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Wick Heritage Centre

>From Today's O'Groats Journal

Heritage group may be forced to quit 

THE award-winning Wick Heritage Centre may be forced to quit its premises in 
Bank Row following a controversial plan to alter the terms of its new 25-year 
lease, it emerged yesterday.
The changes would mean the Wick Society, which runs the facility, would be 
responsible for the maintenance of the building and the insurance premiums. 
At present, the Highland Council pays these bills.
The costs would be prohibitive for the centre, which is operated by 
volunteers, and could result in it having to close its doors.
Society chairman Iain Sutherland confirmed that the museum’s future is under 
threat because of what he describes as the “preposterous” changes to the 
He wants the new conditions withdrawn and maintains that if they are not then 
the centre is unlikely to reopen.
Mr Sutherland claims there are only two realistic alternatives – buy the 
building from the Highland Council for a peppercorn fee of £1 or accept the 
new lease provided the society gets a £10,000 a year grant to meet the 
maintenance and insurance costs.
One other possible option would be to move in to the recently-purchased 
former fish-processing yard next to the centre, although Mr Sutherland 
accepts such a move would result in a much smaller facility. 
He said: “This is extremely serious as far as we are concerned.
“We have spent 30 years trying to preserve the heritage of Wick and have 
never asked anybody for any assistance whatsoever.
“Now, after all we have done, we are being told that we will have to raise 
the money to pay for the maintenance and insurance. I find that unacceptable.”

Mr Sutherland also warned that the closure of the Wick centre would have 
adverse consequences for the local tourist industry.
“We attract 4000 people a year into Lower Pulteneytown, most of whom would 
never normally be in that area. This is of direct benefit to the retail 
businesses in the town.”
He went on to say that if the Wick museum – the largest north of Perth – was 
operated by the Highland Council it would cost around £100,000 a year. “It 
would need a manager/curator, at least two conservators and 10 part-time 
staff in the summer.
“It would be interesting to know how many people are employed in the 
Inverness museum which operates in much smaller premises.
“I would like to see a comparison of the costs involved with the displays in 
Inverness because ours have cost the council nothing.”
Mr Sutherland stressed that the Wick Society had spent its cash reserves to 
buy the former fish-processing plant next to the museum so it could be 
“We did so as our contribution to the Lower Pulteney redevelopment in the 
full knowledge that tourism is declining and that we expect to make a loss 
over the next three years. Our revenue dropped by 20 per cent in 2001,” said 
Mr Sutherland.
He blamed the Scottish Parliament for the proposed changes to the lease and 
said such a move would have an adverse impact on similar facilities 
throughout the country.
“The Highland Council is only the message boy,” he maintained. “The Scottish 
Parliament is behind this and is putting us in a position where the financial 
burdens are going to put us out of business. It is monstrous.”
The society is to meet to discuss the situation early next week.
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MSP Jamie Stone yesterday described the 
proposed changes to the lease as “ludicrous”.
He said: “I have every sympathy for the predicament the Wick Society finds 
itself in. I don’t know what the involvement of the Scottish Parliament is 
but will make it my business to find out and do what I can to help.”
Mr Stone will be in Caithness this weekend and hopes to meet with members of 
the society to try and find the best way forward.
“We should be assisting them rather than putting obstacles in their way,” 
said Mr Stone, who explained that he will be seeking a meeting with the 
deputy finance and local government minister, Peter Peacock, in a bid to 
clarify the situation. “I want to find out what the position is,” added Mr 
No-one from the council offices in Wick was available