The Atlantic Islands Centre is a £1.25m initiative by the Isle of Luing Community Trust. Developed to spearhead sustainable development on the island and to prevent further depopulation, the Atlantic Islands Centre opened in the summer of 2015 and has quickly become established as a focal point for community life. Providing much needed facilities for both residents and visitors alike the Centre has been recognised as bringing economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits to the people of Luing. Dramatically perched on the edge of one of the flooded slate quarries on the site of the former Engine House, the new building reflects the scale and character of the original quarry building and the nearby houses of Cullipool village. The village, one of the two main settlements on the island, was built in the 19th century to house quarry workers and the rows of neat whitewashed cottages are now designated as a Conservation Village and listed by Historic Scotland. The Atlantic Islands Centre, designed by Argyll architect Shauna Cameron, utilises a similar palette of traditional materials to create a simple composition that sits comfortably within the village context and blends seamlessly with the vernacular architecture. A large expanse of glass to the south west corner creates a bright and open interior and allows visitors to take advantage of the spectacular views while enjoying top quality locally produced food and refreshments in the coffee shop / restaurant. The main downstairs exhibition provides a showcase for all the Atlantic Islands of Argyll, presenting an exciting introduction to their rich heritage and natural history through films and other interpretation. Changing exhibitions and a programme of arts and social events also utilize this flexible space which has already been used to host concerts, theatre, talks, tasting events and learning activities for all ages. Also included is an outlet for local crafts, gifts and publications to enhance the visitor experience. Upstairs, the Centre provides a base for the work of the Luing History Group. For over 12 years they have been recording, conserving and interpreting all aspects of the island’s heritage and social history and in the process have built up a fascinating collection of artefacts, archives and resources that tell the story of Luing and its neighbouring islands. Their frequently changing exhibition has stimulated family memories and resulted in donations of photographs from islanders and visitors, many of whom have come to trace their ancestry. The result of many years’ research and planning, and not without its fair share of challenges along the way, the Atlantic Islands Centre project makes a major contribution to the regeneration of this fragile island community; it delivers a much needed community hub and visitor attraction to address social isolation; and above all it provides a place where present and future generations can experience and enjoy a small part of Scotland’s rich natural and cultural heritage.
The Atlantic Islands Centre is a sustainable and inspiring example of community led regeneration in a small island community. The local people involved deserve to be rewarded for their determination, commitment, persistence and resolve in delivering an outstanding facility. The design takes full advantage of the unique nature of the site, benefitting from spectacular views to the west, while at the same time exploiting the dramatic position on the edge of the flooded former slate quarry. Internally, the varied nature of the spaces, along with the views out of the building, complement the exhibition material and provide a flexibility in use essential to achieve the range of activities required by the brief. The Centre’s high level of insulation and the innovative use of the adjacent quarry-pond for a water source heat pump system keep energy costs low and deliver long term sustainability. The Atlantic Islands Centre reflects the scale and character of former buildings and nearby houses associated with the famous slate quarries on the island. Built on the same footprint as the original Engine House, it utilises a similar palette of traditional materials, some reclaimed from the derelict building, to create a simple composition that sits comfortably within the village context and blends seamlessly with the vernacular architecture. The Isle of Luing Community Trust was formed in 2005 to strengthen the community and address issues driven by depopulation, low incomes and poor health. Through numerous community consultations, the concept of a multi-use community and visitor centre emerged. Islanders conducted market surveys to establish demand and potential usage and 5 formal community consultations took place during 2009-2012 to develop the design. The Trust directors successfully convinced a range of funders that the Centre would be viable and make a significant difference to regenerating Luing and raised £1.3m. The main benefit for the whole community has been the establishment of a much needed informal drop-in venue which has overcome isolation and improved social cohesion. Researching content for exhibitions and acting as guides has provided enjoyment and regular committed involvement for 10 retired Luing History Group residents. 5 new island jobs and multiple volunteer opportunities have been created. These have particularly benefited young people with little or no work experience, mothers re-entering work and retirees with time available. The volunteers collectively donate over 1,000 hours a month to the successful operation of the Centre. Despite planning difficulties, funding setbacks, and the physical challenges of building on a restricted site in an exposed west coast island location, the realization of the Atlantic Island Centre over a 10 year period is the over-riding achievement. In addition to tourism benefits, the new centre provides career development opportunities for young people, a more attractive social life for adults, including older and disabled islanders that are vulnerable to social isolation, and cultural activities designed to attract new families. The Atlantic Island Centre has greatly improved the quality of life on the Island of Luing and made it a more attractive place to live, work and visit.