Strathnaver Museum and Annex


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

Strathnaver Museum

Architect or lead designer:

Oberlanders: Catriona Hill

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

Strathnaver Museum

Project Description

For almost 50 years our community has been sharing the story of 8,000 years of history told through the context of the Highland Clearances. Our building, the historic Clachan Church, is central to this story which saw 1,000s of families removed from their homes to make way for commercial sheep farming, as the minister Rev David Mackenzie was tasked with translating the removal notices to his flock.

Built in 1774 our building was in urgent need of both repair and adaptation to meet our community’s expanding needs. Environmental conditions within the building made it uncomfortable for staff and visitors whilst being detrimental to our collection. Accessibility within the building was problematic while we needed to expand to realise our growing ambitions by creating additional research, gallery and workshop spaces.

We secured development funding from Highland LEADER in 2017 to develop concept designs. Our architect Catriona Hill spent time with the team to understand the workings of the Museum and what was required for change; this ranged from improved accessibility to somewhere warm to make a cup of tea!

Preliminary surveys began in January 2021 alongside an archaeological watching brief conducted by AOC Archaeology. The archaeological investigations extended into the summer due to the wealth of archaeological material that was uncovered, identifying our site as a potentially important part of the Pict’s story! This was incredibly exciting, as it adds to our knowledge of the historic activities carried out on our site and helps confirm its long ecclesiastical history. However, with all this excitement came additional costs and delays as the work expanded from a couple of days to several months.

In June 2021 we took possession of the piece of land earmarked for the new Annex construction from Highland Council and by August 2021 we had secured our funding package to proceed to tender for the construction work, won by O’Brien Construction Ltd. Its notable that almost £140,000 of the £2.3m funding package was raised from community sources within our sparsely populated area. Public and private grants made up the remainder.

Mindful that our site, within a working graveyard, is particularly sensitive we ensured that should an interment take place, the construction team would down tools. Many of the team on site were local and they took incredible pride in contributing to this new phase in their community building. They were always happy to talk to graveyard visitors about what was going on during the build, helping to keep the community informed.

In March 2023 we invited the local community to a ‘Sneak Peak’ event to see the finished site before reopening to the public in April. The local community was delighted with the refurbished museum building and new Annex which together provide light, warm, and inviting spaces for all. The project meets community needs by enhancing an existing community asset, creating additional space allowing us to deliver more educational and lifelong learning opportunities, and providing a warm welcoming environment for our volunteers and visitors.

Supporting Statement

Community Involvement, Benefit, and Impact

The community have been involved in the direction and design of the project since its inception through volunteer meetings, visitor surveys, and discussions with community groups. The key message was ‘don’t change too much’; a challenge in a historic building in urgent need of upgrading! As a building, and organisation, which has a place in our community’s heart, that call to ‘keep what makes the museum special’, essentially its community voice, was paramount.

Our professional team, Catriona Hill of Oberlanders Architects and Russell Eggleton of Abound Design and Interpretation, consulted with the community at the concept and developed design stage through focus groups and drop-in events. The community created content for the new interpretation from sharing knowledge about objects in the collection, creating videos demonstrating crafts, to giving voice to those removed during the Clearances; contributing to place-making.

Our contractors, O’Brien Construction, enabled two tours during construction and we held a community ‘Sneak Peak’ event. This was the crucial moment, would our community like the finished product?! Comments received were positive and as one visitor said “I was worried about seeing the museum in case its essence had changed but it’s wonderful; it still feels like it belongs to the community”.

Build Design and Quality / Preservation of Enhancement of the Local Built Environment

The historic value and sensitivity of our site in a working graveyard meant that our project had to be of the highest design and quality. The work to our existing B-listed church was in line with conservation practice replacing like for like where possible and removing inappropriate works. The most significant was removing the cement render and replacing it with traditional materials; an additional benefit was training delivered to the OBC team from the Scottish Lime Centre.

The notable contemporary addition of the bridge link spanning the main gallery provides an informed contrast to the historic fabric. The view from the bridge provides an excellent view of the impressive pulpit and exhibitions below whilst reminding visitors of the power structures of the early 1800s. The landed gentry would have looked down from the galleries, removed in 1882, towards the minister who in turn looked down on his congregation.

The newly built Annex sits between the B-listed church and C-listed Farr Bay Inn, clad in larch with a green roof, it nestles into its surroundings and delivers sustainable design elements. Energy is delivered via an air-source heat pump.

Achievements of the Project

The project has empowered our community by giving new skills, confidence and an enhanced community asset. The refurbished building has received worldwide interest and visitors. Thermal improvements in the building have meant we have been able to extend our season, attract new volunteers and offer space for community workshops. We have delivered 10 school visits and supported children and young people to explore their heritage. Improving our economic sustainability was a key consideration and in 2023 visitor numbers were up almost 15% while earned on-site income more than doubled.