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Caithness Horizons To Be Relaunched As The North Coast Visitor Centre

15th January 2021

Photograph of Caithness Horizons To Be Relaunched As The North Coast Visitor Centre

The Caithness Committee of Highland council will next week a paper covering the present position of the former Caithness Horizons that closed when it ran into financial difficulties. The facility closed in February 2019 having operated since 2008.

The building is owned by the The Highland Council, and THC retains responsibility for the collections housed therein.

The report states "Recognising the valuable role the building plays within the town of Thurso, and the wider Caithness area, and the opportunities offered in relation to museum and community use, and in turn tourism and the wider economic benefit, THC's Care, Learning and Housing Committee in May 2019 agreed to commit to the re-opening of the facility, with a capital investment from THC of circa £200k to address key building works, and a joint partnership approach between THC and Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) to each provide revenue funding of £75k p.a. for an initial 3 year period to support a new operator, High Life Highland."

To date the following works are now confirmed as complete in relation to the fabric of the building and other building related activity which were required to support safe re-opening of the facility. The replacement of the heating system including new boilers, repairs to the ventilation system and the mobility lift. There has also been extensive repairs on the roof, making good the damage caused by the lead theft. Work identified by our own Fire Risk Assessment has been actioned. All relevant plant such as fire alarms, emergency lighting, CCTV, gas safety checks etc has transferred on to the respective THC maintenance contract.

These address the more significant building fabric issues which required to be addressed. In the latter part of 2020, the HLH team have had a number of visits to the facility to assess what further improvements and actions may be required to support re-opening, and these include updating and reviewing risk assessments and commissioning a number of improvements to the cafe area, including purchasing new catering equipment, (currently on order). The new ICT requirements for the building, including free public Wi-Fi, have been established and installation is currently being arranged. Work is in hand with regards to the refresh of the kitchen and cafe area and should be completed in the very near future. There have been indications that Caithness Horizons could potentially be used as a Covid-19 vaccination centre. If this was to happen, works would be delayed.

Some final re-commissioning of services within the building are required before re-opening, and these include a flushing and testing of the water system among other key safety and compliance checks. The water system was flushed and disinfected before Christmas. Samples have been taken to ensure good water quality. We are awaiting the results. However, if the building is unused for a prolonged period of time due to the current lockdown, these water safety measures may have to be repeated.

HLH had plans in place to commence recruitment activity at the start of January 2021, with the intent of a re-opening spring 2021. Clearly due to the current lockdown these plans have been put on hold, but with the intent these can be progressed quickly when it is safe and permissible to do so.

Engagement between THC, HLH and DSRL has continued throughout the period since Caithness Horizons has been closed, with a number of recent discussions pre and post-Christmas 2020 with a view to supporting a re-opening of the facility, with the aim prior to the most recent lockdown for a re-opening by Easter 2021, but with that now impacted by the pandemic.

Significant investment in terms of cost, works and time has been spent such that the building itself has now had addressed the more significant building fabric issues. The focus now has been on the final improvements and commissioning steps that will allow HLH as the new operator to maximise the opportunity offered by the facility.

Despite the impact of the latest lockdown, these final steps are progressing as much as is possible in the current circumstances. All partners remain committed to re-opening the facility as soon as it is safe and permissible to do so. The main final stages will be recruitment to posts by HLH, and final commissioning of the building.

HLH has initiated pre-opening engagement with key local stakeholders and community groups with an extremely favourable response. This process will continue in advance of the facility opening; the support and involvement of the wider Caithness community will be a critical factor in determining the success and sustainability of the facility. The HLH marketing team will ensure that the community are kept appraised of developments through social media and other channels as the facility prepares for relaunching as the North Coast Visitor Centre.

Through partnership working and the ongoing support of local members and the community, Caithness Horizons is well placed now to re-open as soon as safe and permissible to do so, and provide a facility from which the local and area community, and in turn the tourism market, can benefit from the interpretation, the programme and the facilities on offer.

Read the full report to be discussed by Caithness Councillors on 21 January 2021 HERE