The Falls of Shin is a community owned visitor centre designed by local Architect, Catriona Hill, of CH Architecture. The facility has a cafe, shop, exhibition, children's play area and provides access to the well-known salmon leap waterfall and adjacent forest walks.
The previous building was destroyed in a fire in May 2013, and the former owner decided not to rebuild the facility. The local community, under the umbrella organization the Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust (KoSDT), approached the owner and offered to buy the site in 2014.
The project was entirely community lead by KoSDT, who successfully put together a funding portfolio. Seed funding was provided by HIE who financed the purchase of the land.
Development funding and capital funding was then sourced from Big Lottery Scotland through the Growing Community Assets fund. The local wind farm funds managed by SSE and EON both contributed considerable funds, as did HIE, Highland Council and the Roberston Trust and Highland Council. The overall funding package amounted to approximately £1.4million, which covered the capital build cost of £1.09million and revenue funding of circa £300k.
Since the facility opened in May 2017 an ongoing, two-year community project has been based at the building, which funds a development officer to organize and run a series of community events that increase footfall and provide engagement for the community. Most of these have an outdoor theme and take advantage of the building’s rural setting. The most recent of these projects, the Christmas fair provided a forum for local traders to display and sell their produce.
The design of the new centre focuses on creating outside spaces, which foster a sense of ownership and pride and can be used by the local community for free. The facilities include a central plaza, which sits at the heart of the venue.
Public access has been greatly improved as the original facility discouraged ‘non-paying’ visitors. Under community ownership, all visitors are valued, and it is for this reason that picnics are welcome on the plaza and all the play areas can be used for free. Access to the river has also been improved with the path to the waterfall viewing point having been rebuilt so that strollers and wheelchairs can, with assistance, make it to the river edge.
Since the building was opened to the public on 15th May 2017, the door counter has monitored more than 100,000 visits to the café. Visitor surveys show that whilst many of the visitors are tourists, the vast majority of the visitors are local people who value the quality of the café and enjoy using the facility, for free, on a regular basis.
The visitor centre has been designed to be sustainable. In addition to being energy efficient it can expand and contract to suit user demand making it affordable to run. In busy times it can throw its doors open and use expansion space under the covered eaves. In quiet times it can contract and be run by a core staff of three.
The clever and engaging design of the building has provided the community with an asset which earns them money, increase visitors to the area and provides up to 15 jobs for local people.