“I live within the community, and it’s impossible not to be impressed with what, together with the Trust and the community have achieved by returning an ice rink to Aviemore”, beams Kirsty Bruce, Trust Co-ordinator at the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust. “It had been a long-held ambition of the community to see an ice rink return, we had a vision, managed to raise a lot of money, made it happen - even literally helped build it – and now we are all making this community resource work on an ongoing basis. “Aviemore Ice Rink is truly community owned and operated.”
The Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust (AGCT) was formed in 2017, originally to look into community ownership of Cairngorm Mountain, and has now grown to over 700 members.
“In 2019, AGCT polled its membership to ask about exploring a project outside the Cairngorm Estate, an ice rink receiving very strong support”, explains Kirsty. “AGCT began the Aviemore Ice Rink campaign in February 2021 and opened the ice rink in October 2021, aligning with the winter sports and outdoor adventure focus of the Trust’s original plans.”
Covid Difficulties And Opportunities
Covid brought difficulties but also opportunities, as it refocused local people and visitors on the possibilities of the outdoors and the opportunities for winter sports. There was a real appetite for the ice rink, and that quickly became clear during the funding. Kirsty says, “We only started our community campaign in February 2021, but by October, we had raised £200,000. We raised funds through GoFundMe, and the Cairngorms National Park showed faith in our business plan with a maximum £25,000 ‘Green Recovery’ grant. The community really got behind us to the tune of almost £70,000, a huge amount raised through the likes of Bingos, quizzes and a golf tournament. Even the local kids got creative with their version of the ice bucket challenge.”
“Local businesses chipped in to help with five joiners offering their time for free – it was like an episode of DIY SOS with people busying there day and night for three weeks. It was amazing to see the local community working together in a way that ties in well with the aims of SCOTO. And we would be nowhere without the anchor support of the Macdonald Aviemore Resort - our 20m by 12m rink sits in a great spot within their grounds.”
Bringing People Together
Today, Aviemore Ice Rink provides employment for eight people, all from the local community. There are three full-time posts and five part-time posts. “I’m delighted that most of the part-time team members are aged 16-18”, says Kirsty. “This offers them experience in another area of local tourism and recreational activity, an opportunity to move beyond some of the hardships they encountered during Covid. It’s really helped so many young people and not just staff. There was one boy who had scarcely left his house for two years. It really made my day when I spotted him at the rink with his pals just hanging out. Our rink brings people in the community together. We work closely with Kingussie High School and Aviemore Primary School too.”
Aviemore Ice Rink has had a transformative effect on the community. Take the old ice hockey players, some of whom were amongst the first to get back on to the ice at the new rink. They are now helping out coaching the youth team that has been established - Aviemore Avalanche. The Trust are clearly very proud of having returned ice hockey to the local area and being able to encourage the older ice hockey community to support younger players, which has improved intergenerational relationships, as Kirsty explains: “I think we have caught the cultural connection with those who used to play ice hockey on a regular basis. We are incredibly proud of how there truly is a sense of shared ownership at the rink.”
AGCT are clearly dynamic and ambitious. I ask them the obvious question – whether the success of the temporary rink under its marquee would encourage them to build a permanent full-size venue? Kirsty’s eyes light up – “We would love to bring back a full-time winter sports venue to Aviemore, a full sports-sized ice rink that would allow teams to play full matches at all levels. It would also allow us to develop curling, which has an even longer heritage in this area.”
Kirsty has been thinking about curling for a while, but it took a recent SCOTO event to really set Kirsty’s synapses popping. “We would like to see curling return in the same way ice hockey has. It was a lightbulb moment at the SCOTO Roadshow. Most villages in Badenoch and Strathspey would once have had curling, so why not celebrate that together? The idea is for an ice-curling heritage trail, linking all the communities back together. It came about through SCOTO and fits in well with the idea of more communities working together.”
Temporary Locals Always Welcome
AGCT are also seeking ways to develop links with the travel trade. “Without our visitors from outside Aviemore, the rink would not be what it is today. We need visitors. At first it was mainly people on staycation, but now we are seeing Europeans and more and more Americans and Canadians. They love trying our beginner curling sessions. You don’t even need ice skates for these, so they really appeal to everyone.” As a travel writer, I thoroughly applaud the curling initiative as I’m often asked where people can pitch up to try curling outside a club format and I struggle for suggestions.
The community also benefits from concessionary pricing, which is extended to the whole of Badenoch and Strathspey. Aviemore Ice Rink has provided community learn-to-skate sessions and learn-to-play ice hockey sessions, too. They also provide free school/group ice sessions. This is where ‘temporary locals’ can really make a difference. “We’re very open”, says Kirsty. “Our two-tier pricing system sees visitors from outside the area pay a little more, which no one minds when you tell them how we are funded and share our journey. They are just delighted to help and be engaged with this community project - they like to know they are giving something back. People are more than happy to pay a little extra when they know where it is going.”
The Aviemore Ice Rink has already managed to make a profit despite soaring energy costs, through a lot of hard work and innovative insulation. They plan to look at more projects too. At Dalfaber Park they are looking to secure vacant land through a community asset transfer, with the aim of building a community hall, sports park and bouldering park. Then, at Glenmore, their ambitions involve bringing land into community ownership, including the visitor centre and cafe, with a new, improved visitor centre bringing ‘temporary locals’ even closer to the community.” When a community comes together this well, the impossible transforms tantalisingly into the possible.