Residents urged to back plans to expand West Highland Museum
THE WEST Highland Museum has unveiled plans to expand the popular tourist attraction by 2022.
The Fort William museum hopes the project will bring it into the 21st century and provide additional space to extend current exhibitions and bring in new ones.
The museum owns land behind the building at Monzie Square which is where it hopes to extend to.
Jackie Wright, a trustee and chairwoman of the management committee told the Lochaber
Times: ‘In the last three years, we have been looking at what we could do with the museum. The museum is very compact and it would be good to have more space to expand current collections and bring in new ones.
‘We would be looking at applying for stage one funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. But before we do anything we want to engage with the community and put a survey together to see what people want, so this is the very early stages.
‘We can’t just do nothing because it’s not sustainable for the museum. We have so many people in July and August, it’s scary sometimes. We would hope to have everything in place and up and running ideally by 2022 before the centenary anniversary of the museum.’
One of the most important heritage resources for researchers around the world, the museum is one of the most popular visitors attractions in Lochaber, attracting around 50,000 visitors a year.
The museum has a renowned collection relating to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite cause, but it also holds a wealth of curious and fascinating displays and objects on less wellknown aspects of the lives of the people of the West Highlands.
Founded in 1922, the museum moved into its current home in 1926 following a fundraising appeal to buy the former bank building.
John Hutchison, chairman of the museum trustees, said: ‘The trustees are keen to make sure it plays a full part in local life and builds on its growing popularity as a visitor attraction.
‘With more people coming into the building and with the growth of our collections, we want to make sure we are doing all we can to present the Lochaber heritage to best effect.
‘ We want to revitalise the museum, make sure we are telling the stories local people see as important and make sure we are telling them in the best way.’ The governance of the museum is also being reconsidered, with hopes it can one day be owned by the Lochaber community.
Mr Hutchison said: ‘We want to make sure the people of Lochaber have ownership of the museum, so as well as looking at the building and how it displays our heritage, we’re looking at moving from a trust to a community company which everyone in the area can join.’
To guide its plans, the museum needs the views and support of Lochaber residents. It has designed a short survey which will run to mid August in the museum and online from the museum website www.westhighlandmuseum.org.uk.
The survey will look at the building, themes and stories of the museum, what it could be doing better, what support there is for the expansion to the rear and/or taking in adjoining buildings and whether people want to become a member of the new community company.
Mr Hutchison added: ‘ We’re being supported by the Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, as well as the Scottish Land Fund and Museum Galleries Scotland. We are really looking forward to getting the views and feedback of local people and visitors.’