Stranraer could become a leading water sports and water-based leisure destination, according to an independent economic impact study.
The St Alyes Skiff World Championship, SkiffieWorlds, could be a ‘catalyst’ for the town to define itself nationally and internationally.
The St Ayles coastal rowing boat was invented in Scotland 10 years ago and was inspired by the traditional Fair Isle skiff. The sport is now one of the fastest growing water sports in the world and it starts with a community build of the skiff itself. This community approach to boat building makes each and every skiff unique; many of them brightly coloured and with quirky stories behind the boat names.
The World Championship, called SkiffieWorlds, takes place every three years and Stranraer won the competitive bid to host the event after impressing judges with the sheltered water of Loch Ryan’s sea loch, nestled behind the distinctive hammer-head peninsula of Scotland’s south west coast.
SkiffieWorlds, which was held in Stranraer in July, involved 2710 competitive participants, with teams travelling from as far as Australia, South Africa, Canada, Tasmania, the USA and mainland Europe to take part. Around 30,000 people are thought to have attended the week-long event, including HRH The Princess Royal and Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.
The independent economic impact study analysed data provided by competitors and their supporters, spectating visitors, traders and local businesses. Researchers concluded that the net additional economic impact of SkiffieWorlds to the local area was between £3.5 million and £4.0 million.
As well as analysing economic impact, participants and rowing competitors were asked about the potential of Loch Ryan for water based activity development, and its strengths and weaknesses relative to other coastal water sports locations. Overall, participants noted that the location, conditions and local services are excellent and are perfect for generating more water based events and activities.
Participating team members recognised the tremendous potential for Stranraer and the local area to capitalise on Loch Ryan for future SkiffieWorlds events, other water based events and permanent water sport activities.
In terms of the strengths and unique attributes of the Loch Ryan and Stranraer location, participants noted that the area was unique in having good visitor and hospitality services closely adjacent to the water. They commented on the accessibility of Loch Ryan and that the loch conditions were seen as safe, secure, sheltered and clean.
When asked what infrastructure and facilities are required, competitors highlighted that investment in water sports infrastructure, such as improved berthing facilities, pontoons and launches to the loch, plus a water sports centre facility development with showers and changing rooms, would help the area to captialise on its unique natural assets.
David Davies, chair of Stranraer Watersports Association, said: ‘We welcome the findings of this independent report, not only for evidencing the positive impact SkiffieWorlds had on Stranraer and the surrounding area, but for making clear the opportunity for Stranraer to position itself as a leading water based leisure destination. We regard SkiffieWorlds as a huge success for Stranraer, and a large part of that is because of the coming together of the local community and the rowing community.
‘We have taken the report recommendations on board and are hoping to commission a full feasibility study in the near future to explore the potential for water based activity development in the town. We must seize the opportunity and build on the platform and profile that SkiffieWorlds has generated for Stranraer within the rowing community. As successful as SkiffieWorlds was, it is clearly only the beginning of Stranraer and Loch Ryan’s water sports story.
‘Stranraer Water Sports Association looks forward to talking with other local community groups where synergies may exist to work together to ensure we can look to develop facilities that help all of us. Stranraer is only a relatively small community and collaborating together increases all of our chances of success.’
Wendi Cuffe Project Manager for SkiffieWorlds 2019 added: ‘This is an important report because it captures the water sports potential of Stranraer and Loch Ryan from people who are already active and experienced in this field.
‘The overriding comment from competitors during SkiffieWorlds, and in the feedback we have received since, is that the visitor facilities of Stranraer in such close proximity to the safe, sheltered and underused coastal waters of Loch Ryan is almost unique within the UK, which makes Stranraer a very attractive venue for major events and regattas in the future.
‘If we want to capitalise on that opportunity then we need to start planning now for how best to develop water based activity facilities. It’s fantastic to see such positive comments on SkiffieWorlds and such a high economic impact, but the really exciting aspect of this report is the development potential that evidences.’
Robbie Wightman, convenor of the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association, concluded: ‘On behalf of the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association and all the participants I publicly thank Stranraer and the local organisers for the phenomenal job that they did. I commend the town of Stranraer as a water sports destination. Our event is very special and the townsfolk responded to that, and were incredibly supportive, friendly and welcoming.’