The original concept of the ‘Far North Project’ was innovative for it’s time. In 1963 the land and buildings were acquired by the Sutherland District Council with the aim of developing business units for small businesses. Little interest was received and eventually, the concept of a ‘Craft Village’ was launched by the Council and was known as ‘The Far North Project.’ Potential arts and crafts people were invited to apply to rent a building for an annual rental of £5 in which they could live and establish their own arts/crafts business. The idea of attracting a community of artists and crafts people to ‘up-sticks’ and move to one of the most remote communities on mainland Britain was an ambitious one. Newcomers had to undergo an interview to ascertain their suitability, and if successful were free to convert their allocated building themselves at their own expense. In the early 1970’s the BBC produced a documentary ‘The Road to Balnakeil’ featuring the Craft Village and some of it’s early residents. This can be found on youtube.com.
The buildings were in various states of disrepair, usually without services, and of concrete block construction with flat concrete roofs. Nonetheless, some very comfortable accommodation was created along with ample workshop and retail space. Where else in the UK could be found business start-up premises with living space for £5 per year rental?
The project was a huge success and over time provided a significant number of artists and crafts people an affordable means to further develop their talent and to sell their produce. Many have since moved on to new ventures and have become established in their chosen field. Examples of previous Balnakeil residents who featured in ‘The Road to Balnakeil’ include the renowned ceramic artist Lotte Glob, and metalworker Alan Dawson who recently featured on Chanel 4’s Grand Design programme.
With most buildings now being privately owned, the opportunity for new people to live and work in the Craft Village has been largely dependent on them having the available capital to purchase a building. Buildings do become available for rental but very infrequently. In initiating the Far North Revisited Project, Durness Development Group is working with Craft Village residents to address this situation. We aim to attract new people to come and establish new arts and crafts businesses but also to take an active part in the life of the community. We also want to create a community space where groups can come together to practice art and craft in what is already renowned as being a creative community.