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Work set to start on controversial riverside artwork in Inverness

By Val Sweeney

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Work on the Gathering Place is expected to finish by the summer.
Work on the Gathering Place is expected to finish by the summer.

Site preparations will start next week for a controversial artwork on the banks of the River Ness.

The start of work on the Gathering Place, an amphitheatre landmark with curved walls on either side of the river near Bught Park, has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But site preparations will now begin from next week by local construction firm Simpsons.

The work is due to be completed in early summer, coinciding with the easing of lockdown and people being able to come together again.

The project has prompted opposition from some members of the public but members of the ICArts working group approved the detailed design in December.

Without departing from the original concept, the artist and design team have incorporated additional design elements requested by Inverness City Area Committee, including a small widening to the end of the pier to enhance accessibility and signage which highlights the work is closed during high water events.

It will be clad in Clashach stone from a local quarry.

The Gathering Place will be installed on the banks of the River Ness.
The Gathering Place will be installed on the banks of the River Ness.

Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael, said the Gathering Place was a unique piece.

"Who would have thought, when this centrepiece was commissioned, back in 2017, that the world would have been transformed by a pandemic and human beings prevented from the most basic of interactions – gathering," she said.

"I hope that it will not just be an asset to our city but a place where people will be able to come together to pause and reflect on the joy of human interaction within the amphitheatre of the river.

"It is very clear that the artists have listened very carefully to all the views put forward during their My Ness consultation.

"We appreciate the time and effort the designers have put into the detail design, without losing the originality of the piece.

"The greatest irony of the Gathering Place is abundantly clear and the fact it is due to be completed as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, provides hope that people can get together once again and celebrate with this unique landmark as a focal point."

An artist's impression of the Gathering Place.
An artist's impression of the Gathering Place.

Tristan Surtees, of the artist team Sans façon and OSA, said the much-loved River Ness should and would take centre stage.

"Our role, as artists, is to create a moment along the river to pause, to gather, to observe the historic, environmental and social qualities this wonderful asset holds for the city," he said.

"Seeing the crafts people bringing this project to life, cutting and preparing the stone for installation, is such a privilege.

"What other city has world-class stone and the people with the knowledge, care and expertise just a few miles up the road?

"It is so exciting to think, in just a few weeks, this is something everyone will be able to enjoy."

Highland Council said the final design falls within the terms of all existing statutory consents and environmental considerations, and the final adjustments to the design of the My Ness project were accomplished within the current budget allocation. The project itself remains fully funded.

A major funder of the commission is Creative Scotland, the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries across Scotland on behalf of everyone who lives, works or visits here, distributing funding from the Scottish Government and the National Lottery.

The Ness Angling Club has been updated and fishing will be able to continue throughout the construction phase.

Related story: Controversial River Ness artwork design gets Highland Council approval

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