy was an operational heritage centre and commented that having the Smithy restored would be hugely beneficial to the site
- Many respondents commented on the state of the car park (i.e. potholes), with some suggesting that it represented a hazard.
- Several respondents commented that the site often had the appearance it was closed.
- Catering facilities were mentioned by several respondents as desirable.
- Many respondents commented on the advantages of having toilet facilities open to the public. Again, practicalities will need to be considered here as the current sceptic tank is of insufficient size.
- Several respondents commented on the management of the iGallery and offered suggestions as to how this could be improved
- On an organisational level it was suggested that KWHG could do a better job of advertising current events and keeping the community informed.
- Respondents had several suggestions as to how KWHG might better advertise itself and the work it does in the community.
- The relative lack of usage of the Treehouse was cited by several respondents, with the predominant view being that this could be solved through better marketing.
- And on a more general level, amongst the respondents involved in the tourist industry several commented that one of the fundamental problems with the Lochcarron area as a whole is the lack of tourist attractions. Lack of children’s activities in particular was highlighted with respondents suggesting that KWHG could work in conjunction with other local organisations to tie in activities offered on site with greater provision in the community as a whole.
Some of the suggestions generated were deemed impractical for various reasons (see appendix for more detail).
In recognising the issues identified through the course of consultation this project will aim to:
- Renovate and refurbish the Smithy building and in doing so provide a valuable learning resource and a visitor attraction
- Address existing maintenance and drainage problems
- Address current signage problems. There are two main options for roadside signage: a) the pursuit of planning permission for signage directly outside the Smithy site (unlikely to be granted), or b) the pursuit of planning permission in conjunction with other businesses/organisations operating out of Lochcarron to secure signage for the village as a whole situated near the Strathcarron junction (more likely)
- Landscaping of the site to improve connectivity and the visual attractiveness of the site as a whole
- To provide employment in the form of the Smithy Hub Manager post to have responsibility over the management of the site, and secure the implementation of a business plan and maintenance plan
- Improve the usage of current buildings and facilities on site (e.g. the Treehouse) as well as increasing visitor numbers
Of the suggested elements, it is important to note that the achievement of several of these objectives is time dependent. Costs associated with the refurbishment of the Smithy building and required maintenance work will invariably rise if delayed considerably longer.
What difference will the project make for heritage?
Four key outcomes:
Local heritage will be in a better condition – The Smithy building will have been renovated and the general environment and connectivity within the Smithy Hub will have been improved. There will be access to the Smithy building which will provide a new heritage experience for local people and tourists. The training in rural traditional crafts will maintain craft heritages and create new interests in these.
Heritage will be better managed – The Smithy Hub manager will ensure the effective ongoing management of the Smithy (which is currently derelict). The manager will plan and maintain the Smithy and other heritage opportunities for the Trust. Once the Trust takes ownership of the Kirkton Woodland from the Forestry Commission, it will provide a stable financial basis for the management of the heritage.
Heritage will be better interpreted and explained – The Smithy will provide the opportunity to interpret local heritage and engage with both local people and tourists in understanding more about the history of the area. The Smithy would provide an outlet for current archives to be accessed by the general public alongside new displays based on local heritage including oral and photographic histories. It will provide clear explanations and bring the heritage of the area to life.
Heritage will be identified and recorded – The Smithy itself will become accessible to the public, having been inaccessible for some time. By use of exhibitions, other aspects of local heritage will have been identified. The training in rural traditional crafts will maintain craft heritages and create new interest in these.
What difference will the project make for people?
Five key outcomes:
People will have learned about heritage – The Smithy will provide a focus for a wide range of activities to allow people to learn about their heritage. This will include the opportunities to learn on the site including work with the local school.
People will have developed skills – There is concern that traditional skills such as spinning, felting and weaving are dying out; the training in a range of rural heritage skills will provide a learning resource and opportunities to develop further interest in these skills.
People will have had an enjoyable experience – The Smithy Hub will provide activities that are fun, rewarding and encourage interest in our heritage. The Smithy building provides the opportunity to improve the quality of welcome for visitors to the wider Smithy Hub. Feedback will be gathered from visitors about the quality of their visit.
People will have volunteered time – The Trust has a tradition of volunteering. This includes the Trust Board, with 10 volunteer members. And it also includes volunteering in providing information and in carrying out activities around the site, such as landscaping tidy-up. The group will augment the opportunities for volunteering and measure the impact of this for volunteers.
