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Scottish Government urged to help secure future of Caithness Horizons

By Gordon Calder

A CALL has been made for the Scottish Government to "play its part in securing a future for Caithness Horizons".

It was made by local MP Jamie Stone in a letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and comes after talks between representatives of the museum and gallery and Highland Council.

Horizons chairman Craig Brown said: "The meeting was positive in discussing possible options for long-term financial stability to allow Caithness Horizons to reopen. Further meetings are scheduled over the coming weeks."

Regarding widespread concern about the future of the museum collection, Mr Brown said it "remains complete and in the same safe condition while the next steps are discussed" with the local authority.

Mr Stone, the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, described Horizons – which closed unexpectedly last week – as part of "a string of pearls" to entice visitors to the area, the others being the Castle of Mey and Dunrobin Castle.

He urged the First Minister to help identify a way "to keep this vital facility open".

Mr Stone said: "I was appalled to hear of this closure – not least because it doesn’t seem that long since it was first opened. Caithness Horizons has been a great success in interpreting the geology, wildlife and history of the far north for local people and visitors alike. It is up to date, visually striking, full of information and everyone who has been has come away much enthused.

"The closure of Caithness Horizons is precisely what we cannot allow to happen and it is for this reason that the Scottish Government should play its part in securing a future for the facility."

Councillor Struan Mackie, who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council, is concerned about public statements on dispersing the collection and says that is "contrary to the founding principles of Horizons".

He said any part of the permanent collection not on loan "must remain in Caithness, regardless of the future of the Horizons facility. And in the event of closure the permanent collection would revert to the Highland Council."

Councillor Mackie says the local authority should explore alternative operating models and wants "a cast iron commitment to ensure our county's heritage stays in Caithness for future generations."

Ian Leith, chairman of the Wick Society, which runs Wick Heritage Museum in the town’s Bank Row, described the closure of Caithness Horizons as "a great loss".

"From a heritage point of view it is certainly important, particularly its collection which should not be broken up and dispersed," he said.

Mr Leith emphasised that the heritage groups in Caithness are not in competition "but telling parts of the same story". He said: Caithness Horizons had its part to play. Now it's gone it is a great loss, but hopefully it can be retrieved."

He said the Thurso museum and gallery had "very dedicated and very experienced staff".

Mr Leith added: "It is too important to lose, particularly its heritage collection which has a national significance. If it was broken up it would dilute the story. Whatever the future holds, the collection must be retained."

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