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Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

Press Release - 6th March 2017

Museum Opening Organisation logos

Formal Opening Of Lews Castle, Museum And Archive

Monday 6 March will see the official opening of the Lews Castle Museum and Archive project by the Right Honourable Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland. The opening will mark the completion of a flagship cultural and economic regeneration project led by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The £19.5 million project, undertaken in phases over a 5 year period, has fully restored Stornoway’s main landmark building as a visitor and hospitality destination.

At the heart of the scheme is a new Museum nan Eilean and Tasglann nan Eilean - the first public archive for the islands. The modern museum extension with views over Stornoway, the harbour and the Minch beyond, echoing the former glass-houses is a visible symbol of the re-birth of the Castle.

The official opening will celebrate a range of local and national partnerships which have been crucial in bringing this challenging project to fruition. Representatives of a wide range of partner organisations and funders will attend the opening, including National Museums Scotland (NMS), the British Museum, the Heritage Lottery Fund and local heritage organisations.

Since public opening in July 2016, over 34,000 people have visiting the museum and archive, with many more enjoying the beautifully restored public rooms of the castle, the Storehouse Café in the dramatic glass roofed courtyard and the adjacent Outfitters Shop.

The museum galleries examine the long human occupation of the Outer Hebrides with themed displays focusing on the relationship between the people the land and the sea, working life, community life and contemporary issues.

An innovative Gaelic-led approach to interpretation mixes objects, images, audio visual displays and interactive exhibits to provide an accessible and family-friendly experience which is proving popular with local people as well as visitors to the islands.

Particular highlights include a stunning cinematic gallery which takes the viewer on a virtual journey through the diverse landscapes of the Outer Hebrides across the seasons and in all weathers and the ‘Eileanaich’ (islanders) gallery in which a cross section of people talk about life in the Outer Hebrides.

Through a partnership with the British Museum, six of the world famous Lewis Chessmen take their place as a centrepiece within the main gallery. These fascinating playing pieces, carved from walrus tusk and whalebone some 800 years ago were discovered on Uig beach on the west coast of Lewis in 1830.

Over one third of the objects on display have been loaned by National Museums Scotland, including archaeological finds from across the Outer Hebrides, a spectacular Viking hack-silver coin hoard and a three-wheeled Morgan car from the 1920’s which was the first private motor vehicle on the Island of Berneray.

Comainn Eachdraidh (local historical and community heritage societies) have played a key role in the project and are signposted in the new museum to encourage visitors to explore the unique and rich local collections that exist across the Outer Hebrides.

The restoration of the Lews Castle fulfils a long-held aspiration of the local community to see the iconic building brought back to life. The 19th century castle had lain vacant for almost 20 years and was at risk by the time the initial repair works started in 2012.

The main public rooms on the ground floor of the castle have been restored to their Gothic Revival glory, including ornate plaster ceilings and a fabulous 19th century wall mural in the Morning Room.

The exception is the spectacular Adam style ballroom which Lord Leverhulme extended and re-modelled in the 1920’s and has been restored in that style. The ballroom and other public rooms have already hosted a wide range of functions including what is believed to the first wedding ever held at Lews Castle.

The final phase of the project has created luxury holiday accommodation on the upper floors of the Castle with 23 bedrooms in a flexible configuration of individual suites and apartments with one to three bedrooms. The accommodation is scheduled for launch by Natural Retreats in April.

The Lews Castle Museum and Archive project has been funded by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Historic Environment Scotland, the Scottish Government, the European Regional Development Fund and Bord na Gaidhlig along with significant private investment in the hospitality elements from Natural Assets, the parent company of the Castle operator Natural Retreats.

The architects for the overall development were Malcolm Fraser Architects of Edinburgh in association with Simpson and Brown Architects. The principal contractor for the project was John Graham Construction Ltd. Neil Mackay and Co of Stornoway undertook the initial envelope repair works to the Castle.

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said:

“The opening of the Lews Castle development is a historic occasion for Stornoway and the whole of the Outer Hebrides and I’m delighted I could be part of the event. I’m pleased the Scottish Government and its agencies could provide funding to help restore this iconic castle to its former glory as well as providing a key cultural and heritage hub for the area.

“It is also very fitting that the refurbishment has been completed this year – the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. The Comhairle and its partners must be congratulated on developing what is now a beautiful venue for both local residents and visitors to the island to enjoy, telling the unique story of the islands in an amazing setting. It will also be a fantastic boost for the local economy, increasing tourism, creating jobs and bringing additional revenue to the islands.”