People will have changed their attitudes and/or behaviour – The project will aim to increase the extent to which people value their heritage and traditional rural crafts. The project will work with particular groups (such as school children) whose future attitudes and behaviour in relation to heritage are vital. We envisage inter-generational work to improve understanding and change attitudes and behaviour.
What difference will the project make for communities?
Four key outcomes:
More people and a wider range of people will have engaged with heritage – This project will provide a renewed historic building dedicated to promoting local heritage and a focus for the work that has already been undertaken on the site. By providing additional facilities (and improving signage and promotion) considerably more people will be attracted to the site. This will be through ‘passing trade’ – especially visitors – but also from an increase in local people’s awareness of and use of the facility. We will target people from a wide range of ages and social backgrounds as well as disabled people to increase the breadth of engagement.
Our local area/community will be a better place to live in, work in or visit – The appearance of the roadside building will have been improved. More importantly, the increased use of the building will lead to greater pride in the local area. The Smithy Hub will be a tourist attraction that will draw in visitors and improve their holiday experience.
Our local economy will be boosted – The increased number of people visiting the Hub will have a knock-on impact on local businesses – particularly local shops and restaurants as well as hotels and B&Bs. It will also have an impact on the emerging craft-based businesses already operating on the site.
Our organisation will be more resilient – Completing the physical development of the properties owned by the Trust will increase the group’s resilience. The creation of a Hub Manager post over 2015/16 will provide the impetus to the sustainable development of the site as a whole. This post would be continued after March 2016 using funds generated by the Trust as a result of their woodland activities, which will include commercial forestry; the creation of micro-businesses; and the provision of forestry-related training for local people.
Creation of Smithy Hub Manager position
The site as a whole requires a comprehensive maintenance plan to be implemented alongside effective site management for the future; however, with volunteer capacity already stretched it is simply not feasible to expect volunteers to meet these needs. If development of the Smithy Community Hub is to be sustainable the creation of a site manager post is needed in order to achieve these objectives as well as overseeing future development on site.
The Smithy Hub Manager would primarily be responsible for site management, with the following specific responsibilities proposed:
- liaising with tenants and ensuring adherence to tenancy agreements
- volunteer management and overseeing the implementation of the maintenance plan
- controlling a maintenance budget for the site
- account management and establishing of a business plan for the site
- management of bookings – meeting/exhibition space (Pinewood, Smithy office etc.), Treehouse and proposed field centre (see section below on future aspirational projects)
- marketing the site as a whole and establishing a promotional strategy
- management of the training programme (incl. finances, marketing, tutor hire etc.)
- overseeing the development of the Smithy building as a heritage centre
- possible role in funding acquisition for future development projects on site
- suggested 10hr (25%) contribution towards iGallery staffing
It is also important to be realistic about expectations and the board of the new steering group (LCDC) will need to look at how they can tie in and support the role of the Smithy manager. As the role is quite varied the group will need to take into consideration such aspects as volunteer management where some degree of board input would enable the Smithy manager to focus more on site development and future projects.
Based on the fact that the role of Local Development Officer is reliant on funding from HIE, which is due to expire in 2015 (with no indication as to whether it will be renewed), there may be a greater emphasis on the Smithy manager to take on additional responsibilities in regards to the acquisition of funding specific to projects on site.
Refurbishment of the Smithy Building
Specific work on building needed is outlined in the list of suggested work required below.
The proposed refurbishment of the Smithy Building aims to bring this building back into productive use as heritage centre (in 2005, when the building last functioned as a heritage centre, the footfall per annum was circa 3000 visitors per year). This will provide an opportunity for local people and tourists to interpret and engage in local heritage and increase their understanding of local history. A mixture of fixed and temporary displays would enable the centre to showcase artefacts/source material, run exhibitions highlighting the different facets of local history and provide a valuable learning resource to the public. A significant amount of material has been gathered over the years on local heritage and this project would aim to provide an archive of this material open to the public in the interests of both conservation and education.
As the building would be unmanned in the short-term, it would be impractical to charge an entrance fee (although a donation box is worth considering as an alternative); however, in terms of income generation there are other options that can be pursued. A fee could be charged for the reproduction of historical photos (i.e. 50+ years, not subject to copyright law) and documentation accessed from the archive – this option has been pursued quite successfully by other heritage locations in Scotland (see Buckie Fishery Museum) and as a model can be made applicable to this site by tying in with the facilities that are already available (both Pinewood and the Smithy office building have reprographic facilities). Sale of heritage products and leaflets can be done in conjunction with the iGallery; in the longer term local heritage projects such as Paul Swan’s work on the Ross Mountain Battery present the opportunity to produce publications for sale – with the Smithy heritage centre as a means of publicising the existence of these works.
