The North Coast 500 (NC500) came out of the Initiative's work with the tourism sector in the North Highlands and it has become a phenomenal success. While this is now an independent limited company, it still maintains close links with North Highlands Initiative. The North Coast 500 has become widely regarded as the number one touring route in the world, offering visitors a coastal touring route that covers the best the Highlands has to offer in a 516 mile round trip. The route begins in Inverness and flows in and around the stunning coastal edges of the North Highlands, taking in the sights, sounds, and experiences of this stunning and richly diverse country. Visit the NC 500 website at www.northcoast500.com
Tourism is a major driver of the economy in the North Highlands and is a key focus of activity for the North Highland Initiative. The NHI Tourism Project Board works closely with the industry and is a working collaboration with tourism businesses and local tourism groups in three main areas; development of the tourism offering of the North Highlands, collaborative marketing to help increase tourism income in the North Highlands and providing a strong voice for tourism businesses in the North Highlands. The collective experience of the board includes detailed knowledge of a wide cross - section of the industry, including hotel, accommodation, visitor attractions, and catering. Several of our projects are strongly connected with the tourism industry - The North Coast 500, Russian Arctic Convoy Museum, John o’Groats Mill, and the “Take it Slow” proposal. With our newly energised Tourism projects and Project Board, North Highlands Initiative will be looking to develop and expand our involvement in the industry.
Throughout 2018 we were fully engaged with Highland Council surrounding their plans to close a number of public toilets particularly those around the NC500 route. As a direct result of these discussions, the outcome was that many of these did not close and the Council invited NHI to consider how Visitor Services could be enhanced at key locations around the route. With this in mind, we created the Visitor Services Hub model.
We considered the development of these “Hubs” at several locations across the area, including Brora, Bettyhill, and Achnasheen. Highland Council duly submitted a Rural Transport & Infrastructure Fund application for motorhome facilities at two of the three sites discussed - Bettyhill and Brora. We expect to hear the outcome on 6 June, 2019. The third site discussed was Achnasheen, however when our proposals were reviewed by Scottish Water they said this couldn’t go ahead at present due to the toilets using a septic tank that couldn’t accommodate this waste and which would mean they couldn’t meet their SEPA discharge licenses. Achnasheen was not therefore included in the RTIF bid. Although not earmarked as a “hub”, a third site for motorhome waste facilities was also included – Scourie - so as to increase the spread around the NC500. This is an issue that affects many places in Highland so we are meeting with SEPA, Scottish Water and our own community services colleagues later in May to see what needs done to allow more such projects to go ahead.
Associated with part of this proposal, Highand council have committed to providing (where possible through existing schemes) electric charging points and public Wi-Fi. Both have been provided in Achnasheen and a charge point is planned for Bettyhill. As far as Bettyhill is concerned it is one of a number of NC500 locations where there is a planned rollout of public Wi-Fi using approx. £50k of funding offered by the Scottish Government. From the latest conversations with the civil servants, the funding seems to be on hold at the moment (April 2019) but we hope to get things confirmed quite soon so this can go ahead. Both have already been provided in Achnasheen and a charge point is planned for Bettyhill.
As one of the locations identified for a Visitor Attractions Hub, and having completed a Feasibility Study for a new play area for Brora, and with the ongoing fairly advanced plans for a New Heritage Centre, Brora was selected for a community engagement process to invite local people to express their views on a future Vision for Brora. The process was funded by a grant from the Gordonbush Windfarm with NHI meeting the shortfall. Consultations closed on Wednesday 20th March, 2018 and over 400 surveys were completed. The analysis has yet to be completed, but the 3 front runner projects appear to be:
Improving: the Village Centre……… Securing: Fascally Park as a future Visitor Services Hub………. Improving: the entrances to the village
Project Vision: After securing ownership of the Loch Clash pier the Kinlochbervie Community Company have successfully cleared the site of previous structures and installed 5 caravan bays with electronic hook ups. These are currently managed through the local Spar shop, where visitors pay for their night’s accommodation, generating revenue for the community company. It is proposed that an eco friendly heritage/bunkhouse/café building is erected in the remaining space on the pier, fulfilling the community’s desire of improved facilities and a new focal point in the community. This building will provide flexible accommodation options and social space for visitors to the village improving amenities for the increasing tourist market and generating increased revenue for Kinlochbervie Community Company to reinvest in the community. The accommodation will also provide a vehicle through which local information and heritage can be shared with visitors, using wall space and social space to exhibit pictures and historical information, particularly sharing the story of the pier. In second and subsequent phase the company plans to use the wider pier area to support greater community use, heritage space, social and meeting spaces, and generally create a new “hub” within the village.
