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Project information

Castletown, Caithness

To undertake an exemplar project to restore and regenerate the 'Backies', the last surviving pair of flagstone workers’ cottages in Castletown. The project will stimulate and promote heritage-led regeneration across the North Highlands.

Two Years

Charity information: The Prince's Regeneration Trust

The Prince's Regeneration Trust logo
  • Need


    The remarkable vernacular built heritage of the North Highlands is in danger of being lost. A reduction in prosperity after the collapse of its traditional industrieshas resulted in population decline and a reduction in the availability of traditional building skills needed to maintain traditional buildings. The Caithness Redundant Buildings Report and Inventory highlighted over 1250 buildings at risk and called for exemplar schemes of repair to encourage their re-use rather than demolition.


    Working in conjunction with the Prince of Wales' North Highland Initiative, we aim to enhance the area through the exemplar sustainable repair and regeneration of the Backies. The project will not only save the buildings for future generations, but will also be linked to vital training and education opportunities for local tradespeople, private owners and the wider community. The sustainable re-use of traditional buildings adds value, promotes tourism and helps boost the local economy.

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    To sympathetically restore and adapt the Backies to create a single live/work unit.


    » To undertake an exemplar scheme of repair and re-use
    » To provide a range of traditional craft skills training opportunities in partnership wih the local Heritage Society.
    » To house a North Highland Initiative Project Officer and to provie an area of office/workspace.

    What success will look like

    The conversion will be carried out to the highest standards using local traditional materials and will then be let out as a live/work unit to a local resident or new entrant.

    Aim 2

    To promote the benefits and added value of repair rather than demolition of vernacular buildings


    » Use the project as an example of the potential benefits arising from the regeneration of Castletown's built heritage to stimulate further regeneration
    » The Royal Commision has agreed to record the key heritage features of the Backies prior to refubishment and deliver this as an education output.

    What success will look like

    Stimulating the heritage-led regeneration of Caithness and the North Highlands to create sustainable communities.

    Aim 3

    To address the shortage of traditional buildings craft skills in the North Highlands.


    » Build capacity for craft skills by introducing 'taster days' at the site open to the local community, schools, colleges, contractors and trades people

    What success will look like

    Filling the skills gap by reintroducing traditional building techniques into the North Highlands and increasing the number of learning opportunities available.

    Aim 4

    To preserve Castletown's social history, using the Backies as a remnant example.


    » To use the Backies as the focus for learning about and celebrating Castletown's now lost flagstone industry
    » To introduce educational programmes such as The Reminiscences project where young people record local residents' oral histories of Backie life.
    » To host a variety of local community events which inform and inspire local people about the importance and value of vernacular heritage to Caithness.

    What success will look like

    Setting up partnerships with local educational establishments and community groups that focus on raising awareness of the vernacular heritage of Castletown and the North Highlands.

  • Impact


    The project will raise awareness of vernacular heritage as a resource and asset able to boost visitor economy, create jobs and to preserve the identity and character of vast swathes of the North Highlands landscape. Furthermore, it will bring an important building back into beneficial use, and stimulate similar regeneration projects. By fostering traditional building skills it will create a new generation of craftsmen with the knowledge to sympathetically restore historic buildings in the future


    The main risk to our project is failure to achieve sufficient funding to enable it to take place. Although the Backies are acknowledged to be an important and rare survival, we are unable to apply to the usual funding bodies because they are unlisted and do not lie within a designated Conservation Area. However, we have already secured a major donation and are applying to many private Trusts and Foundations for further funding.


    Donors will be given frequent written updates on the project's progress along with the chance to come and visit the site in key stages of its development.

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £173,021

    Loading graph....
      Amount Heading Description
      £16,500 Educational costs Training courses for traditional buildings skills: £9000, Heritage interpretation activities: £7500
      £15,000 Professional Fees Payment of professionals undertaking restoration process
      £123,062 Capital Conversion repair and restoration of property for intended usage
      £18,459 Preliminaries Feasibility studies, surveying etc?

    Current Funding / Pledges

    Source Amount
    Prince's Regeneration Trust £20,000 Guaranteed
    The Pilgrim Trust £25,000 Guaranteed
  • Background


    Castletown is a beautiful North Highland's seaside village with a great deal of surrounding natural and cultural sites. It wasthe world’s foremost supplier of flagstone across the world paving the streets of New York and beyond. This alongside its other staple industries such as farming and fishing has severely declined. The local economy has dwindled due to lack of local employment and the underuse of other local potential such as tourism and leisure, heritage and small business development.


    The local community will benefit from the reintroduction of traditional craft skills, increased employment opportunties , the regeneration of the area which aims to initiate a cycle of growth, and the chance to reconnect with their heritage. Tourists will benefit from the reintroduction of Castletown as a significant Scottish heritage site, and local young people will benefit from learning opportunities and the chance to participate in their heritage.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    Our team is made up of individuals with a wealth of experience in heritage regeneration, and we have managed in the region of 40 successful heritage-led regeneration projects to date. One of our primary objectives is to work alongside community groups in order to capacity build them to manage and sustain their heritage assets in the long-term. We are the only Trust willing to purchase the Backies for this restoration project and are ideally suited to oversee its success.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    Maria Perks

    Project Adviser, who will lead on the day-to-day project delivery.

    Rosie Fraser

    Director at the Trust who will oversee viability and the sustainability aspects of the project.