Maintenance / Landscaping / General Work needed around site
Below is a summary of suggested work required and is by no means exhaustive. Some of the work will require funding and professionals to deliver, while other aspects can be completed by volunteers or over a longer term.
Buildings around the site:
Funding support/professional assistance needed:
- addressing current drainage problems affecting the building (incl. raising the floor using an additional layer of concrete) and preventing water penetration
- repointing of external stonework
- insulating the refurbished building
- installation of suitable heating apparatus
- possible enlargement of doorway
- installation of new skylights
If plans to restore the Smithy as a heritage centre are to proceed additional resources will also be required to achieve this objective, including but not limited to: flexible/fixed display boards, leaflet display holders, a front desk and storage space for archiving.
Office Building & Toilet
- timber cladding needs re-staining (a more muted colour has been suggested)
- regular cleaning and maintenance of the building needs to be established
- current storage problems could be addressed through additional shelving and archive boxes
Funding support/expertise needed:
- the outside timber cladding sits in water during wet weather and the building needs improved external drainage
Craft Unit: MacPherson’s Tartan
- timber cladding needs re-staining/sealing (again perhaps in a more muted colour)
- existing timber gaps will need repair with sealant
- bushes near the west wall need cutting away, built up soil and weed around the foundations also need clearing away
- grass cutting and general maintenance of the building need to be established on a regular basis
Craft Unit: Kiki’s Craft Corner
- grass around the foundations needs to be kept down
Funding support/expertise needed:
- movement around the site would be improved with the installation of steps to where a natural shortcut has developed leading down from the door of the cabin to the path around to Pinewood
- cleaning and maintenance of the building is needed on a regular basis alongside grass cutting around the exterior
- staffing arrangements for next year to be established (possibly in conjunction with Smithy manager on a part-time basis)
- arrangements for bookkeeping/rota organising of iGallery also need to be established
Funding/expertise support needed:
- support required for implementing effective management/coordination/liaison structure with iGallery volunteers
- additional fixtures + fittings alongside grid walls for iGallery display
- marketing and signage
- straps need adjusting to compensate for tree growth
- roof needs clearing of debris (twice annually)
- general cleaning on a regular basis
- management of bookings and marketing (suggested responsibility of Smithy manger)
Small Tool Shed
- needs lock fitting
- re-staining required
Funding support needed:
- storage shed 2.5m x 4.5m to house trolley, spare chairs, tables, marquee, etc.; the storage shed would need to be secure and watertight – suggest timber clad in keeping with the rest of the site; raised on blocks for damp protection. Suggested location: rear of Pinewood Cabin.
Area in front of Smithy
- general weeding
- installation of raised bed planting with deer protection
Funding/expertise support needed:
- addressing drainage problems
Area in front of Cabins
- alder and bramble by the roadside need to be kept down with regular cutting
Funding/expertise support needed:
- large amount of soil needed to level the area near the pathways
- resolution of drainage problems
- suggested decking area to be pursued in next phase of development (as the suggested area is also a proposed location for the dairy project – see future aspirational projects)
- visibility improvements to the front area of the site; suggested installation of a picnic area visible from the road
Area between Cabins
- grass needs strimming on a regular basis
Funding/expertise support needed:
- installation of footpath broadwalk leading up to the wooded paths; future space around the broadwalk can also be used for interpretation
Funding/expertise support needed:
- consultant advice is needed on proposed improvements to the car park both in terms of identifying what can feasibly be achieved and also in regards to quotations
- a long-term solution to drainage problems is needed
- the car park itself needs resurfacing as the current surface breaks easily and creates potholes; a hardcore/gravel replacement would suffice
- digger work is required to extend the two sections currently separated by left over fencing
- living willow fence needs repairing/tidying
- brambles need cutting back
Funding/expertise support needed:
- physical interpretation (i.e. leaflet/signage) of Celtic Tree Alphabet project
- mulch for willow dome
- replacement trees as required
- installation of suitable fencing arrangement to protect trees
- area by front of cabins/by river has some old fencing that needs to be removed
- at the Treehouse entrance damaged fencing needs tidying back
- at the willow dome in the wooded area, the fence needs tidying up/closing over with access via a gate
Funding/expertise support needed:
- removal of left-over fencing to extend car park
- easterly footpath needs regular strimming; westerly footpath needs leaves etc. raking alongside drainage improvements/build up of low areas.
