Funding boost for rural Sutherland museum
Strathnaver Museum has been announced as a recipient of £650,000 in grant funding from the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund. The Redevelopment of Strathnaver Museum as a heritage hub for north west Sutherland project will improve the visitor experience, secure the existing museum collections, conserve the historic church building and improve access to its heritage resources.
Strathnaver Museum’s refurbishment project is part of a new £5 million Scottish programme of projects to invest in the Highlands and Islands to provide more and better quality opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural and cultural heritage assets. The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund is led by Scottish Natural Heritage and is part funded through the European Development Fund (ERDF).
The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund will encourage people to visit some of the more remote and rural areas and create and sustain jobs, businesses and services in local communities. The purpose of the fund is to promote and develop the outstanding natural and cultural heritage of the Highlands and Islands in a way that conserves and protects them.
Strathnaver Museum is a volunteer led accredited rural history museum which explores the social history of the area of north west Sutherland, almost 2,000sq km known informally as Mackay Country. Situated in Bettyhill on the North Coast 500 Strathnaver Museum is a popular visitor attraction attracting over 6,000 visitors in 2019.
The refurbishment project will enhance the visitor experience by improving access to the heritage explored by Strathnaver Museum. This will include the creation of an annex building to the north of the church which will explore the agricultural story of the area. Improvements to the internal layout of the church will increase visitor movement and open up access to the collection and research materials held. This will be achieved by created dedicated research spaces.
As well as the vital building work, Strathnaver Museum will run a 3-year community programme of activities to help share and gather knowledge about the heritage of Mackay Country. The main theme will be the Highland Clearances and explore topics such as land use, culture, migration, industry and politics.
The main story told by Strathnaver Museum is the story of the Highland Clearances and the Museum building is itself an important piece in this story. It was from the pulpit which still dominates the main room that Rev David Mackenzie was obliged to read out eviction notices to his congregation during the main Strathnaver Clearances of 1814-19.
Then later in 1883 tenants and crofters from across north Sutherland met within the church to give evidence to the Napier Commission: Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands. The Napier Commission eventually led to providing security of tenure to crofters across the crofting counties.
Built in 1774 the former parish church which houses Strathnaver Museum is a category B listed building which signifies its regional importance. In 1882 internal alterations saw the removal of the two galleries and the insertion of some party walls. The refurbishment plans have been drawn up by Bonar Bridge based CH Architecture and will see the removal of some of these party walls and install a bridge link which will give visitors an idea of the view from the galleries of the pulpit and lower gallery.
Tommy Mackay Strathnaver Museum Chairman said “We are delighted to have been awarded funding by the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund towards our refurbishment project. The funding will allow us to enhance the visitor experience, sustain jobs and the services we deliver and enable us to continue to promote the natural and cultural heritage of our area and the Highlands more widely.”
Francesca Osowska, SNH Chief Executive, added:
“A key priority for SNH is to help ensure tourism and other sectors benefit from, and invest in, Scotland’s high quality environment.
"Nature and culture are closely linked in the Highlands & Islands, and in many places they are central to the local economy, maintaining rural populations, jobs and skills. This project will bring significant benefits to the local area for years to come, and give visitors even more to enjoy in these iconic areas of Scotland.”