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Caithness Horizons

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4 September 07
Work Starts on £4 Redevelopment of Thurso Town Hall

Works gets underway today (Tuesday 4 September 2007) on the £4 million redevelopment of Thurso Town Hall to create a first class visitor centre, museum and community resource.

A 52-week contract has been awarded to O'Brien Construction Ltd by Caithness Horizons, a company limited by guarantee with charitable status, which was formed to take forward the exciting project.

The buildings will remain in the ownership of The Highland Council, who are one of the main funders of the project.

Chairman of Caithness Horizons, Paul Cariss, said: "A lot of hard work has gone into getting this project to this advanced stage and we are indebted to all the funders for their support. The centre promises to deliver an outstanding facility, which will benefit the local community and visitors to the area."

Caithness councillors are delighted at the support given by the Council to the project, which amounts to £1.8m.

Councillor John Rosie, who is a board member of Caithness Horizons, said: "This project represents the single biggest investment in tourism leisure and community facilities in the county for many many years. It breathes new life into a landmark building in Thurso and promises to provide the area with a very welcome economic lift. It is also an outstanding example of partnership working between a number of public agencies and the community."

Another Board member of Caithness Horizons, Councillor Donald Mackay welcomed the go ahead. He said: "This is great news for Caithness. The redevelopment of Thurso Town Hall has the potential to create an outstanding facility in the centre of Thurso for the benefit of local people and visitors to Caithness and the North Highlands.Hopefully, Caithness will soon have a museum and visitor attraction with enhanced community facilities that we can all be proud of. We very much welcome the support given by the Council towards this important project."

As well as providing modern facilities for community and educational use, the refurbished buildings will contain a high quality accredited museum telling the human and environmental story of Caithness. The museum will bring together existing collections held in the area by Thurso Heritage Society, the Council and the UKAEA, the three partners who have formed a joint venture to take the project forward.

The facility will remain open throughout the year, with free entry and will incorporate a Tourist Information Centre. A learning centre will provide locally accessible resources and facilities for schools and lifelong learning, as well as for academic courses and research in collaboration with North Highland College UHI.

Other funding has come from UKAEA, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise, Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Castle of Mey Trust and the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency.

11 December 06
Caithness Horizons Appoints Marketing Firm And Goes For A Geo Thermal Heating System
Caithness Horizons has this week appointed Shetland based marketing consultants Shaw Marketing and Design Ltd. to develop and implement the pre-opening marketing plan in preparation for opening the new facility in 2008.

Isabel Johnson, Director of Shaw, said: “Immediately on reading the project brief, it struck a chord. Here was a project about a core community asset that had been in danger of becoming extinct. Living in a similar remote community where people have strong links with each other, are proud of their culture and heritage, and enjoy sharing these experiences with visitors, we instinctively felt a strong desire to be part of this project and are delighted with our appointment.”

The Thurso Town Hall refurbishment continues to progress with the main building construction work going out to tender very shortly, with a number of local companies having expressed an interest.

Charlie Ingham, venue manager of the prestigious Rutherglen Town Hall redevelopment project, has been continuing to work alongside the project team to impart his valuable knowledge and experience to assist with crucial business decisions for the future.

A state of the art geo-thermal drilling rig, the first of its kind in Europe, will shortly be carrying out test bores of up to 300 metres in order to test the level of water beneath the Town Hall site. The trials are expected to prove a success, allowing plans to go ahead for a sustainable and eco-friendly ground source heat pump heating system.

Dr Eleanor Scott MSP, Scottish Green Party, said: “This is an excellent project and excellent example of the use of renewable energy and will help to reduce fuel costs and benefit the environment for years to come. It's great to see Caithness leading the way in heating our public buildings sustainably.”

The Highland Council are also developing a Pictish trail to Caithness. Following the brown Pictish signs along the route from Inverness and terminating at Caithness Horizons, this will bring visitors into the area and direct them towards the many relatively undiscovered attractions that Caithness has to offer.