Funding/expertise support needed:
- Pinewood Cabin visibility problems to be addressed through extending existing paving all the way to Birchwood Cabin
- fine grit/gravel is needed for the build up of low areas path sections
- signage within site boundaries is not subject to the same stringent planning legislation as affecting off-site signage; suggested improvements include the installation of a site map sign near the car park, signage for the car park itself, and suitable signage/banners/flags to help with Pinewood’s visibility problems.
Funding/expertise support needed:
- roadside signage requires planning permission with the initial indications being that planning permission for advance signage would not granted. However, we have come to understand that the owner of a local garage managed to obtain permission for roadside signage advertising the village as a whole; KWHG may wish to pursue this option in conjunction with the Local Business Association.
- The visibility of Pinewood Cabin could also be improved through a banner/sign situated on the verge in front of the cabin; additional bright artwork/flags (sail-flag type banners have been suggested) would also help in improving the visibility of the building
Additional work needed around site:
Needed for winter months:
- existing outdoor lights in buildings (Treehouse x3, Smithy office front, Birchwood, Pinewood and rear of Smithy) need to be switched on from inside
Funding/expertise support needed:
- suggested installation of motion sensing lights at front/rear corners of Smithy and on small workshop to illuminate walkways and car park. Some lighting on the path to the Treehouse would also be aspirational.
- bracken needs regular cutting
- edges of woodland pathways need strimming
- brambles need keeping under control around buildings
- roadside strip in front of buildings needs 3 to 4 cuts per season
- pathways to Pinewood/Birchwood need 3/4 cuts a year
- area between the two cabins needs cutting
- eastern woodland pathway needs cutting 3/4 times a year
- existing vegetation around the picnic table area needs cutting
NB: grass cutting is currently undertaken by three volunteers, however in the long term it is unrealistic to expect three volunteers to be responsible for all the grass cutting requirements for a one and a half acre site. One suggested responsibility of the Smithy Manager would be to identify additional volunteer support to ease existing workloads; without a Smithy Manager this responsibility will need to be taken on by the Board.
General Tidying: Fencing Timber / Brash / Brambles
Left over fencing timber needs storage; suggested location behind Pinewood Cabin. Large pile of brash currently near to Pinewood Cabin/trees so will need to be moved to a suitable distance and supervised before starting a bonfire. Brambles around the site also need cutting back.
The Smithy building itself will need to be cleared out – suggest organisation of volunteer work party for 2015 for the purposes of clearing out the building.
Longer-Term Aspirational Projects
Field Centre/Accommodation Block: the proposed construction of an 180m² building for the purpose of enabling the site to host residency training courses and provide a new educational resource. The proposed building would be relatively basic in terms of amenities, drawing inspiration from the revival of the hutting movement in Scotland. Interest has been expressed in use of the building by Kiki’s Craft Corner and Lochcarron Sailing Club (who run a week-long sail training course annually alongside numerous other events throughout the year); in addition the field centre/accommodation block would be used in conjunction with Kirkton Woodland (recently acquired by KWHG in a community buyout) for the purpose of running training courses on areas such as forestry and environment.
Dairy Project: a project to establish a dairy unit on the Smithy site – the project is currently in its feasibility stage but may lead to the transfer of the work of a local dairy to the Lochcarron area; this has the potential to generate a significant stream of income for the site. Initially milk would be imported in with cheese and other dairy products being made on site; in the long-term local grazing options and the use of specialised traditional breeds are being looked into.
After the project ends
KWHG is an established organisation with a stable board of directors. This project (and the outcomes that will be achieved from it) is core to the work of the group. We have included future maintenance of the Smithy and the landscaping in the group’s long term plans. KWHG has agreed with the Forestry Commission that the group will take over the 92.6 hectare woodland at Kirkton Wood. This will provide an early source of income to the group as the damaged woodland is cleared and sold. New planting will be environmentally sympathetic; will acknowledge the heritage of the area – including the families who lived in the woodland; and will provide opportunities for training and employment.
