Durness Development Group

At Home in Mackay Country: A History and Profile of the Communities of Northwest Sutherland

The Group
Durness Development Group is a charitable organisation that takes on a range of parish level work, including youth projects, a food festival and the establishment of the Cape Wrath Challenge. The area - covering roughly the civil parishes of Eddrachilles, Durness, Tongue and Farr - is known as Duthaich Mhic Aoidh, or Mackay Country.  The research project built on previous rural development initiatives.

What they were trying to achieve?
The Back to the Future research project aimed to find out what Mackay Country is today, what is was in the past, and what local communities want it to be in the future.  It set out to create a new visual and oral history of the area.

How did they go about it?
During 2004-05, a team of part-time staff and volunteers gathered as much material as possible - by audio recording, video and photography - about life in the past and in the present day, and people's hopes for the future.  This work complements local archives.  From the materials gathered, the Back to the Future team created a book, a set of CDs and new web material.

What did they find?
The material gathered covers a wide range of subjects including: existing archives, archaeology, geology, life in the present day, musicians and bards, travellers, traditional medicine, crofting, emigrants, the church and the military history of the area.

What effect did it have?
The results of this work provided a blueprint for future action.  According to the group, local history and contemporary cultures are fundamental to what makes Mackay Country special.  Work focused on the heritage resource is therefore directly related to economic relations between the local and the global scale.  Issues of identity - collective and individual - are entwined with this work and the aspirations invested in it.  It follows therefore that work undertaken by action in the social economy impacts upon environmental, cultural, economic and youth issues.  From small beginnings by local volunteers at the start of the 21st century, in ten years time this work should help to create a new kind of knowledge based economy in Mackay Country.  By 2014 the group's aim is to:

  • manage a premanent and growing local archive
  • ensure easy and imaginative access to archive material
  • regularly use a range of artistic media as the vehicle for successful interpretation
  • achieve relevant skills transfer and training, particularly for young people, through interpretation and other action in the heritage sector
  • halt and preferably reverse the current decline in the Gaelic language locally
  • maintain a number of long term jobs in Mackay Country focused on culture, history, environment and interpretation
  • support staff and volunteers in completing relevant undergraduate and postgraduate study alongside their project work
  • develop tourism in Mackay Country through research, interpretation and marketing
  • put local business activity, business research needs and promotion of local produce at the heart of Mackay Country work
  • become comfortable working in partnership at this scale for the benefit of sustainable development in every corner and community in Mackay Country

The group took on another history project under the auspices of ‘Home Front' in 2005.  A new group called Mackay Country has been created out of this work in order to formally represent all the different groups and communities.  A 3 year plan is being prepared for grant applications to further the work and build on skills gained to date.  This is being done in partnership with the new UHI History Centre in Dornoch.  Archive boxes are being prepared to increase access to archive resources across all the communities.  They will be placed in existing community buildings and facilities.  A arts project is drawing to a close.  It involved 3 artists in residence using archive materials, working with the communities and taking inspiration form local landscapes.  During 2007 - Highland Year of Culture - the group is re-running the old travellers' route with the last of the Stewart family - Essie.  This will involve feis and ceilidhs.  The theme is movement and identity and the aim is to generate new songs and stories from the old ones and the old roads. 

Durness Development Group
Sangomore Headland
IV27 4PZ
website:  http://www.mackaycountry.com/