Paul Cariss, Caithness Horizons Chairman, said: “As the project develops and we appoint professional companies to work with us, our vision for the future becomes more vivid day by day. So much effort goes into reaching this stage of ambitious projects such as this one, but it has all been worthwhile as the long term benefits are now starting to emerge."

Information regarding the building refurbishment and the project’s progress will be regularly updated on the Caithness Horizons website. Photographs of some of the Thurso Museum artefacts are also now available on the website at: http://caithnesshorizons.co.uk/

16 March 2006
With the Thurso Town Hall now closed to allow the refurbishment to begin, the enabling work for the Caithness Horizons project is scheduled to start very soon.  The contents of the main building and the artefacts from Thurso Museum have been safely packed up and transferred to an off-site store, and cataloguing the collection will begin shortly.

The Caithness Horizons Collections Trust, a charity recently established to preserve and safeguard the exhibits belonging to the three founding partners, has held its first meeting.  The Collections Trust comprises Cllr Tom Jackson for Highland Council, Alan McIvor for Thurso Heritage Society and Alistair Fraser for UKAEA.  The inaugural meeting of the project working group has also been arranged and a project planner has been appointed by Caithness Horizons, to work alongside the Highland Council project team during the building refurbishment.

Paul Cariss, Caithness Horizons Chairman, said: “The construction phase of the project will generate employment locally and Caithness Horizons will create several new jobs and will benefit the local economy as a result of the additional visitors we hope to attract to the area.”

 With the preparatory work well underway, this signifies immediate progress for this exciting £3.5m project to restore a much loved civic building to its former glory in order to create a high quality facility for the local area and visitors.

Paul Cariss went on to add: “The project team are totally committed to this project and Caithness Horizons is looking forward to welcoming everyone back into the refurbished facility in the spring of 2008.  There is a lot of hard work ahead, but the long-term benefit to the Northern Highlands as a result of this project will have a lasting effect on the future of our local community.”

A memory book containing comments to commemorate the old-look Town Hall was launched for the Town Hall open day on 12th February, and remains open to the public.  Entries can be made by calling into the Highland Council Service Point in Thurso.

Information regarding the building refurbishment and the project’s progress will be regularly updated on the Caithness Horizons website at: http://caithnesshorizons.co.uk/

13 January 06
Caithness Horizons has been awarded the final phase of its crucial capital funding package allowing work to begin within the next few months.

The Highlands and Islands Partnership Programme (HIPP), which administers EU funds for the region, has announced its support for the redevelopment of Thurso Town Hall, with a contribution of £100,000 from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Dennis Malone, Chief Executive of HIPP, said: “I am delighted that ERDF has been able to make a financial contribution to one of the most exciting projects in Caithness and I am confident that the investment will deliver significant benefits for the area.”


The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has also shown its support for the project and has awarded a capital funding contribution of £100,000. In addition, both Highland Council and UKAEA have also increased their contributions in order for the project to proceed, bringing the total package to over £3.5 million. A major grant of almost £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has already been confirmed, together with grants from Caithness & Sutherland Enterprise (CASE), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Historic Scotland and The Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust.

John Thurso MP, Honorary Patron of Caithness Horizons, said: “I congratulate the directors and project team on having secured a full funding package and I am pleased to note that the building refurbishment design and structural works will be placed with local firms. I am sure the result will be an outstanding success."

Paul Cariss, Caithness Horizons Chairman, said “We are extremely grateful to all our funding partners. Without their relentless support we would not be in a position to create such an outstanding facility for the community and visitors to enjoy. The entire project team has worked tirelessly to reach this point and can now focus on bringing the plans to life. This is a major step forward in securing this ambitious and exciting project to redevelop a much loved public building.”

More information regarding the building refurbishment and plans for public presentations and community briefings will follow in the coming weeks.

Leaflets summarising the project’s aims and objectives are available in the Town Hall, Thurso Museum and at the Thurso Service Point. Information is also available on the Company’s website at http://caithnesshorizons.co.uk/

The Caithness Horizons Business Plan available on the Caithness Horizons web site anticipates a start to the building work in the next few months with completion towards the end of 2007 and opening in 2008.