With Smithy Manager & Funding
|Property is not maintained||With Smithy Manager & maintenance plan;
|Site becomes less attractive to visitors; maintenance costs rise||Maintenance costs included in group’s financial plans||KWHG/LCDC Board|
|Costs are higher than estimated||Low||Need to attract additional funding||Briefing and getting advice from professional advisors (architect/QS)||Development Officer|
|Visitor numbers are lower than expected||Low||Less impact on outcomes||Marketing budget and planning part of Smithy Manager’s role||SM (Smithy Manager)
|Drainage issues are not addressed||High (if no access to funding/ expertise support)||Risk of water penetration in buildings; maintenance costs rise; paths become inaccessible during bad weather reducing visitor numbers and site accessibility||Funding & expertise is sought and a maintenance schedule put in place||KWHG/LCDC Board|
|Refurbishment of Smithy building delayed||Medium||Costs for refurbishment rise; potential flooding risk||SM works to timescales & works with LDO to access funding||KWHG/LCDC Board
|Treehouse deteriorates.||Low||Less income from Treehouse hire; complaints; loss of goodwill and public interest||SM sets up volunteer plan and maintenance schedule||KWHG/LCDC Board|
|Existing Tenants raise complaints or move businesses.||Low||Loss of revenue income; loss of goodwill and amenities on site||SM liaises with tenants, introduces maintenance plan and ensures that site appearance and marketing is maximised||KWHG/LCDC Board
|Car park surface continues to deteriorate||High (if no access to funding/ expertise support)||Potential hazard; site becomes less attractive to visitors; danger of legal action or injury; costs associated with addressing problem rise||SM works to solve issue asap & works with LDO to access funding||KWHG/LCDC Board|
|Grass cutting requirements not met||Medium (dependent on implementation of maintenance plan)||Site becomes less attractive to visitors & loses support / goodwill locally; long grass masks other maintenance issues||SM sets up volunteer plan and maintenance schedule||KWHG/LCDC Board
|Signage problems not addressed||Low||Visibility of the site continues to suffer , loses support & goodwill locally– visitor numbers are not as high as they could be||SM works to coordinate signage, design, planning and marketing. Works with LDO to access funding||KWHG/LCDC Board
If no Smithy Manager, funding or expertise is found – i.e. the status quo
|Property is not maintained||High||Site becomes less attractive to visitors; maintenance costs rise||Maintenance costs included in group’s financial plans||KWHG/LCDC Board|
|Costs are higher than estimated||High||Need to attract additional funding||Briefing and getting advice from professional advisors (architect/QS)||Development Officer|
|Visitor numbers are lower than expected||Medium||Less impact on outcomes||KWHG/LCDC Board|
|Drainage issues are not addressed||High||Risk of water penetration in buildings; maintenance costs rise; paths become inaccessible during bad weather reducing visitor numbers and site accessibility||KWHG/LCDC Board|
|Refurbishment of Smithy building delayed||High||Costs for refurbishment rise; potential flooding risk||KWHG/LCDC Board|
|Treehouse deteriorates.||Medium||Less income from Treehouse hire; complaints; loss of goodwill and public interest||KWHG/LCDC Board|
|Existing Tenants raise complaints or move businesses.||Medium||Loss of revenue income; loss of goodwill and amenities on site||KWHG/LCDC Board|
|Car park surface continues to deteriorate||High||Potential hazard; site becomes less attractive to visitors; costs associated with addressing problem rise|
|Grass cutting requirements not met||High||Site becomes less attractive to visitors|
|Signage problems not addressed||Medium||Visibility of the site continues to suffer – visitor numbers are not as high as they could be|
We have undertaken local consultation to inform this application. We would continue to gather information from visitors and local businesses for the duration of the project. This would be on of the tasks for the Smithy Hub Manager. From visitors, this would gather information like:
- the quality of the physical improvements in the Smithy and the Hub more generally
- the quality, east of use and appropriateness of the interpretation and information provided
- the value that visitors put on understanding more about the local heritage
- what they might do as a result of their visit (that they would not have done otherwise)
- how well the visit met their expectations
- whether they would be interested in volunteering with the Trust – and, if so, what skills they could bring
- whether they had taken an interest in local heritage previously
From particular targeted groups (e.g. school children or people attending craft training), the information might also include:
- whether they are likely to change their attitude or behaviours
- whether they are likely to share their learning with others
- whether they have a better understanding of others in the community
Local businesses would be asked about:
- the value of the Smithy Heritage Hub for their business
- whether they have seen additional trade
And volunteers would be asked about:
- any changes as a result of their volunteering (such as new skills; greater confidence’ improved health and wellbeing; making a contribution to heritage)
In addition, we propose to commission an independent evaluation in the last months of 2015/16 to assess the extent to which the project has met its objectives. This would augment our evaluation report to you and also provide us with lessons about how we would take forward and sustain the project following the end of grant funding.
