A truly historic event took place in Scalloway this week with the ground-breaking ceremony to mark the start of the conversion of the new Scalloway museum premises. The ceremony signifies the end of six long years of struggle to gain the required funding and a suitable building for the project.
The former knitwear factory next to Scalloway Castle, which was originally acquired from Shetland Charitable Trust’s property arm Slap three years ago, will allow substantially more of the village’s history to be celebrated than the current museum premises on the Scalloway Main Street.
An offshoot of the Shetland Bus Friendship Society, entitled SBFS Properties Ltd, has largely fronted the project and the whole plan so far has been developed entirely by volunteers.
The ceremony took place on Wednesday this week and after a short speech by Jack Burgess, chairman of SBFS Properties Ltd, museum curator Robbie Johnson cut the first turf on site as work commenced on the renovation of the old Shetland Woollen Mill factory in Castle Road, which will become the new home of the Scalloway Museum collections. Robbie has been involved with the existing museum since it was opened in 1985 and said: “We managed to get the first Scalloway Museum open for the Hamefarin of 1985 and we are hopeful that history will repeat itself for the 2010 event.”
The Scalloway museum collection was based on a collection donated by the late David Umphray to the Scalloway History Group and has grown substantially during the decades since it opened. It attracts over 10,000 visitors a year and, along with many other items of historical interest, is the only museum in the UK to describe and honour the actions of the Shetland Bus, the supply and rescue operation that aided the Norwegian resistance movement that played a major part in the history and outcome of World War II.
Speaking after the ceremony, Mr Burgess said: “It is six years since Robbie first made a plea for a bigger and better museum to house the Scalloway collection. Since then there have been some disappointments but these have been outweighed by the positive attitude of the public, and we are most grateful to all who have helped with fundraising and planning of the project. In particular we wish to thank the bodies who have come through with funding and advice. We are now at the end of the beginning, but much remains to done and anyone who can help will be made very welcome.”
Designs for the building have been undertaken by Richard Gibson Architects and will involve a complete renovation of the interior. The planned creation of a glass curtain wall and entrance on the side facing Scalloway Castle will bring both buildings together and encourage visitors to see both. The provision of additional insulation and heat pumps in the building mean running costs should be minimal and the renovated building should be well suited to provide Scalloway with a museum for the 21st century.
The contract to complete the building works has been awarded to local company JHB Ltd who provided the lowest quote from a field of five contractors who were invited to tender for the conversion project. Work has already begun on site and it is expected that work will finish in late April 2010. SBFS Properties Ltd are delighted to see the contract go to a local company and look forward to working closely with them to produce a building of real quality ideally suited for its purpose.
Managing director of JHB John Halcrow said: “We are honoured to have been selected for this project, and are looking forward to getting construction works under way. The completed building will be a significant asset for the village and is the type of project we are proud to be associated with.”
Funding, to the tune of over three quarters of a million, for the project has been provided by Scotland Rural Development Programme, Shetland Islands Council Community Development, Shetland Islands Council Economic Development and Community Energy Scotland. Advice and assistance throughout the development phase has been provided by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Shetland Amenity Trust.
A second phase of the project will involve creating a display design for the interior of the building and the SBFS is keen to involve the wider community in as many aspects of this as possible. Funding for this phase has already been promised by Leader and Shetland Amenity Trust. It is hoping to be able to arrange a series of events, training days and workshops to involve people directly in the design process and give Scalloway a museum of which the community feels real ownership.