An App which can be downloaded anywhere in the world by i-phone or other mobile devices has been commissioned by Buidheann Leasachaidh Ionad Hiort, the local group in Uig that is driving forward the creation of the proposed Centre. The App project has been supported by Comunn na Gaidhlig and both Gaelic and English versions are available.
Iain Buchanan, chairman of the local group, said: ”There is a huge interest in St Kilda and the prospect of a Centre devoted to interpreting its history, culture and all the characteristics which have resulted in double designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The App will be another valuable tool in stimulating that world-wide interest”.
Donald MacNeill, chief executive of Comunn na Gaidhlig, said: “We were delighted to support development of the App with investment from our HIE-sponsored innovation fund, in particular because of its Gaelic-language format.
“We feel it’s important that Gaelic expands its foothold in new technologies like this and hope that where the Hiort project has led, others will follow”.
The App includes spectacular scenes of St Kilda as well as a summary of the islands’ history and an explanation of the Ionad Hiort concept. It was given its first showing at a recent international conference in Edinburgh on remote access to World Heritage Sites, at which St Kilda was the most prominent case study.
The conference was opened by the Scottish Government’s Minister for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, who described St Kilda as “a truly remarkable World Heritage Site” and “a magical place that is difficult to get to”, making it particularly suitable for the development of remote access technologies.
Ms Hyslop outlined some of the existing work on St Kilda being undertaken by Scottish Government agencies, including laser digital mapping under the Scottish Ten project to record World Heritage Sites as well as the work of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments and the National Archives of Scotland to “bring physical archives to life” in a way that would “make the past more comprehensible” to future generations.
Addressing the conference on behalf of the local development group, Brian Wilson said that they had taken the project “as far as we can on our own” and that it was now time for the national and international bodies involved to take it to the next stages. He added: ”On behalf of everyone so far involved in working to establish this Centre, I would invite UNESCO to treat this project as a case study in the development of remote access provision.
“We are at an early stage so it should be possible to work together from the outset, drawing in both the technology and the creativity which will make this a truly wonderful resource; worthy of that double UNESCO designation and just as important, worthy of the people who inhabited St Kilda for more than 1000 years and whose memory we respect”.
Mr Wilson said: “We need now to make the connections that will turn the concept into a reality. We want the St Kilda Centre to be a beacon of excellence. We want to make links with similar remote access projects around the world. We want to harness the technologies that some of the people present at this conference are uniquely qualified to deliver”.
The proposal of joint working with UNESCO to take the project forward was warmly received by UNESCO whose special projects manager, Peter de Brine, announced at the conclusion of the conference that the World Heritage Centre, base in Paris, would make Ionad Hiort a key UNESCO case study in remote access to world heritage.
Malcolm MacLean, director of Proiseact nan Ealan, said: ”This is good news for the centre, for the Hebrides and for Scotland. We had 180 delegates from 20 countries in Edinburgh with valuable additional input from links around the world. Ionad Hiort was constantly referenced in debate as well as being the theme for the associated exhibition. The conference has been a great boost to the profile and plans for Ionad Hiort”.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar was represented by Councillor Angus McCormack, who said at its conclusion: “The conference provided the ideal platform to showcase and talk about St Kilda. It was discussed at almost all the sessions with tremendous support for the concept of Ionad Hiort and a commitment to establish a Board structure to take the project forward.
“The Comhairle recognises that this is a world class project which will bring considerable cultural tourism benefits to the Outer Hebrides”. He confirmed that the Comhairle has already taken action to secure the St Kilda and Hiort ‘brands’ so as to ensure that these benefits are fully realised.
Iain Buchanan said that the next step would be to establish a board which would include representation from the organisations which originally selected the Mangersta cliff-top site in Uig for the proposed centre. These include HIE, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, VisitScotland, the National Trust for Scotland and Proiseact nan Ealan, as well as UNESCO. Other national bodies including Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Scotland have also indicated interest and support.
There will also continue to be local representation from Uig on the new board. Buidheann Leasachaidh Ionad Hiort has nominated three of its members - Iain Buchanan, Janet MacLeod and Murdanie MacDonald – to join it.
Mr Buchanan said: “In the current funding climate, it is not going to be easy to deliver. However, we believe that if both UNESCO and the Scottish Government put their weight behind it, then it should be possible to assemble the funding package required for a project that would be of great economic significance for the Western Isles as well as of international importance in terms of remote access to World Heritage sites”.