Breakdown of Costs
|Refurbishment of Smithy||Professional fees||£12,000.00|
|Landscaping & Extension to car park||Professional fees||£2,000.00|
|Secure Storage||On site storage||£4,000.00|
|Smithy Hub Manager||Annual cost including NI and pension||£28,000.00|
|For two years:||(2014/15 and 2015/16)||£56,000.00|
|Skills Training Courses (incl: rural traditional crafts, environmental skills; interpretation skills; IT skills)||Annual cost of tutor fees/materials/mileage/facilitator||£10,000.00|
|For two years:||(2014/15 and 2015/16)||£20,000.00|
|Evaluation||Independent evaluation in January 2016||£6,000.00|
Costs in connection with the establishment of proposed dairy and field centre are currently unknown.
Tourist Information Survey
Over the course of the summer period we conducted a tourist information survey of visitors to the iGallery. We also used additional events such as the open day held on site in August to expand on the number of visitors surveyed.
Unfortunately, we did not manage to survey nearly as many visitors as had been initially hoped. This can partially be attributed to the decline in visitor numbers in the latter half of the season, although upon inspection of the record of visitors in the iGallery it is also apparent that a significant portion of visitors were not surveyed although this is understandable given that it would seem unreasonable to expect a team of volunteers to remember to survey every single tourist who comes into the iGallery, additionally a portion of the recorded visitor numbers will be locals and thus not the target audience of the survey.
The survey was designed to be mainly based around open-ended questions to allow respondents to be more creative in their suggestions. Some questions were done with a tick-box style approach in order to generate more statistically significant data. Again, questions were worded in such a way as to avoiding leading respondents to answer in a particular way.
Being conscious of the fact that generally people don’t particularly enjoy filling out survey forms and being of the view that the survey shouldn’t be too long (as this would lead to decreased interest and quality of answers from the respondents) the number of questions was set at eight, which enabled the survey to be printed on a double-sided A4 page. Too few questions would lead to not enough information being established, thus eight was the number settled upon – with the questions being designed along fairly broad grounds to cover as many facets of the Smithy site as possible.
A total of 56 visitors responded to the survey. There were a few instances where respondents only filled out one side of the survey form – perhaps not realising that there were more questions overleaf. This would partially account for the decrease in responses from Q.5 onwards.
The questions asked were as follows:-
- Where do you come from?
- How long do you intend to stay in the area?
- What aspects of Lochcarron make it an attractive place to visit?
- What else do you think Lochcarron could offer
- How do you think the area could be better marketed
- What activities or interests do you plan to pursue while you are here?
- Specifically in regard to the Smithy site, what improvements do you think could be made to make the site a more attractive place to visit?
- How could the visibility of the site be better improved.
Q1. Where do you come from?
England – 22
Scotland – 12
Germany – 4
Wales – 3
USA – 3
Australia – 3
Netherlands – 2
France – 2
Africa – 1
Belgium – 1
China – 1
Denmark – 1
Switerland – 1
Categorised this breaks down as:
Scotland – 12
Rest of the UK – 25
Europe – 11
Rest of the world – 8
Q2. How long do you intend to stay in the area?
Just passing through – 13 (28.89%)
A day or two – 4 (8.89%)
A few days – 6 (13.33%)
A week – 18 (40%)
Two weeks or more – 4 (8.89%)
Out of 45 respondents
Q3. What aspects of Lochcarron make it an attractive place to visit?
Fantastic scenery – 53 (94.64%)
Friendly local community – 40 (71.43%)
Access to the outdoors – 36 (64.29%)
Quiet / Peaceful / To get away from it – 4 (7.14%)
Food / Seafood – 3 (5.36%)
Wildlife – 3 (5.36%)
Family live here – 3 (5.36%)
Local Produce & Crafts – 3 (5.36%)
Location / Access to elsewhere – 2 (3.57%)
Good quality accommodation – 1 (1.79%)
Friends live here – 1 (1.79%)
Bealach na Ba Bike Race – 1 (1.79%)
Q4. What else do you think Lochcarron could offer
Already got everything / can’t think – 10
Maps / information on local walks – 2
More food outlets / coffeeshop – 2
Plastic recycling – 2
Public restrooms / toilets – 2
Wifi – 1
Access to fishing – 1
Wildlife observation areas – 1
Woodland sculpture trail – 1
More activities (all season) – 1
Leisure centre – 1
Mini trails (historic/nature/wildlife/etc.) – 1
More picnic tables – 1
More paintings (in iGallery) – 1
Guided walking tours – 1
Fly fishing workshop – 1
Reopen blacksmith – 1
Better website to advertise what goes on – 1
Managed woodland – 1
Road improvements – 1
More facilities for tourists – 1
Weather forecast – 1
Prices at local petrol stations – 1
No response – 21
Other response (not answering question) – 4
Q5. How do you think the area could be better marketed
No response – 34
Internet (site advertising area, facebook, google search ads, etc.) – 4
Better road signage – 4
Not sure – 3
Feature Highlands in TV program/Film/etc. – 2
Radio – 2
More publicity in tourist guides – 2
E-mail / leaflet advertising for B&Bs, Hotels etc. – 2
OS Map at Tourist Info – 1
Through Visit Scotland – 1
Thematically (family, friendly, environmentally orientated) – 1
Activities / events / special features – 1
Better landscaping – 1
Tourist Information office appears shut – 1
Q6. What activities or interests do you plan to pursue while you are here?