Proposed Direct Economic Benefits: A robust business plan is being produced, demonstrating a financially viable bunkhouse that will provide both accommodation for visitors to the area, and a social space for local residents. This plan proposes the creation of one full time job and a number of seasonal positions. The business model has forecasted revenue of £67,000(profit £27,000), growing subsequently year on year. There will also be additional spend in the village with visitors using local shops and businesses.
Proposed Community Benefits: It is noted that the development of this project will significantly increase the provision of low-cost visitor accommodation in Kinlochbervie and will allow the area to benefit from the increase in visitors to the region, specifically from the success of the North Coast 500 initiative. The area shows a variety of signs of rural and social deprivation, and by creating a hub through the provision of this bunkhouse, further development of social facilities will be realized, working towards mitigating these issues.
Current Position: The Kinlochbervie Community Company, feel the scale of this building is too big for the Pier and are looking at other options.
Anticipated Capital Cost: £1,250,000
Project Vision: The Russian Arctic Convoy Project looks to create a lasting legacy, preserving the history of the Russian Arctic Convoys in a sustainable and engaging manner for the public. The historically significant sites around Loch Ewe create an irreplaceable asset around which to tell the story, interpret artifact and encourage and stimulate information and history tourism in an already increasingly popular part of the world.
Proposed Direct Economic Benefits: The robust business case for the project recommends the creation of 1-3 jobs at the visitor centre supporting revenue of £21,480 in the first year, increasing each year thereafter. It is also noted that community support and engagement has identified a range of potential new business and employment opportunities that could be generated with the opening of the visitor centre as the catalyst.
Proposed Community Benefits: The provision of a specific visitor attraction for the Russian Arctic Convoy project will allow the group to realise the first phase of their vision. From this, the revenue generation and increase in awareness will allow the group to investigate the feasibility of further developments. These include conducting repairs to the gun buildings and improvements to the access paths and war memorial site. By increasing visitor numbers to the shores of Loch Ewe, there will also be a considerable benefit from additional spend in local shops, cafes and accommodation providers.
Current Position: The Russian Arctic Convoy Group has now secured funding £72,000 from Scottish Land Fund and £70,000 from Highland LEADER to buy the building. They have now appointed Simpson Brown Architects to redesign and expand the building and asked Alan Jones to assist with funding applications and Project Management.
Anticipated Capital Cost: £500,000
Project Vision: The John O’Groats Mill is the last of the great Caithness corn mills and was in operation just over a decade ago when Magnus Houston last worked the mill. The vision is to repair the mill buildings, machinery and water systems to full working order; to enable visitors to see a working Caithness mill and to demonstrate the transformation of locally grown grain. It is proposed that the facility will include a heritage and culture exhibition space, café and attractive retail space offering consumable and non- consumable goods with a clear focus on local provenance. It has also been proposed that further phases of the project may see additional buildings and development around the site, housing accommodation or further businesses geared towards providing products and services for passing visitors. It is estimated that 150,000 people visit John O’ Groats annually. The North Highland Initiative has helped to create a new Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation(SCIO).It is proposed that this group will be the funding applicant, and ultimate owner / operator of the project. The new charity are in discussions with the Scottish Land Fund to seek funding to purchase the Mill, 2 cottages and adjacent field.
Proposed Direct Economic Benefits: These will be identified through a new Feasibility Study/Business Plan which will be required to support funding applications.
Proposed Community Benefits: This project will facilitate the regeneration and repair of the historically relevant building, whilst creating new opportunities for local residents and visitors. This project is hoped to stimulate further development in the area in following phases, increasing the overall quality of visitor experience to the area.
