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Funding boost for £1.5m John O'Groats mill plan

By Gordon Calder

A £1.5 million plan to turn a historic Caithness mill into a social, educational and cultural centre has received a massive financial boost.

The John O'Groats Mill Trust has been given £348,064 by the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) as part of four community awards totalling £515, 821. The others are in Strathpeffer, the Isle of Skye and Easterhouse in Glasgow.

Trust chairman Rognvald Brown said the money would enable the trust to acquire the B-listed disused mill along with 9.5 acres of land and two self-catering holiday cottages.

"We intend to restore the building to its former working condition and develop it as a visitor attraction and a social, educational, cultural and heritage hub, creating a number of employment, volunteering, training, and skills development opportunities," he said. "The plan is to take the mill into community ownership and use it to fulfil a wide range of needs."

Mr Brown said the total cost of the project would be just over £1.5million. "That includes the necessary consolidation and restoration work on the building, but also the costs of facilities, providing access for all, and associated emergency exits, heating and lighting.

"Facilities that cannot be incorporated into the mill without destroying its authenticity will be incorporated in new build to the north side and will be designed to blend into the embankment. The plan would be to have the project substantially complete in 2021."

The historic mill at John O’Groats. Picture: Doreen Leith
The historic mill at John O’Groats. Picture: Doreen Leith

Mr Brown said the trust had been "beavering away" for the past two years to make a case to resurrect the premises.

Architects and business consultants tested the feasibility of the project and its sustainability. "The results looked very promising and culminated in the trust applying to the SLF for help in financing the project," he said.

"I'm delighted to say this has been successful. This amounts to a large part of the capital and project management funding required to get our plan under way.

"It is a considerable amount of inward investment and should bring social and economic benefits, improving the environment for locals and visitors alike."

The trust is hoping to get backing from other potential funders, including Historic Environment Scotland and the Architectural Heritage Fund.

Mr Brown said: "This award means our community can begin to benefit from this iconic facility. We realise there are still many steps and lots of hard work on the way to achieving all our goals, but with this vote of confidence comes a tremendous sense of empowerment."

The historic corn mill at John O’Groats dates from the 18th century but has been lying dormant for a number of years.

The trust was set up in a bid to bring the building back into community use. Originally built as a threshing mill in 1750, it was rebuilt in 1901 as a corn mill and was last used in 2001.

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