Hillwalking – 29
To relax – 28
Wildlife watching – 27
Visiting Gardens – 24
Heritage & Genealogy – 11
Live music – 9
Mountaineering – 8
Visiting friends/relatives – 8
Fishing – 7
Cycling – 4
Just passing through – 1
Visiting local villages – 1
Visiting Rona – 1
Christian Bookshop – 1
Taking photographs – 1
Holiday – 1
Take dog swimming – 1
Kayaking – 1
Camping – 1
No response -7
Q7. Specifically in regard to the Smithy site, what improvements do you think could be made to make the site a more attractive place to visit?
Fine as it is – 5
Better signage – 5
Cafe / Tearoom – 4
More craft units – 4
Better parking – 3
More advertisement – 2
Landscaping – 2
Public toilets – 1
Gardens – 1
Completion of building site (adjacent) – 1
Clearer opening times – 1
Open Smithy – 1
Improve visibility – 1
More colourful (local children paint buildings?) – 1
No response – 28
Other response (not relating to Smithy site) – 1
Q8. How could the visibility of the site be better improved.
No response – 28
More/improved/clearer signage – 24
Traffic too fast (easy to pass) – 1
Eye capturing sculpture – 1
Wind turbine – 1
Leaflets – 1
Fine as it is – 3
Expanded Comments from Public Consultation
- the most common suggestion arising from the consultation was the need for improved signage – many respondents were of the view that the current temporary signage was neither sufficiently eye-catching or situated prominently enough to attract more tourists from the road
- several respondents commented on the ideal location of the site for enticing passing traffic to stop before entering Lochcarron and that visitor numbers could be increased with improvements to the overall visibility
- two individuals independently suggested that a sign for the whole village (advertising local shops, petrol station etc.) be placed at the Strathcarron junction to better advertise the village. This idea was subsequently suggested to LADBA (Lochcarron & District Business Association) who are now seeking to pursue this in conjunction with KWHG and other interested parties.
- It also arose that the owner of the Lochcarron Garage had been seeking planning permission for such a sign for several years, with permission eventually being granted although clarity is needed as to whether or not this is currently the case
Landscaping / Maintenance
- Several respondents commented on the poor state of the paths in bad weather and the proliferation of bracken all around the site was also seen as problematic.
- One common theme which appeared in a lot of interviews was the desire for the Smithy building itself to be reopened. Many respondents remembered the Smithy when it was an operational museum Heritage Centre and commented that having a heritage aspect to the site would be hugely beneficial in bringing in new visitors
- Most respondents felt that having some form of historical display would be desirable, although several were of the view that the museum heritage centre element of the smithy could be done in such a way as to make the building multifunctional – one respondent recalled attending musical events in the Smithy many years ago and commented that having a space available that could also be used for small ceilidhs, talks etc. would be of great use to the local community as well as providing a potential additional revenue stream for the site.
- Many respondents (especially those who work in the various units on site) commented that the car parking situation for the Smithy Hub left a lot to be desired and constituted a hazard.
- Most respondents were also of the view that the car parking area itself was too small even to meet current needs
- One respondent did suggest that the area currently situated to the front of the two new units could be used as a car park however this is simply not practical as it would require a new junction to be created (with planning permission highly unlikely to be granted). This would also contradict KWHG’s aim of keeping the environmental integrity of the site intact.
Appearance of the site being closed
- Several respondents commented that the site often had the appearance that it was closed
- The iGallery in particular was cited in suffering from this problem due to be being partially shielded by the Birchwood Cabin.
- Landscaping improvements to the area immediately in front of the iGallery were suggested to improve the visibility of this building; it was suggested that this could be done through the extension of the balcony at the front of the iGallery with new decking
- Several respondents commented that the addition of picnic tables in the area in front of the two new cabins would both help in improving visibility and encouraging visitors to stop at the site
- A large number of respondents commented on the benefits of having some form of catering facilities on site. Unfortunately due to the strictness of health and safety regulation this may not be a feasible option at this point in time. Staffing would be another issue that would need to be addressed although respondents did offer alternate suggestions
- Toilet facilities open to the public was mentioned as desirable by several respondents.
