Full-time custodians will be employed at Orkney’s Italian Chapel next year in a bid to manage increasing numbers of visitors at the site and protect the iconic building for future generations.
A modest admission charge will also be introduced to help cover the costs of employing the custodians.
The measures have been agreed by the Italian Chapel Preservation Committee, which oversees the care of the unique WWII chapel – built by Italian prisoners of war held on the island of Lamb Holm in 1943.
Preservation committee chairman, Gary Gibson, said the decision to employ staff and introduce entry charges at the site had not been taken lightly.
“Over the past year in particular, we have seen unprecedented numbers of people visiting the chapel and the preservation committee is deeply concerned over the impact this is having on the delicate fabric of the building,” said Mr Gibson. “Maintaining and restoring the internal decoration of the chapel has been an on-going process, but the deterioration is now visibly accelerating because of the large volume of people entering the building at the same time.
“In addition to the adverse effects of humidity, we are also seeing more damage caused by people rubbing against the painted walls. It is therefore vital that we try and control throughput at the chapel and avoid overcrowding within what is a very small and fragile space.”
Mr Gibson explained that The Italian Chapel did not receive any funding to assist with its upkeep, relying instead on donations by visitors.
“Whilst the donations made by visitors are very welcome indeed, the only way we can afford to pay for full-time custodians is by introducing a modest admission charge,” he said. “We have yet to decide how much this will be, but it will not be a great amount and it is certainly not the intention of the committee to try and make any profit from the fee. The money generated will cover the employment of the custodians, with any excess reinvested into the fabric of the building.”
It is anticipated that the chapel will be closed for several weeks in January 2016, with the charging and custodian service introduced on re-opening.
“We hope that the people of Orkney, our valued visitors and our tour operators, will understand why we are bringing in these measures,” added Mr Gibson.
“The Italian Chapel is one of the most important landmarks in Orkney and much loved by many thousands of people worldwide. By acting now, we are helping protect the future of a building that stands as a powerful symbol of peace and devotion from a time of global conflict.”
Further details on the plans will be publicised over the coming months.