4 June 05
An recent event was held to celebrate a major milestone for Caithness Horizons, a £3.6 million project to create an outstanding facility in the centre of Thurso, for the benefit of the local community and visitors alike. Representatives of the many organisations who have supported the project were invited to view a presentation to show the proposed interior and interpretation design proposals for the renovations of Thurso Town Hall and adjacent Carnegie Library.

To complement the museum and community functions, the main permanent exhibition will include an interactive display to promote the tourism attractions and places of interest to visit throughout the area, and is expected to substantially increase visitor numbers to Caithness and the North Highlands. Last month when the application for funding was submitted to the Heritage Lottery.

Company Chairman, Councillor Roger Saxon said: "Despite the challenges the project experienced in the beginning, with the formation of the company and the submission of major funding applications, there is clearly a definite way forward. This is a significant milestone and takes the project into a very exciting and promising new phase."

David Flear, Caithness Area Convener of The Highland Council, welcomed the progress and said: "This project brings many benefits to Thurso and Caithness as a whole. Seeing the designs reinforces how much this will improve the current facilities, as well as encouraging visitors to spend time in the area. Plans to develop a venue capable of displaying the renowned art collection and other such gems of our community for fifty two weeks of the year, as opposed to just two, are to be applauded."

The founding partners - The Highland Council, Thurso Heritage Society and UKAEA - have agreed to contribute over £1 million, and the application to Heritage Lottery is the first crucial step in seeking to obtain the full capital funding for this ambitious project.

At this week's presentation, Bill McPherson, of MkW Design Partnership, ran through the detailed plans with the group and explained how the flexible areas will be available for community use for important local activities and events ranging from art exhibitions to coffee mornings.

Caithness Horizons has recently welcomed the addition of two new directors to the board, Paul Cariss and Tina Wrighton.

Caithness Horizons  - The Future For Thurso Town Hall


The group behind the redevelopment of Thurso Town Hall into a multi-purpose community, visitor, information centre and museum, Caithness Horizons, have launched a new website to keep people informed of the projects progress and have formalised themselves by becoming a company limited by guarantee.

Preliminary sketches and plans of the proposed layout for the redevelopment are now available on the new website www.caithnesshorizons.co.uk . There is also a chance for people to complete an online survey form, which will provide information on what facilities people would like to see provided.  Plans are also available in Thurso Town Hall and both Wick and Thurso Libraries.

Under the plans Thurso Town Hall and the adjacent library which are owned by The Highland Council will be developed to improve the public spaces for meetings, talks and local groups, and to bring together information for visitors on Thurso, Caithness, and the decommissioning work at Dounreay. The project will ensure that the Victorian old building is maintained for public use in the future.

Convener of The Highland Council's Caithness Area Committee, Councillor David Flear said: "As this exciting project progresses it is important that everyone is kept informed. The new website will be a vital tool in allowing everyone to follow developments. The preliminary sketches and plans currently on it are to generate discussion and are by no means the final designs. Our website will also be used to promote the project to potential funders so we can generate as much support as possible. The area has been crying out for a facility like this one which will benefit the local community and give visitors to the area a central information point from which to explore the rich heritage and natural beauty of Caithness."

The group are also preparing a brochure as another means of promoting the project to potential funders and are currently preparing funding applications and working towards an ERDF submission for early 2005.

John Thurso MP, who is backing the project and has agreed to be an Honorary Patron for the newly formed company, said "This is an imaginative development which will strike a chord with most people and in which the whole community can take pride.  It will act as an exciting magnet to visiting tourists and I am keen to help in any way I can in bringing the project to fruition."

Caithness Horizons is a partnership between The Highland Council, Thurso Heritage Society and UKAEA who will be working closely with other local and national agencies to create a focal point for Thurso.  Included in the building will be;

* Permanent and temporary exhibition and displays which will showcase the area;
* A Council Service Point;
* A Tourist Information Centre;
* Lecture and audio visual presentation facilities;
* A café


November 2002
Highland Councillors will be asked at a meeting on Wednesday 4 December 2002 to back plans for a £2.7 million redevelopment of the historic Thurso Town Hall and the adjacent Carnegie Library, now used as a local museum.