Current Position: Funded through Development Funding from the Scottish Land Fund, the Feasibility Study and Business plan were completed in January 2019.This also involved commissioning new designs for a redeveloped Mill.
A successful Stage 2 Scottish Land Fund application was made and 80% of the purchase price (£291,000) has been offered along with £57,000 Development Funding. Two remaining applications for the 20% are pending.
The capital costs for redevelopment are circa £2.2m.
Mey Selections is arguably one of our most successful ventures to date. Established in 2005 as part of HRH, The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesays commitment to fostering closer connections between farmers, producers and consumers. Mey Selections is the retail brand of the initiative which focuses on supplying the highest quality produce from within a 150 mile radius of the Castle of Mey. Mey Selections' current product portfolio includes; beef, lamb, Scottish Oatcakes, biscuits, and shortbread. It is not just about food and drink as the Mey Selections range now includes a new line of cashmere in Mey Selections tartan with Johnstons of Elgin along with other new products including salmon, cheese, gin and chocolates. Providing high quality beef and lamb is one of Mey Selections core values and working with Dunbia and ABP, we offer a premium to farmers who reach Mey Selections specifications in their livestock. In 2018 we had paid over £2.0m in premiums since 2005.
North Highlands Initiative has been at the forefront of a push to improve rural transport in this remote part of the Scottish Mainland. During 2018, we hosted an event in Inverness that examined some of the issues facing current transport provision, and considered the enhanced role that could be played by development of the railway service that connects Inverness and the Wick / Thurso areas. The meeting also looked at how existing train and bus sevices could become more integrated. Following on from this, a meeting was held with some of the aforementioned bus services for a closer examination of the practicalities of better integration - there are several organisations involved, (plus the rail network) and most of these have seperate ticketing systems and administrative procedures. Coming more up to date, a meeting between rail & bus operators subsequently took place in January 2019 and will be followed up during the year. That meeting showed support for better transport, a possibility of aligning ticketing systems, and the potential development of a practical online transport guide linking not only towns and villages (such as “Traveline” currently does) but also visitor destinations and attractions. (The image? A Stanier “Black 5” on the Achnasheen - Kyle line in 2017)
North Highland Initiative are currently in the early steps of developing a “Take it Slow” proposal for the region - the aim of this is threefold.
Slow visitors down, and encourage longer stays that offer a more memorable experience of all that we can offer here
Encourage greater exploration of the area
Focus on discovering more about the wildlife, culture, and “hidden secrets” of the region
This will take full advantage of the opportunities offered to visitors and local business through use of Social Media, and will encourage widespread use of blogs, video content, and a complete range of media. NHI will be working with a variety of other organisations on the project, including DMO’s, visitor attractions, accomodation and activity providers, and food and drink producers. The project will be developed over the coming months, and run for at least the next 12 months, if not longer.
So - “Take it Slow” with North Highland Initiative…….Slow Adventure, Creativity, Food and Drink, Heritage, Culture - and Exploration.
The Collection has now been purchased and is being offered on a 50-year lease to Scourie Community Development Company (SCDC). It has now been relocated from Golspie to Scourie. NHI have offered support to assist with a new Business plan and SCDC are seeking matched funding to move the project forward.
Project Vision: The Caithness Broch Project keys into the idea that Caithness's rich, vibrant archaeological heritage is a valuable resource, which has been vastly under-exploited for too long.
Proposed Direct Economic Benefits: The Caithness Broch Project group alongside the construction of a replica broch are looking to hold a calendar of events and activities, raising the awareness of the historical significance and engaging a wider audience as a result. Therefore, the primary economic benefits relate primarily to increased education in history and heritage locally, and potential increase in visitors to key areas around Caithness.
Proposed Community Benefits: Driven project groups such as this add to the eclectic mix of attractions and offerings for domestic and international visitors. This is especially prevalent to the area, given the growth in visitor numbers generated by the North Coast 500.
Current Position: The group has completed an Options Appraisal and Business Plan and is actively engaging in the community through an ongoing schedule of projects supported by their online and media presence.
The preferred new location is the field adjacent to the John O’ Groats Mill project. Anticipated Capital Cost: £2,500,000- £3,000,000
Following funding of £105,000,the building has now been refurbished and is open to the public.