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John O’Groats mill project takes 'huge step forward' with £250,000 funding from SSE Renewables


By Alan Hendry

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John O'Groats Mill Trust says the project to bring the mill complex back to life is founded on net-zero principles.
John O'Groats Mill Trust says the project to bring the mill complex back to life is founded on net-zero principles.

Plans to transform John O’Groats Mill into a visitor attraction and community hub have taken "a huge step forward" with a £250,000 funding award.

It is the largest sum in a £1.5 million package allocated to 20 projects across the Highlands through SSE Renewables' Sustainable Development Fund, aimed at helping communities respond to the climate emergency.

The money will go towards the capital works needed to repair and refurbish the mill building using low-carbon options such as a green roof on the extension. Works are due to begin next year and the mill is expected to be open to the public from 2024.

Rognvald Brown, chairman of John O'Groats Mill Trust, said: "We are delighted to have been awarded £250,000 from the SSE Renewables Sustainable Development Fund.

"Our project to bring the mill back to life is founded on net-zero principles, from the re-use of an existing historic building to using the water-powered mill to further education around renewable energy.

"We will be improving and encouraging non-vehicular access to the mill and increasing biodiversity in the mill's landscape. This award is a huge step forward in the community-led development of this iconic piece of local heritage."

Two other Caithness organisations received grants from the same fund, with £89,802 going to Thurso Community Development Trust (TCDT) and £48,000 to North Lands Creative at Lybster.

The TCDT grant is for the Socially Growing project, contributing to the trust’s vision of making Thurso the first net-zero town in Scotland.

From left: Marion Reid, Joan Lawrie (both Thurso Community Development Trust), Finlay McCutcheon (SSE Renewables), Councillor Raymond Bremner and Hugh Fullerton-Smith (Gro for Good) at Gordonbush Extension wind farm.
From left: Marion Reid, Joan Lawrie (both Thurso Community Development Trust), Finlay McCutcheon (SSE Renewables), Councillor Raymond Bremner and Hugh Fullerton-Smith (Gro for Good) at Gordonbush Extension wind farm.

Development manager Joan Lawrie said: “The funding from SSE Renewables will be hugely beneficial. It will help us develop our social enterprise Socially Growing which focuses on local food production through our greenhouses and plastic-free shopping, climate change advice and support in our shop.

“Most importantly, Socially Growing offers training and support to our community, especially young people, in climate, land and enterprise skills. The funding enables us to take a big leap forward with that work in employing a support manager.”

The funding for North Lands Creative will help to reduce the carbon impact of community buildings.

Other groups benefiting from the funding include Clyne Heritage Society (£90,000), Gro for Good (£75,000), North West Highlands Geopark (£61,162), Go Golspie Development Trust (£50,035), Farr North Community Development Trust (£32,221) and Re:Circulate Sutherland (£14,350).

The Gro for Good grant will support the development of a community innovation campus in Tain. Hugh Fullerton-Smith, managing director of Gro for Good, joined TCDT representatives for a photo opportunity at SSE Renewables' Gordonbush Extension wind farm in Sutherland.

Finlay McCutcheon, SSE Renewables' director of onshore renewables (Europe), said: "We are facing a significant climate emergency and communities in the Highlands have shown they are taking serious action to support net-zero. Net-zero is incredibly close to the heart of what we do.

“We have ensured the funding will help local communities to respond to these unprecedented challenges and help the region deliver on its low-carbon ambitions – making a real and lasting difference for many years to come.”

Councillor Raymond Bremner, leader of Highland Council, said: “We welcome SSE Renewables' commitment to establishing the Highland Sustainable Development Fund.

"Highland communities have been at the forefront in the drive to address the climate emergency. The funding provides significant opportunities for community development of projects across the region.

“As a region, we face a challenging transition towards net-zero. It is heartening to have companies like SSE Renewables take a socially responsible role in the Highlands.

“Our region provides an abundance of natural resources. I hope this forms the catalyst for future commercial and public sector collaboration in delivering a just transition for all Highland residents.”

The Sustainable Development Fund is in addition to the local community funds from onshore wind farms owned and operated by SSE Renewables.

Proposed designs for the B-listed John O'Groats Mill were among those shortlisted in the Scottish Design Awards 2021, in the Architecture: Future Building or Project category.


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