Members of the Resources Committee, meeting in Inverness, will also be asked to determine how the Council's contribution to this project - property and architectural fees totalling an estimated £360,000 - should be funded.

As owners, the Council is piecing together a funding package aimed at safeguarding the popular town centre buildings, which are in urgent need of restoration and upgrading.

The plan is to merge the two buildings to produce a 21st Century multi-purpose community and integrated visitor centre.  Local people will be able to contribute ideas on future use of the building when two Open Days are held in the Town Hall early in the New Year.

Initial partners are Thurso Heritage Society, Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board; Scottish Natural Heritage, and the UK Atomic Energy Authority and the Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust.  Funding is hoped to be attracted from Europe as well as the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Scotland.

It is proposed that the following facilities would be accommodated within the refurbished buildings:-

the council's Service Point and debating chamber;

a year-round tourist information centre operated by HOST;

greatly improved community facilities for internet access, display of local arts and crafts, meetings and coffee mornings etc;

a café, most likely operated by community groups or under franchise to a local business;

the collection of local artefacts and memorabilia documenting the heritage and culture of the local area that are currently curated by the Thurso Heritage Society;

temporary exhibitions, including interpretation of the work of groups, such as the Caithness Archaeological Trust, and the Environmental Research Institute;

a major permanent exhibition designed to explain how the heritage of the North Highlands relates to the area today, encouraging visitors and local people to explore the North Highlands and to visit the area's many sites and attractions. This exhibition would be populated by Scottish Natural Heritage, UK Atomic Energy Authority, the Council, Thurso Heritage Society, Castle of Mey Trust and the International Environmental Research Institute.

Interim findings of an economic impact study carried out for the Council shows that the redeveloped Town Hall can attract between a cautious 25,000 people to a more optimistic 43,000 visitors each year generating an additional income for the Caithness area of between £317,000 - £1,140.000.

It concludes: "We believe the concept of a combined partnership approach to developing the Town Hall could be a most effective way of safeguarding the physical structure of the building and that the proposed content could provide a good focal point for both visitors and the residents of Thurso."

Councillor John Rosie, Chairman of the Council's Caithness Area Committee, said the Town Hall and Carnegie Library were distinguished historic buildings with impressive frontages which had the potential to be a terrific community asset, open and active throughout the week.

However, both buildings were badly in need of restoration and significant repairs in order to prevent further deterioration. Without major improvements, they would also fail to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.

It was proposed to restore the buildings to their original condition, both internally and externally, with the removal of all false ceilings, and to install a lift to serve the upper floors of both buildings and provide disabled access and toilets. The only proposed major alteration would be the provision of a mezzanine floor in the upper hall to provide additional exhibition space.

He said: "The Council could not afford to take on this redevelopment on its own so the benefits of this partnership package are hugely significant. It is too good a chance to miss. This is a terrific opportunity to give the buildings a much-needed and long overdue refurbishment and create a multi-purpose 21st Century community facility in Thurso.

"It is particularly important that the needs of the local community are taken into account in planning the redevelopment work. We are therefore pleased to be able to open up the Town Hall for two days early in the New Year so that local people can see around the facility as it currently stands; view plans to date; and contribute any ideas they may have about the future use of the building. Users will also be invited to form a group to feed into the redevelopment plans. In our talks with users we have been emphasising the opportunities for them to have enhanced access to improved facilities. There will also be benefits for the whole community by attracting many more visitors to the town centre."

Mr David Noble, chief executive of HOST, said: "This project gives an excellent opportunity to provide a one stop shop for visitors and local people in an attractive historic building. Bringing facilities under one roof is a sensible way of using scarce resources, and our own experience in other parts of the Highlands is that this approach is popular with visitors."

SNH Area Manager in North Highland, Lesley Cranna, added: "The natural heritage of Caithness is a rich and wonderful resource which this centre would help to promote. We would like to see the centre identify places where both local people and visitors are encouraged to enjoy the area's wildlife and scenery."