• View of Kirkwall from St Magnus Cathedral - image by Luigi Avantaggiato

Breathing new life into Kirkwall

A multi-million pound restoration project in the centre of Kirkwall has come to a close.

Over the last five years the historic heart of Kirkwall has undergone a transformation.

The town's conservation area has been the focus of a major restoration project, with nearly £3.5m worth of funding going towards improvements in the built heritage of the area.

The Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative, supported by Orkney Islands Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Environment Scotland, officially concluded during the summer after giving a new lease of life to some old and prominent buildings.

Before and after: The Storehouse

A similar THI scheme had been previously run in Stromness before funding was awarded for the Kirkwall version. The main aims this time around were to regenerate the historic core of Kirkwall, improve what the town had to offer, help create jobs and make the centre of the town an attractive place to spend time in.

We were overwhelmed with the interest in the project. There is a 'go-ahead' attitude in Orkney which helped and I think folk saw all the opportunities from the Stromness THI, so they were well aware of the project and its benefits."

Richard Ritch, Kirkwall THI Project Manager

Before and after: Bruces Stores

Larger projects like the renovations at The Storehouse on Bridge Street Wynd saw brand-new businesses launched and a number of jobs created. Others saw houses and homes given a facelift, adding a new sense of vibrancy to quieter corners of the town centre.

Some of the buildings in the conservation area are hundreds of years old so the level of investment required in many cases was considerable. Property owners also had to provide private funding to make sure projects could move ahead.

Before and after: 2 King Street

The Old Library project on Laing Street brought the former Orkney Library back to life. Originally built in 1909, the building had been dormant since the new facility was opened on the town's Junction Road in 2003. Now the Old Library is home to Grooves, Archive Coffee and the Sound Archive and has become a real Kirkwall hub.

Before and after: The Old Library

The Kirkwall THI wasn't just about the built environment though. Other projects that formed part of the scheme included interpretation activities, historical projects for local schools and new museum exhibitions.

Training courses for local builders focusing on heritage and conservation techniques were also on offer, and a new interpretative app for St Magnus Cathedral was launched.

Before and after: Trek and Travel

After a few years of scaffolding and construction work, the improvements to the built environment through the centre of the town are obvious. Buildings that previously looked relatively sorry for themselves now stand proud.

I think it’s had a really big impact on the town. For me, seeing old, empty buildings being brought back into use and creating jobs is so satisfying, and hopefully that will be the legacy of the project.

Richard Ritch, Kirkwall THI Project Manager


You'd have to travel far and wide to find two town centres as attractive and welcoming as Kirkwall and Stromness.

Before and after: Other projects

  • 8 Main Street before

    8 Main Street before

  • 8 Main Street after

    8 Main Street after

  • Hourston's Jewellers before

    Hourston's Jewellers before

  • Hourston's Jewellers after

    Hourston's Jewellers after

  • 2 Broad Street before - image by Leslie Burgher

    2 Broad Street before - image by Leslie Burgher

  • 2 Broad Street after

    2 Broad Street after

  • 41 Albert Street before

    41 Albert Street before

  • 41 Albert Street after

    41 Albert Street after

Explore our website to find out more about Kirkwall. You can read all about the Kirkwall THI project via the Orkney Islands Council website.

The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.

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