A major event held at the restored Lews Castle last night (Saturday October 7) raised thousands of pounds for the group developing the Ionad Hiort (St Kilda Centre) plan.
Echoing the social calendar of the Castle’s past, the Ionad Hiort Gala Dinner and Dance was held in the Castle Ballroom and other function rooms and included a raffle, an auction and other fundraising events.
The evening began around 7pm and lasted into the small hours with music by Portrona. Videos focused on St Kilda ran throughout the event.
The MC and celebrity auctioneer for the evening was Andy Cameron, the well-known comedian, broadcaster and Rangers F.C. supporter. Cameron, who was in top form, got an MBE in the 2015 New Year Honours List for services to entertainment and charity in Glasgow.
Auction prizes on offer included match day events at both Glasgow Rangers and Celtic football games, trips to the Shiant Isles and St Kilda, a variety of fishing trips on the Islands, and accommodation offers in the Islands, Inverness and Edinburgh. In addition, the author Alexander McColl Smith, who is a champion of the Ionad Hiort project, donated an original signed poem on St Kilda for the auction.
Around 140 people attended the event which included a three-course dinner. The tables for 10 were booked by a variety of local companies. Catering was by Natural Retreats which provides the accommodation and catering services in the refurbished castle.
All the guests were welcomed by Joni Buchanan, a director of Ionad Hiort. She said: “The objective of Ionad Hiort is very straightforward. It is to create a world-class centre above the cliffs at Geodha Sgoilt in Uig to provide for the global interest in St Kilda and to create economic benefit not just for Uig but for the whole of the Western Isles”.
She described it as “a long hard task that involves satisfying potential funders that it all makes sense. When the project is located in one of the most peripheral parts of the United Kingdom, that task becomes all the more challenging.”
The money raised at the event “will not build the St Kilda Centre,” said Joni “but it will allow the local group which has stuck with the task to continue building the case at a crucial stage”. She paid tribute to the support received so far from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
There are now hopes for a St Kilda trail on the Islands linking the proposed centre with one which has recently won planning approval in North Uist and also with existing facilities in Harris.
The project originated in a competition sponsored by HIE, CnES, Visit Scotland, the National Gaelic Arts Agency and the National Trust for Scotland, which owns St Kilda, with communities in the Western Isles invited to put forward proposals for a St Kilda Centre. The Uig site was the unanimous choice and since then the local group has been developing plans.
St Kilda is the UK’s only double World Heritage Site. Ionad Hiort has been adopted by UNESCO as an exemplar project for “remote access” to World Heritage Sites, two thirds of which are physically inaccessible by large numbers of visitors for a range of reasons.