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May 25, 2010

Assynt’s case – too compelling to ignore

The Village SOS scheme was a challenge to rural communities across the UK to come up with business ideas that would help revive their fragile economies.  The quality of applications was so high that the Lottery decided to create an additional set of awards for four communities – and one was from Scotland. Although they won’t appear in the TV series along with West Wemyss, the Assynt Community Association aren’t complaining

The Northern Times

THERE was joy in Assynt this week as it was announced a community group had been awarded £433,840 to establish a visitor attraction in the area.

Assynt Community Association (ACA) is one of 10 groups from across the UK to win funding from Village SOS – a joint initiative by the Big Lottery Fund and the BBC.

The aim of the project is to enable deserving communities to develop new business ventures which will give an economic boost to their areas.

A BBC series on Village SOS will be screened later in the year, although only the top six winners are expected to feature.

Assynt Community Association hopes their scheme – to convert the abandoned Fishermen’s Mission in Lochinver into a visitor centre – will not only boost tourism, but also become the hub of the community.

Plans for the mission include a lobster nursery and marine archive as well as cafe and bunkhouse accommodation.

An open day was held in the village on Tuesday to celebrate the award and also inform the community about the project.

Chair of the Big Lottery Fund, Alison Magee, who lives in Lairg, said: “I’d like to congratulate Assynt Community Association. This is an ambitious project with a good idea of what it wants to achieve.

“This project will make good use of a disused building and will benefit the whole community once it is in place.”

Association representative Roger Glover said: “We’re absolutely delighted to have been successful. Although we won’t feature on the TV show, the project is the most important thing and it’s great to know that it will finally be going ahead.

“This means a lot to the community and I think it will be extremely popular.”

The “Village SOS” project was launched last year and attracted thousands of entries.

A shortlist of 28 villages were drawn up last November – all of which were offered a development grant of up to £10,000 to progress their business proposals.

Each of those shortlisted were teamed up with a professional, known as a “Village Champion,” who were recruited following a nationwide search run by the BBC and Enterprise UK.

The villages and their champions were paired up at a “matchmaking” conference held in Manchester.

Assynt Community Association was linked with Violaine Roberts, a mum-of-four who five years ago founded an award-winning village family entertainment, called “The Flying Fortress” in her West Sussex home.

The top six winning projects were announced by the Big Lottery on Monday, along with a further four which included Assynt Community Association.

A BBC spokesperson explained: “The original intention was to pick six projects – each of which would get up to £400,000 and be filmed by the BBC as part of a programme we are making.

“However, judges from the Big Lottery liked so many of the projects that they decided not to limit it to six but to make a second tier of four groups who will also be awarded funding, but will not feature so heavily in the programme.

“Instead they will be part of our Village SOS Learning Campaign which will accompany the BBC series and seeks to encourage villages across the UK to start their own community business.”