Earlier this year the Maid of the Loch, West Dunbartonshire’s famous paddle steamship, celebrated the 65th anniversary of its maiden voyage. The Maid last sailed on Loch Lomond in 1981, but has been lovingly refurbished as a static tourist attraction at Balloch Pier thanks to the tireless efforts of local volunteers and supporters.
When local charity the Loch Lomond Steamship Company took over the Maid in 1996, the ship was in a sorry state of disrepair. Beset by difficulties caused by years of neglect, vandalism and water ingress, it’s only thanks to the dedication of this volunteer-led group that the Maid remains an iconic sight on the banks of Loch Lomond today.
The Maid is an important part of West Dunbartonshire’s cultural heritage – and a testament to our proud industrial past. We’ve never been closer to achieving the goal of seeing the UK’s last paddle steamer sailing again, but the project has been dealt a devastating blow after the Heritage Lottery Fund pulled its £3.6m funding grant.
Like many people I am upset and deeply disappointed by this news. The restoration of the Maid is a key restoration project for the area – with the potential to bring huge benefits in terms of job creation, tourism and skills development.
This seems to me to be a baffling decision by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), especially given their apparent support for the Maid’s restoration and assurances about it being a project of the highest priority. I have a number of concerns about this that I intend to raise with the Heritage Lottery Fund directly when I meet with them later this month.
The Maid is a much-loved community asset and it would be a wonderful achievement to get this iconic steamship sailing again. We’ve come too far over the past 20 years to give up now which is why I have given my full support to the project as we work to overcome this setback.
My thanks go out to the dedicated team of volunteers who continue to work tirelessly to restore the Maid of the Loch to her former glory.
This article appeared in the Dumbarton Reporter on 23 October 2018.