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John O'Groats Mill community hub project shortlisted in Scottish Design Awards


By Alan Hendry

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John O’Groats Mill Trust is seeking to turn the historic complex into a social, educational and cultural centre. Image: Enes Pilavci for McGregor Bowes
John O’Groats Mill Trust is seeking to turn the historic complex into a social, educational and cultural centre. Image: Enes Pilavci for McGregor Bowes

John O'Groats Mill is in the running for a national design award as work continues behind the scenes on plans to transform the historic complex into a community hub and visitor attraction.

Proposed designs for the B-listed mill have been shortlisted in the Scottish Design Awards 2021 as one of five nominees in the Architecture: Future Building or Project category.

The designs, produced by architect Chris Bowes of McGregor Bowes, show what a new extension will look like once complete.

John O’Groats Mill Trust is seeking to create a social, educational and cultural centre that will be a "must see" heritage attraction. The project is expected to cost between £1.5 million and £2m.

Mill trust chairman Rognvald Brown said: "This really is a fantastic achievement for Chris and the trust. To have our plans to bring the mill back to life as a working community hub recognised nationally for their quality is a big boost."

The trust has been working to secure funding for its ambitious plans.

One of the designs showing what the completed mill project will look like. Image: Enes Pilavci for McGregor Bowes
One of the designs showing what the completed mill project will look like. Image: Enes Pilavci for McGregor Bowes

Funding and advice from the Scottish Land Fund, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Highland Leader, North Highland Initiative, the Architectural Heritage Fund and Foundation Scotland have helped the project move forward despite more than a year of Covid-19 restrictions.

Following the acquisition of the mill buildings last year, in January the trust appointed a development manager, Bryony Robinson, to help co-ordinate the project and assemble the necessary funding.

She said: "I am delighted to have been appointed to this new role and I'm ready to help safeguard and share the wonderful heritage of the mill.

"Over the next couple of years we will be working hard to deliver a venue that will have real benefit for the community and provide a welcome heritage attraction for the area."

The Scottish Design Awards nomination describes the John O'Groats complex as "the last of the great Caithness corn mills".

Proposed designs for John O’Groats Mill have been shortlisted in the Scottish Design Awards 2021. Image: Enes Pilavci for McGregor Bowes
Proposed designs for John O’Groats Mill have been shortlisted in the Scottish Design Awards 2021. Image: Enes Pilavci for McGregor Bowes

It notes that the mill was in operation until around 2001 when Magnus Houston last worked it. In 2016 the trust was created with a vision to restore the mill buildings, machinery and water systems to full working order.

It adds: "The proposal is to restore the mill building and add an extension on the rear side. The reception is at ground level in the middle section of the building and a lift is enclosed within the reception area. The west wing will contain the mill and interpretation.

"The new-build extension is a single-storey building located to the north of the existing mill, the extension comprises a mixed use/education room, service area and a viewing terrace. It has a 'green roof' which merges with the adjacent landscape.

"The design principle for the extension is that the building is tucked into the landscape and the greenery extends over the building like a rug of grass. The extension opens up on the west side with a wall of glazing.

"The roof of the extension overhangs this glazing to limit solar gain during the summer, but enable it in the winter and shoulder periods.

"The floor of the extension is made of Caithness slabs to match the floor of the original mill and in the extension it increases the opportunity for creating thermal mass."

The awards ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, July 15.

In August last year the mill keys were presented to the trust by Sina Houston, ending the Houston family connection going back some 270 years through six generations.


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