IT is a town that has had its share of disappointments in recent times.
Dornoch has seen its plans for a new community centre dashed and long-standing aims for a sports centre fall by the wayside at the last hurdle. But now there are hopes it will be third time lucky as an ambitious project has been unveiled for a £2.5 million multi-purpose, community building on part of the redundant abattoir site in the town.
The large building would serve as a 200-seat wedding venue and arts and culture centre in the summer and then transform into a curling rink in the winter. It would also house a gym and fitness suite year round. If it comes to fruition, all profits from the building would be used for the benefit of the community.
The project, which has been on the table for more than a year, is being driven by Dornoch Area Community Interest Company (DACIC) It is being called Curlew to reflect the main activities planned – curling, events and weddings.
A site on Shore Road, behind the new Highlands and Islands University block of student accommodation, has been earmarked for the 55m by 25m building.
The ground is still owned by Aberdeen and Northern Marts (ANM), operators of the former Dornoch abattoir, which has been demolished.
DACIC has held talks with ANM and an application for a grant to buy the land is about to be made to the Scottish Land Fund (SLF). A pre-planning application has been submitted to Highland Council.
If the application is successful, the project will move to the next stage, which will include having the land professionally assessed for contamination and flood risk.
Consultants will be appointed to gather the views of the community and a full feasibility study and business plan will be prepared. Fundraising will then begin in earnest.
A DACIC spokesman said the earliest the new building could be operational would be 2020.
The spokesman said: “Dornoch is world famous as a wedding destination and yet, while Dornoch Cathedral has the capacity to seat 400, there are no local venues that are able to host more than 100 guests without the cost of hiring very expensive marquees.
“This means larger receptions are going as far afield as Inverness and Strathpeffer.
“When not being used for weddings, the events hall can be transformed into a 200-seat auditorium to hold, for example, music concerts and conferences. The seating will be retractable.
“The opening of a curling rink would not only provide residents, schools and students with the opportunity to participate in a sporting activity during the winter months, it would draw many winter visitors to the town and provide a significant boost to the local economy.”
An important aspect of the facility will be the gym and fitness suite and discussions have been taking place with Silverback Gym in Tain about operating it.
“The inclusion of a much awaited and longed for gym will be so important for helping people of all ages to stay active and will also enhance the life of the UHI students in the town.”
Curlew has gained the support of Dornoch Community Council, Community Association and Dornoch Cathedral.
Rev Susan Brown said: “The project will offer a winter sport facility that so many in the past were able to enjoy. Dornoch has a long history of curling, in bonspiels at Lochintreel and in the indoor rink at Brora (at the Royal Marine Hotel). Since the closure of that rink, some have made the long journey to Inverness to play, but there is a very strong pool of younger players who have not been able to find the time do that.”
East Sutherland and Edderton ward councillor Jim McGillivray said: “This is a very imaginative and well-researched project.
“The burgh missed out badly in recent times on Lottery funding for a new much-needed community centre, after a gut-wrenching effort over a number of years by the directors of Dornoch and District Community Association.
“The deletion of the sports centre project by Highland Council at the very point of contract signature in January was a major blow to the economy.
“Fortune favours the brave, and the team behind this project are highly capable and highly motivated. This could be the one that breaks a run of disappointments.”