Lottery funding blow jeopardises paddle steamer project
A campaign to get one of Scotland's most famous paddle steamers sailing again has been dealt a major blow after it failed to secure Heritage Lottery Funding.
The Maid of the Loch has not sailed since 1981 and has been moored at Balloch Pier for more than two decades.
The Loch Lomond Steamship Company chairman John Beveridge said he was "absolutely devastated" by the news.
HLF defended its decision and said other applications were stronger.
"It was HLF that encouraged us to apply," Mr Beveridge said. "The West Dunbartonshire area was a top priority for them and we really felt we put forward a strong case for the funding.
"Not just for what the donation would represent in transforming the ship, but for what it would bring to the area and indeed Scotland as a whole if Maid of the Loch was to sail once again."
In June the LLSC received £950,000 from the Scottish government's Regeneration Capital Grant Fund to take the project closer to its £5.5m target.
But the HLF announcement means the future of the Maid of the Loch is now in doubt.
Mr Beveridge said: "Unfortunately, this decision jeopardises the whole project, and our vision for refurbishing the ship now hangs in the balance.
"Our team of dedicated volunteers, our board of directors, tour guides, maintenance and so many more hard-working and passionate individuals, have worked incredibly hard over the past 22 years to protect and preserve our much-loved paddle steamer.
"To have to explain to them that we won't be sailing next year after all is extremely tough."
The charity, which has nine directors and 40 volunteers, raised the equivalent of £2.3m towards the restoration.
It said it was grateful for the support it received from the Scottish government, West Dunbartonshire Council, The Robertson Trust, The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society among others.
Mr Beveridge added: "The Maid's return to sail would have been the single biggest project to take place in South Loch Lomond in more than 20 years, and it's a huge blow to the area now that this £6m regeneration programme will not take place.
"The effects of this decision will be felt by the whole community.
"It's a very sad day indeed and does not auger well for the future of our industrial heritage. "
He said the team would take some time to reflect on the news before deciding what happens next.
The HLF awarded a £152,000 development grant to help the group progress the project in 2015.
But its board of trustees this week reviewed the second stage of the application and concluded it could not give the go-ahead for the overall funding request of £3.64m.
Lucy Casot, head of the HLF in Scotland, said: "We understand this will be very disappointing news for the many dedicated volunteers involved with the Maid of the Loch.
"Returning the paddle steamer to full operation is a complex and specialised project with many challenges and risks.
"HLF has a high level of competition for grants at every stage of the applications process and we are unable to support all of the applications we receive."
Ms Casot said difficult decisions had to be made and benefits weighed up with risks.
She added: "Unfortunately, in this competitive situation the board felt that other applications for funding were stronger and they were unable to support this project.
"We recognise the heritage importance of the Maid of the Loch and remain supportive of its long-term sustainability as a visitor attraction."