A derelict railway station in Sutherland has been refurbished to bring it back to life. It is now available for community use as well as to provide accommodation for visitors.
Helmsdale Station Community Interest Company (HSCIC) was set up in 2009 to rescue the listed station at the village, improve it for passengers and provide a focus for community pride.
Funding for the £122,500 project was secured through a number of sources including Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) which provided £9,790 for the final phase of the restoration work.
After being boarded up and largely abandoned for 20 years, its restoration means that the station waiting room has been brought back into use and includes a small display covering the history of the building and promotes local amenities to new arrivals. The old stationmaster’s accommodation has been refurbished and now provides self catering accommodation.
Funding from HIE has enabled the building to be used as accommodation for visitors and also helped to support the fitting of a photography dark room for community use which will be run by a local social enterprise.
Peter Guthrie, HIE’s Head of Strengthening Communities in Caithness and Sutherland, said: “HIE is delighted to be supporting this project which aims to benefit the community and will provide a much more warm welcome to Helmsdale railway station than it has for many years. This renovation has been undertaken as a non profit making community project to promote tourism in East Sutherland. All proceeds will go towards the promotion of the Far North Line and will assist community projects in and around Helmsdale. They have been greatly assisted by the Helmsdale Development Trust. HIE also works with the Trust by providing funding for a development officer as well as providing support for their projects.”
The original 1871 glazed panel has been recreated in the end wall of the station canopy which was bricked up for many years and now adds to the charm of the feature as well as giving passengers a better view of approaching trains from the shelter.
Mike Wilmot from HSCIC, said: “I have been visiting Sutherland for many years on cycling holidays and I was saddened to see the deterioration of the listed station building at Helmsdale. As Chairman of a Community Rail Partnership in England, I was aware of the possibility of bringing the station building back to life as a collaborative community rail initiative. I’m grateful to both Network Rail and ScotRail, as well as to our funders, for helping to convert this dream into reality.”
The project has received further support from Highland LEADER, the Railway Heritage Trust, the Stations Community Regeneration Fund and the East Sutherland & Edderton Ward Discretionary Grant Fund and also a number of local agencies and businesses which have all donated time, advice and services.
HSCIC will shortly advertise for a part-time caretaker/cleaner who would maintain the station and promote Helmsdale attractions.