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NWHG Bid to Save the Inchnadamph Field Centre

Wednesday September 22nd 2021

The North West Highlands Geopark has submitted a Stage 1 bid to the Scottish Land Fund for assistance in exploring purchasing Inchnadamph Lodge as a community and geoscience hub.

The current plan is to put together a community buyout that will:

  • Create a venue for community and cultural events, such as music festivals and conferences
  • Enable the field centre to continue to be a vital hub for groups of Earth Science professionals and students
  • Provide an alternative event space for the NWH Geopark, where it can engage with locals and visitors and create a new interpretative focal point

The North West Highlands Geopark is not eligible to take the project to the full community buy-out stage, but the working group is committed to finding or creating the right organisation to do this as quickly as possible.

Next steps:

  1. Commission an independent valuation and building condition survey
  2. Carry out a feasibility study and options appraisal, to generate a robust business plan
  3. Begin a thorough process of consulting with the local community, looking for their support, as well as their ideas, while also talking to potential partners
  4. Identify a suitable organisation to apply for a Stage 2 Scottish Land Fund (SLF) bid
  5. Fundraise to purchase the Lodge (on the basis that majority of money will come from SLF)

Inchnadamph Lodge has been running successfully as a field centre for the past thirty years but is now up for sale. Earlier this year the Geopark became aware of this and formed a small, informal working group which has raised funds from several UK Universities, the Scottish Geology Trust and the Geopark to explore the viability of community ownership for the Lodge.

There is a risk that the Lodge could be lost to the Earth Science community but there is also a fantastic opportunity to bring it into community ownership for Assynt and create new benefits capitalising on its unique value to Earth Science and its place in the UNESCO Global Geopark.

As a Category B building, the Lodge itself is one of the most iconic built landmarks in the parish and has a fascinating cultural history, having been built in 1821 as the ‘Manse of Assynt’ for the minister of the parish. Nearby Kirkton church is owned by Historic Assynt, another local community-led charity.

The working group will now go on to investigate whether the lodge and its associated facilities could become a community and study hub. Such a venue could provide an educational, cultural and research facility which could host a wide range of local and national organisations. The working group believes the current use by university groups could be expanded so that the Centre caters for a wide range of conferences, workshops, concerts and seminars.

The Lodge can host up to 45 people in the main building, in addition to another 8-10 elsewhere. With appropriate phased development the centre could extend its current usage model catering for student groups and tourist accommodation for 6 months to become a year-round hub for outdoor/indoor learning for Highland schools. The group’s vision sees the Lodge as offering a facility which would complement – rather than compete with – existing venues in Assynt, such as Lochinver Village Hall, the Mission, Elphin Hall and Glencanisp Lodge.

The working group believes that the current operating model, which has proven successful for many years, and they envisage as maintained under community control, provides the kind of resilient financial foundation which is crucial to the long-term success of community ownership projects like this. This solid framework then offers the potential for carefully planned expansion of the facilities, operating season and usage profile over the first five to ten years of community ownership.

The building is ideally situated at the heart of the parish to host cultural events which would showcase the rich historical, musical, and linguistic heritage of Assynt.

The North West Highlands Geopark Ltd, the charity that manages UNESCO Global Geopark status for the North West Highlands, is not eligible to apply for stage 2 funding from the Scottish Land Fund. However, the working group plan to either partner with an existing organisation in Assynt whose constitution meets SLF criteria, or establish a new vehicle which would satisfy Stage 2 application requirements.

Assynt resident, Helen O’Keefe, said; “The Lodge would provide an incredible venue for all kinds of educational and cultural events. From local school kids learning about their local environment in the amazing Traligill Glen, to outdoor skills courses using nearby Loch Assynt and Ben More Assynt, to family reunions researching genealogy in the adjacent old Assynt Parish Kirk. With the combination of its central location, affordable accommodation, lots of parking and a large outdoor green area, suitable for marquees or outdoor games there is so much potential here,….it would also be the perfect place for small gatherings and festivals – perhaps it could host the annual folk music concerts that Historic Assynt used to stage in the Kirk, or a successor to the much-missed Elphin Music Festival, or a new festival showcasing the rich Gaelic, oral history, song and poetry heritage of the Assynt area. Assynt is a place of considerable wider cultural importance for all of Scotland, not just northwest Sutherland. The Lodge presents the opportunity to create an amazing educational, cultural and heritage centre for the entire Assynt community, as well as the many visitors from across the globe who also feel like Assynt is a part of them”.

Geopark Chair, Iain Young said; “Inchnadamph lodge is an iconic building that could make a perfect centre for engagement with the local landscape and its history. With the right relationships, partnerships and collaboration, the Lodge could serve as a thriving hub for fieldwork, language classes, workshops, outdoor learning, small conferences and annual summer schools.”

Robert Holdsworth, Professor of Structural Geology at the University of Durham said, “I will always remember the first time that I stayed at Inchnadamph Lodge – the informality of the hostel was so refreshing. This, together with its spectacular views along Loch Assynt and into the surrounding hills, made it the perfect setting for an undergraduate field class. This, I thought, is a place which will inspire generations of students to get into fieldwork and build their future careers, be it in geosciences or other fields. This, I thought, is a place whose impact will stay with the students who come here for the rest of their lives.”

EDITORS’ NOTES

By now thousands of geologists who have studied at UK universities, and many from elsewhere who have been on field trips to the NW Highlands, will have stayed at the Inchnadamph Lodge over the past five decades.

The working group has already begun informal discussions and consultations with Assynt Development Trust, members of the Community Council (we will present our ideas to them at their next meeting on 30 th Sept.) and other Assynt and NW Highlands community and cultural groups.

The North West Highlands Geopark Ltd is the management body for the UNESCO Global Geopark. It is a Charity and a Company Ltd by Guarantee. Directors and staff are rooted in the local community and became involved because they care passionately about the area and want to see it thrive—economically, socially, culturally and environmentally. They want to look after it, and to share its outstanding beauty and heritage with others. The Scottish Geology Trust fund-raising page for this project is:

Campaign Launched to Save Inchnadamph Lodge

For further information and interviews please contact Dr Laura Hamlet – Geopark Manager:
laura@nwhgeopark.com or 01854622754 / 07828894030