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Stromness Museum extension facing delays as pandemic leaves heritage society with financial hardship

A graphic showing the proposed alterations to Stromness Museum.
A graphic showing the proposed alterations to Stromness Museum.

A planning application submitted to Orkney Islands Council has provided a look at some major changes to Stromness Museum.

But even if the plans get the thumbs up from the council, it will be three or four years until construction goes ahead.

That’s according to the Orkney Natural Heritage Society, which manages the museum.

The organisation’s chairman has said they are struggling to find the money for the development, thanks to the pandemic.

Society chairman Ian Johnstone said the 19th century listed building has struggled to accommodate visitors while keeping to Covid safety requirements.

This has severely limited the museum’s main source of income.

The museum opened for three days a week for part of last year and then again in May.

This month it got back to its normal schedule of opening seven days a week although this is only on a trial basis.

‘We’re struggling to stay afloat as it is’

Mr Johnstone said the society’s plans would fix their heating system, deal with water ingress, introduce disabled access and, perhaps most importantly of all, provide much-needed extra space.

Two new, zinc-clad sections would be added to the building’s north and east sides and the current cement render on the building would be removed and replaced with a lime-harled one.

The existing extension on the south, added in the 1970s, would be demolished entirely.

Mr Johnstone said: “The museum is an old building. We’ve had a lot of problems with water ingress between that extension and the original building.

Stromness Museum as it looks now.

“As you can imagine, as a museum with artefacts, water ingress is a serious issue for us.

“The extension would allow us to address that. We need to update the heating system as well.”

Mr Johnstone said the project improvements would cost between £1.5m and £2.5m.

He added: “There’s a whole lot of reasons why this extension would be invaluable to the longevity and sustainability to the museum.

“We don’t have the funding for it yet. We’re going for planning permission now and that’ll mean we can go for funding and cost it all out.

“However, it’s going to cost in the region of £1.5m to £2.5m to get what we need and we don’t have that.

“We’re struggling to stay afloat as it is.”

No threat to jobs

Mr Johnstone clarified that, while there is no threat to jobs at the museum or the museum shutting down, a variety of plans to develop the museum have been curtailed.

The extension plans may still be a long way off but there are some who have voiced strong criticisms.

There are currently three objections from a neighbour and other members of the public, as well as one from the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland (AHSS).

One objector dubbed the extension “an act of visual vandalism” while another said it would “make a mockery of trying to preserve the town and keep its historical character”.

The AHSS’s objection has said the design “does not relate well to either the museum of the neighbours” and “reads poorly from both the sea and Alfred Street”.

‘Our plans are just to modernise the building’

Asked how the Orkney Natural Heritage could justify an extension that is accused of contrasting so heavily with its setting, Mr Johnstone pointed to another local building that the extension will be compared to – the town’s Pier Arts Centre.

He said: “If you look along the Stromness waterfront, there are a number of other properties that have been upgraded – the Pier Arts centre being the classic one.

“It’s very similar to that kind of upgrade which everybody applauds now.

“Our plans are just modernising the building.

“Although it’s gone to planning and people are seeing it now, this is just part of a long process and there’s a long way to go yet – another three to four years until things will be in bricks and mortar.”

The full plans for the extension’s museum can be viewed on the Stromness Museum’s website.

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