In late 2005 it became increasingly obvious to the WITPG management committee that the number of vehicles coming into the possession or care of the organisation meant that the Western Isles Transport Preservation Group would need to look towards acquiring a large building to store, renovate and maintain vehicles. There was also a need for premises to house transport related artefacts, photographs and documents, as well as an administration base and a museum or display space to allow greater access to the public.
Initially, the organisation looked at obtaining some land for a new build at the Creed Enterprise Park, which was considered to be located fairly central and near the high density population area of Stornoway and its ports of entry. An inquiry was made to the landowners, the Stornoway Trust, for the lease of some land on the Lochs road, opposite MacAulay Farm. The proposal was to develop this in partnership with the local Pony Club, which was looking for an arena space and building for its own purposes.
The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) was also interested in leasing part of the building and a pit lane for statutory vehicle inspections, with the agency having exclusive access to the facilities for one week in every four. The commercial rental income from the VOSA lease was seen as crucial to the sustainability of the building development. VOSA subsequently found an alternative base for its operations and withdrew from the proposals. Further examination of the business plan led to WITPG withdrawing its Creed Enterprise Park proposal for this new building.
Other options were also considered at this time, but none of the properties on the market that were in the target area were suitable for the organisation’s needs. In January 2009, WITPG learned about an alternative large building coming onto the market, and following a meeting to discuss the matter the Group agreed to put a bid together to purchase the property (a former fish processing factory in Marybank), subject to appropriate funding being secured.
Following a meeting with the sellers, a price was agreed and a 5% non-refundable deposit was paid after a brief fundraising period, with a deadline of end September 2009 agreed for the sale transaction to be completed. Work then began on the daunting task of compiling and submitting a Lottery application with the aim of securing funding to support the purchase and renovation of the building. This required a huge voluntary effort by WITPG members and supporters, as well as invaluable support from local Community Coordinators, who had been asked to assist with this work. The Lottery application required that various building related conditions be met. These included: obtaining ‘change of use’ Planning Permission; preparation of an Energy Study report; an electrical test being carried out; a structural engineer’s report being prepared in relation to the proposed upper floor development; obtaining letters of support for the proposals, and completing the application on deadline.
This bid required a huge effort by the WITPG committee, and the unselfish support of Jane MacIntosh, the Community Co-ordinator for the Broadbay area, proved to be crucial to the organisation in satisfying the demanding Lottery bid process. To meet the funding application deadline of 20 August 2009, the team worked well into the evening of the last day before submission, with WITPG secretary Calum MacLennan personally delivering the bid on time to HIE headquarters at Cowan House in Inverness. Unfortunately, this bid was unsuccessful on the grounds that sufficient support for the proposals within the community had not being adequately proven. However, the building’s sellers decided to extend the sale deadline by six months to 31 March 2010. With a new deadline in place, and funding commitments proving to be incredibly difficult to obtain from funders and supporting agencies, there were many anxious moments as WITPG desperately tried to meet all the conditions that were being placed on it. Eventually, the various funding sources were in a position to make good on their earlier offers of grant assistance. Finally, the WITPG management committee collected the keys for the premises from the solicitors on 1 April 2010, and the new owners entered the building to take ownership later that day.
The previous owners – a salmon farming company – had vacated the building and left it complete with all the machinery and equipment it had used in its fish processing operations and office functions. The first stage of remodelling the building was removing much of this bespoke industrial plant and returning it to a more functional space. This work required a huge effort on behalf of the committee, including:
- Removing equipment;
- Remodelling parts of the building;
- Raising outdoor ground levels and building ramp access to new roller shutter garage door size (4.5m x 4.5m).
- Disposing of old portakabin adjacent to building;
- Demolishing existing concrete block partitions to make larger, More practical, interior spaces;
- Remodelling some of the former administration and office spaces to provide suitable accommodation for WITPG’s proposed multi-use museum, workshop, admin offices, meeting and training rooms and other areas for public use or lease.
Once the renovation work on the building is completed, the proposed WITPG Centre should include:
- Museum & display areas
- Meeting and training rooms
- Reception and administration area
- Kitchen and cafeteria facilities
- Toilet and washroom areas that will comprise Male & Female toilets, Accessible toilets, Baby changing facilities
- High ceiling workshop section for raising/hoisting large commercial vehicles.
- Storage areas
- Workshop, storage and maintenance spaces for leasing to other organisations.
- Substantial parking areas for museum vehicles and visitors
- The development offers potential for further development of archive and artefacts rooms on an upper floor of the building
In order to maximise the energy efficiency of the new transport centre, the energy research enterprise, Greenspace, carried out a related study and are undertaking a heating and energy efficiency development plan for the proposed museum.
WITPG is extremely grateful to the dedicated and hardworking band of volunteers and supporters who have gone out of their way to assist with the refurbishment and repair work that has been carried out since the acquisition of the building. Although a lot of work remains outstanding at this stage in the development (April 2011), we are confident that with the support of volunteers, participating agencies, and professionals when required, this work will be completed satisfactorily and the full benefit of the new WITPG Centre will soon be realised.
Because of the huge voluntary effort that WITPG has benefited from, labour costs have been minimal to date. However, material costs can be burdensome, and therefore active fundraising and monetary and material donations are gratefully received.