Comhairle Leader and Chair of Lews Castle Project Board, Cllr Angus Campbell, said:
“I am delighted that we are at the stage of officially opening this iconic Outer Hebrides landmark, which is a truly magnificent facility for visitors and residents alike. The Castle has already proved to be hugely popular, as evidenced by the large numbers of visitors in the first few months.
“I would like to thank the First Minister very warmly for being with us today to celebrate the official opening. I hope she enjoys her brief visit to the Outer Hebrides and that she will be back with us soon. Thanks are also due to our many partner funding agencies, particularly the Project Board and staff for all their support and efforts over recent years.
“Not only is the Castle a major economic boost for the Western Isles - with the creation of many jobs and more still to come - it is also a symbol of island regeneration and cultural renaissance.”
“Projects of this nature and scale are never easy and can present many challenges.
“Identifying an economically sustainable end use for the Castle was a vital requirement in securing external funding for the project. I believe we have delivered the original vision for the project with the combination of the heritage development, public access to one of our main heritage assets and top class hospitality and accommodation facilities which will generate new visitors to the islands.
“The Comhairle and the whole community can be extremely proud of what has been achieved and I am confident that the benefits of this substantial investment will be felt right across our islands in the years to come.”

Dr Gordon Rintoul, Director of National Museums Scotland said:
“We have been delighted to work in partnership with the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to support this important project. Our involvement has ranged from sharing our expertise and skills to providing a substantial number of loans from the National Collections and a commitment to make touring exhibitions available over the coming years. Lews Castle Museum is already proving to be very popular and I am sure that its fascinating displays and excellent visitor facilities will continue to make it a significant draw for visitors from far and wide.”

Sir Richard Lambert, Chairman of the British Museum, said:

“It has been rewarding working in partnership with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar throughout the regeneration project and this work continues a relationship between the British Museum and Museum nan Eilean that extends back 20 years. The Castle is a major museum site for the island of Stornoway and six of the Lewis Chessmen from the British Museum are now on long-term loan to the new galleries. We are delighted to hear that the museum and archive has already received over 34,000 visitors since it opened last summer and we look forward to many more people enjoying these new landmark facilities.”

Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Sir Peter Luff, said:

“This is a significant event for the Western Isles as Scotland begins a special year celebrating its history, heritage and archaeology. Thanks to players of the National Lottery, Lews Castle museum is showcasing 5,000 years of island life for the first time, while protecting the legacy of these beautiful islands. It marks a new cultural confidence for Stornoway and will bring tourists from near and far to enjoy all that the Western Isles have to offer.”

Lorne Crerar, HIE Chairman, said:
“We are delighted to have supported the regeneration of the Lews Castle. The development has created a cultural centre and visitor destination of national significance, creating employment opportunities and improving the tourist offering in the Outer Hebrides. The facility is a major cultural and economic asset for the region and one which will bring benefits for generations to come.”


Thomas Knowles, Head of Grants for Historic Environment Scotland, said:

‘We have been delighted to be so involved with the Lews Castle Museum and Archives project. Our funding commitment builds on several other programmes across the Western Isles, and as this partnership develops between the Council and ourselves we can see the benefits in terms of sustainable economic development. Heritage has a huge value to visitors and residents alike, and as the lead organisation for the historic environment in Scotland we recognise this and seek to promote it.’

Matt Spence, founder of Natural Retreats said:

“We are privileged to be operating in such a breathtaking location. Since they opened last summer, our Storehouse Cafe and Outfitters Store have proved extremely popular, we have hosted some wonderful weddings and events in the Castle's ground floor rooms, and we are really looking forward to opening the doors to our accommodation next month. The apartments and bedrooms will stay true to the Castle’s origins, with some Hebridean details and a wide variety of locally sourced furnishings, but will also have the modern, luxurious touches that visitors have come to expect. Having the Museum right on our doorstep, as well as a wide variety of historic attractions, outdoor activities and beautiful scenery close by, will all help make Lews Castle a must-visit destination.”

Alan MacKenzie, VisitScotland Islands Manager said:

“I am delighted to see this fantastic project officially opening and it seems entirely fitting that this is taking place in Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.
“This multi-million pound visitor and hospitality destination is a huge asset to the tourism offering in the Outer Hebrides and allows visitors to delve into the history of these islands and their fascinating stories.

“VisitScotland is committed to working in partnership with our public sector partners and the local industry to maximise the visitor economy and build on the successful development of tourism in the Outer Hebrides.”

Bòrd na Gàidhlig Ceannard (CEO), Shona MacLennan, said:
“The new Museum nan Eilean at Lews Castle, along with its strong community heritage partnerships, will encourage the use of Gaelic amongst both fluent and learners of Gaelic at local, national and international levels. The portrayal of the Gaelic-speaking communities of the islands as a central feature of the museum, reaffirms the continuing importance of Gaelic culture today.
“We also welcome the new Museum and Archive as a research and visitor facility of great significance to the area, which further demonstrates the importance of the Gaelic heritage to Scotland’s economy.”

Gary Holmes, Regional Director of GRAHAM Construction said:

“At Lews Castle we have delivered an award-winning restoration and refurbishment project on an A-Listed building, and we’re proud to be leaving behind a lasting legacy of skills, employment opportunities and support for the community. Nearly 75% of those working on the project were from Scotland and half of those have been from Lewis.”


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Nigel Scott
Communications Officer
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

Tel: 01851 822622 (Work)
Tel: 07884 236103 (Mobile)
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