Great Bernera set to become marine tourism hub

Pontoons at Great Bernera

MARINE tourism visitors to the Outer Hebrides are benefiting from a new link in the chain of facilities in west Lewis.

Great Bernera Community Development Trust (GBCDT) was awarded a £70,000 grant from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to help meet the cost of creating 12 berths for local boat use and deeper water berths for visiting yachts.

The first stage of the community-run pontoon at Kirkibost Pier, Great Bernera opened in Spring 2022 with the completion of the pontoon and a new electric bike hire service to encourage sustainable travel. 

The second stage of currently undergoing works includes a utilities building, which is run, in part, by renewable energy to provide showers, toilets and laundrette facilities and an EV charge point. A new camper van hook up area will also be provided.

The newly improved access to the water encourages marine leisure visitors to embark and stay longer, stimulating business development and providing greater opportunities to conduct marine based activities. 

At busy times the pontoons could accommodate up to 24 boats, with some double-berthed. Water and Wi-Fi is provided at the berths and power points are being installed.

Visitor numbers to west side of Lewis have increased over the last three summers pre-pandemic with Bosta Beach, the Iron Age house and the Norse Mill providing popular attractions for tourists.

Two new jobs have been created with the support from HIE and further opportunities are being explored including the development of affordable housing, a community business and social space. 

The Great Bernera community has been working towards a crofting community buyout for many years. If successful, the group plans to take urgent measures to reverse the outward flow of young people. The current population is around 250, however, like many other areas, the average age is increasing, as young people move away, and retired couples move in.

Natalie Campbell, head of enterprise support at HIE’s Innse Gall area team, said: 

“It’s fantastic to see the facilities at Kirkibost pier expand. The development strengthens the availability of sailing facilities for visitors and local people on the west coast of Lewis, thereby helping attract more visitors and enhance their experience.” 

“The development will support marine tourism by making the area a more attractive visitor destination for those arriving by sea. It will also assist local business operations and create new jobs. We are really pleased to support this community-led project, which is catalysing further community-led development in the area.”

Tourism Minister Ivan McKee said:

“Scotland’s tourism sector and in particular, our marine tourism sector, is hugely valuable to rural communities. It’s great to see this project, which will reinvigorate and enhance the fragile and peripheral area of Great Bernera by expanding the available facilities at Innse Gall has been backed with £410,000 from the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund as well as £70,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.”

“The Scottish Government is fully committed to reaching net-zero by 2045 and it is great to see these developments include an electric bike hire service and an electric vehicle charging point, helping to reach our climate targets.”

Anne Ryan, Chair of the GBCDT, said:

“It’s most satisfying to see this project, which has been five years in advancing from an aspiration to the successful implementation of the first stage. We look forward to the opening of the facilities building later this year. We also plan a licensed restaurant, which will encourage more visitors and overnight stays at the pontoons.”

“At the same time our development officers are working with the Trust on other projects to provide a much-needed boost to the community and generate job opportunities on Bernera and we also hope to provide affordable housing. This will allow members of our community to remain living on the island and will contribute to community cohesion and a brighter future.”

“In addition to funding from HIE, the project is also being supported by the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Fund and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Our heartfelt thanks to all the funders for their invaluable support and assistance through the lengthy gestation of these massively important community developments, and for staying solidly by us through the Covid disruption and the unprecedented escalation of building costs.”

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