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Re-opening of former museum in Thurso will benefit the Caithness economy, says Highland Council

By Gordon Calder

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THE re-opening of the former Caithness Horizons museum next month will bring back into use "a valuable community asset" and give an economic boost to Thurso and the wider far north area, according to Highland Council which owns the building.

The facility will be relaunched as the North Coast Visitor Centre on Tuesday, November 2 and will be run by High Life Highland.

The relaunched North Coast Visitor Centre will re-open next month
The relaunched North Coast Visitor Centre will re-open next month

The museum closed in February 2019 due to what was described as "financial and sustainability issues" but now nearly three years later it is about to get a new lease of life following £200,000 investment by the council to undertake vital work to the fabric of the building, including the replacement of the heating system, new boilers, repairs to the ventilation and the mobility lift. Extensive repairs on the roof have been also undertaken.

The local authority and Dounreay Site Restoration Limited each agreed to give revenue funding of £75,000 a year for an initial three-year period to support the High Street facility.

News of the re-opening has been widely welcomed by business, political and community representatives.

Trudy Morris, the chief executive of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said: "The loss of Caithness Horizons back in 2019 was a real blow not only to Thurso town centre but to the wider tourism industry across the north Highlands. We are delighted to see this vital part of our local community reopening with a fresh new brand, thanks to the support of Dounreay and the Highland Council."

However, she added: "We are concerned that the decision has been made to reopen just as this year’s tourist season has come to a close, and hope this time will be used to prepare and hit the ground running for the start of the 2022 season.

"What is now vital is that every effort is made to ensure that the new centre is developed and run in a way which is sustainable in the long term. The north Highlands has a real opportunity to capitalise on the post-Covid changes to the tourism market, and this revamped facility can play a key role in achieving that."

Ron Gunn, the chairman of Thurso Community Council and the Association of Caithness Community Councils, said: "I am absolutely delighted the building is going to be open to the public again next month as it has been a long haul. One of the questions people frequently ask is when the premises are going to be re-opened so folk are interested in it and will be looking forward to visiting it again. Also people are travelling on the North Coast 500 route all year round so it will give them somewhere to go if the weather is not great at that time of year."

Alan McIvor, the chairman of Thurso Heritage Society, said: "The museum has been a significant loss to the town and the county since its closure. I’m sure High Life Highland can make a success of the venue. They are the best people to take on the facility. Opening at this time of year will give everyone a chance to find their feet before next year’s tourist season."

Vice-Chair of the Caithness Area Committee, Provost Struan Mackie, said the centre will re-establish "an important focal point for the local community and in turn our region's tourism offering" and provide "an exciting programme within first-class surroundings."

High Life Highland chief executive Steve Walsh said: "We see the development of the North Coast Visitor Centre, first and foremost, as a local community resource that will be available 12 months of the year. As the name suggests, however, we recognise the importance of providing an opportunity for visitors to experience, engage with and celebrate the rich heritage and culture of Caithness while helping support the long-term viability of the centre for the community."

Josh George of DSRL is delighted "this important community facility is re-opening."

"In the past it has been a well-used resource by both locals and visitors alike and can now, once again, be a focal point for the heritage and history of Dounreay and the wider community."

The centre will feature a permanent exhibition dedicated to the story of Caithness from 416 million years ago to the present day. Other attractions include the famous fossil fish of Caithness, a Bronze Age clay beaker found near Achavanich, two Pictish Stones, and a Viking cross shaped gravestone, incised with runic letters found near to Old St Peter’s Kirk in Thurso in 1896. The facility also tells the story of the Dounreay nuclear site.

The North Coast Visitor Centre will be open each week from November until March from Tuesday to Thursday between noon and 4pm and from 11am to 4pm on Friday and Saturday.

Opening hours between April and October will be from Tuesday to Saturday between10am and 5pm.

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