University of the Highlands and Islands: Coastline community stories to be told this summer

Launching this month throughout the west coast of Scotland, with an opening in Oban today (2 June 2022), are four interactive exhibitions, a website, and an innovative app exploring the role of this coastline in shaping the world – and how the world is shaping it now.

‘COAST’ is a community-led project coordinated by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), with project partners NatureScot, Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research based at UHI West Highland, CalMac Ferries, Lateral North, ruralDimensions and Whereverly. The project is part of a £5 million investment in a Scottish programme of projects to promote and develop the outstanding natural and cultural heritage of the Highlands and Islands in a way that conserves and protects them. The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund is led by NatureScot and is part funded through the European Development Fund (ERDF).

Eileen Stuart, Deputy Director Nature and Climate Change at NatureScot, said:

“We are delighted to support the ‘COAST’ project, through funding from the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, which has brought together wonderful stories from the west coast to share with visitors. These stories save and share the history of this unique area, bringing this remote and rural part of Scotland to life for us all.

“Working with communities across the west coast during lockdown, the project gathered stories of community, heritage, myths, legends, architecture, culture and migrations. It provided an outlet for people to tell the stories less told and highlight gems that are often missed by visitors to communities throughout Scotland and locals alike.”

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland said:

“With its distinctive landscapes, history, culture, communities and language, Scotland’s west coast holds plenty of appeal for visitors.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, our research suggests that visitors want to have authentic experiences and there is no better way to really understand a destination and its community than to hear its stories.

“Bridging our Year of Coast and Waters in 2020 and Scotland’s Year of Stories in 2022, it is fantastic to see our Themed Years inspire this new project which in turn will inspire visitors to visit Scotland’s west coast, encouraging them to travel year-round, stay longer and explore more widely. The impact of tourism spreads far beyond the industry itself – it creates jobs, sustains communities and contributes significantly to local economies.”

Camille Dressler, coast story gatherer for the Small Isles and Road to the Isles commented:

“I really enjoyed researching new stories about the area I live in and discovering real gems to share with the wider public! Some of the stories might never have been captured if it had not been for this project, which reconnected me with my early love for oral tradition.”

Through digital workshops, on-the-ground interviews, and online submissions, over 1,400 stories were gathered at the peak of the pandemic and provided an opportunity for people to reflect on and learn about their local environment, the people who have influenced it, and how their community has ‘shaped the world’ as well.

These 1,400 stories have been curated to highlight 350 stories and are being preserved and safeguarded by UHI as a resource. Many of these are part of the four exhibitions on display in Oban at the Rockfield Centre, the GALE Centre in Gairloch and Comunn Eachdraidh Nis on the Isle of Lewis. The project’s website and app allow users to delve further into these stories.

Carron Tobin of Rural Dimensions and Graham Hogg from Lateral North have coordinated the COAST project from the outset and added:

“When we started this project, we had a sense our story gatherers would unearth a few little-known treasures but didn’t for a minute expect there to be so many. Bringing these to life in both the exhibitions and the website and app will allow many more people to enjoy them, be inspired to travel and have a much richer appreciation of just how special the west coast of Scotland and its people have been through time and continue to be today.”