- While there are toilet facilities on site the the sceptic tank is not of a sufficiently large enough size to allow public access to these facilities. Installation of a larger sceptic tank would be costly and as there is little in the way of income generational potential it is questionable whether or not this suggestion is viable.
Management of the iGallery
- A few respondents pointed out the inherent difficulties in trying to run a building which doubles up as both arts and crafts shop and tourist information centre purely through a workforce of volunteers. One respondent was of the view that volunteers were (understandably) more concerned with the arts and crafts side of the business and that the quality of tourist information was slightly ‘hit and miss’ depending on who was on the rota on any particular day.
- Two respondents were also of the view that in ideal circumstances a new role for someone with a strong local knowledge could be created in order to run the iGallery which would help to improve customer service and the quality of tourist information
Advertising current events / keeping the community informed of KWHG activities
- One respondent felt that there was not enough transparency within the group at times and that more could be done to advertise current events. While KWHG has published articles in An Carranach from time to time, it was felt that (especially with the woodland acquisition) KWHG should seek to establish a monthly report within An Carranach to keep the community better informed and involved.
- One possible option to achieve this would be to delegate this responsibility to the proposed Smithy Hub Manager post. Failing that the board would need to identify a volunteer willing to offer this commitment.
- On a wider level, several respondents commented that they felt there was a lack of interaction between the various community groups in Lochcarron (many of whom hold shared objectives in common)
- This particular suggestion is one which could be pursued by the Board, some of whom hold membership on multiple committees in the village
- The relative lack of usage for the Treehouse was cited by several respondents, most of whom felt that this could partially be solved through better advertising
- Again, the question of responsibility arises – as this area is one where volunteer capacity has been reached. Delegation of marketing responsibilities to the Smithy Hub Manager has been suggested.
- Specific recommendations were given as to the sorts of advertising that might be done to improve usage including: an A5/A6 laminate poster was suggested for the Spar shop while leaflet advertising for both the Treehouse and the Smithy site as a whole was suggested for use in B&Bs and self-catering accommodation in the area. Displaying information in the local minibus (which offers the only public transport connection from Strathcarron Station) was also suggested.
- This particular recommendation is dependent on budgetary constraints and, as it currently stands, KWHG is unable to pursue the distribution of leaflets/flyers/etc. on any significant scale
Lack of tourist attractions in Lochcarron
- Amongst the respondents involved in the tourist industry, several of them commentated that one of the fundamental problems with the Lochcarron area is the lack of tourist attractions.
- One business based in Lochcarron cited that they regularly recommended tourists went up to Kinlochewe if they were short of things to do on a particular day – the respondent also commented that if there were things to do within Lochcarron and district itself she would encourage them to stay within the area.
- Many felt that while the area had much to offer adults (especially in regards to outdoors activities), there was a distinct lack of provision with children in mind
- Several iGallery volunteers commented that over the course of the year a significant amount of enquiries are made about maps and that it would be desirable to have these either on sale or display
- The sale of Ordinance Survey Maps has been suggested earlier in the report as a possible way for KWHG to increase income.
- Another possibility would be for an OS Map of the area to be displayed on a board somewhere within the building
- One respondent suggested a collaboration with the local primary school to paint the wooden buildings to add additional colour to the site.
- Coloured gravel was suggested for use in the car park as a means by which to increase visibility and attract visitors.
- Some respondents commented that traffic often moves at a very high speed past the site, limiting the amount of time visitors have to take in the sight.
- Traffic calming measures were suggested, although as it currently stands it seems unlikely that Highland Council would want to pursue this. With the completion of housing currently under construction next to the smithy site there is a possibility that this view may change in the future.
- One respondent commented that the addition of sculptures would create an eye-catching feature.
- Some suggestions identified in the course of the interview/survey process could be accomplished through the Kirkton Woodland Project, including: nature/wildlife mini-trails, wildlife observation areas, and guided walking tours.
- One respondent suggested that the smithy be restored with a working blacksmith. Alongside the substantial start-up costs associated with this, the long-term financial sustainability of such a project would be highly questionable – this is most likely not a viable option.
- Expand willow planting for use in basket weaving etc.
- Improved signage for woodland walks – Interpretative board for nature walk
- Publication on flora covering trees and other woodland plants and birds/wildlife
Report by Fergus Hendry 2014
photographs – Vicky Stonebridge