Portsoy Community Enterprise

by Robin McKelvie

Portsoy could be one of those – all too many – towns in Scotland where visitors just pop in, grab an ice cream, enjoy the views and then disappear off somewhere else. That Portsoy is firmly on the tourist map of Scotland is in large part due to the epic work of Portsoy Community Enterprise (PCE). They have helped put this Aberdeenshire town not only on the tourist map, but on the boat building, cultural and community maps of Scotland too.

The story of Portsoy Community Enterprise delves back into the early days of the globally-renowned annual Scottish Traditional Boat Festival. Richard Thorne, PCE Development Manager, explains: “PCE started out just organising the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival, but soon found itself working all year on conservation and visitor attraction activities. The festival started in 1993, but in 2012 PCE was born, so it could work with visitor attraction funding, and building renovation grants.”

A Happy, Fulfilled and Successful Community

The passion of PCE bursts through talking to Laura Anderson, their Marketing and PR Consultant, who enthuses, “There are so many sides to PCE and running through all the projects is the desire to tell the story of this remarkable place and its people. And not only to tell that story, but also share it with a wider audience of locals and the ‘temporary locals’ that are at the heart of SCOTO.”

PCE works tirelessly to develop Portsoy into - in Richard’s words - “a happy, fulfilled and successful community”. I’ve seen other many small towns and villages in northeast Scotland and elsewhere that have lost their heart and then lose heart, slowly becoming commuter towns where no one seems to know anyone and the community spirit has been lost. Richard talks of the determination to avoid Portsoy going down a similar cul de sac and to innovate – “Portsoy has continually diversified and isn’t afraid to innovate and take on new challenges. PCE works to bring Portsoy to prominence by promoting itself wherever it can. Examples are being the location for Whisky Galore, and Peaky Blinders, and featuring in the recent BBC programme David and Jay’s Touring Toolshed. Portsoy’s two harbours often appear in advertisements for Scotland too.”

“As a complete surprise Portsoy has also found itself to be highly geologically significant too, with many unusual geological features lying on its coastline. Scotland has tended to favour its west coast and Highlands as being the places to visit. However, the Moray Firth coast has equally impressive wildlife, scenery, food, tradition and music, and the weather is so much better. This part of Scotland is known as the ‘North East Riviera’, and yet it’s unspoilt and never overcrowded, and has even been dubbed ‘Cornwall without the crowds’.”

Maritime Stories

Portsoy then is a spectacular setting for the work of a community enterprise with big ambitions. After PCE was set up they took on the running of the famous Scottish Traditional Boat Festival, which is now in its 31st year and attracts fans from all over. Last year Princess Anne kicked things off and apparently she liked it so much she stayed on for a number of hours afterwards. 

Laura explains how the festival has grown: “ The boats and the maritime heritage are what bring people to Portsoy for a weekend that sees around 13,000 visitors. It is many visitors’ first interaction with Portsoy, a snapshot, so we try to make it interesting for them to show there is much more to Portsoy. We want to tempt them to stay longer or come back.”

In 2009 the Salmon Bothy Museum and community venue was reopened after a massive renovation brought it back from being a delipidated, abandoned salmon processing facility. It was gifted to the community and now under the PCE, it is a thriving, spectacular community asset that brilliantly tells Portsoy’s maritime stories. Laura says, “It is a base for family history research, too, with a community space upstairs.” It hosts everything from Pilates classes and fitness groups to the local knitting club and even Buddhist retreats. There are Doric workshops, too and even local weddings. A regular highlight is the folk music nights that complement the annual folk festival; there is a wool festival, too.

Community Enterprise

In 2012, Portsoy’s council-owned caravan and camping site was taken over by PCE and is now run as a community enterprise. It has been deeply popular amongst generations of campers and caravanners since 1950 and unusually welcomes guests year-round. The facilities are already well kept, but they are in the midst of a major improvement that will lead to a better set-up for motorhomes, for example, with flatter pitches and all the facilities they need. Richard says people appreciate the site: “We get so many repeat guests who just love it here and come back year after year. It was even busy over Christmas and New Year.”


Not done there, PCE opened the Boatshed in 2015, having rescued it from a ruinous state, retaining the character of the original nineteenth-century building and adding a striking extension. It now offers training opportunities in traditional boatbuilding skills. Richard explains its role – “It’s a fully working shed that can both build boats and repair them. One of its most rewarding roles is to teach local youngsters new skills and, indeed traditional skills that risk being lost. It’s great to see pupils from Banff Academy for example, enjoying their time here.”

In 2018, the Sail Loft Bunkhouse joined the PCE fold, emerging from a number of ruined buildings to become a very comfortable 25-bed, 10-room bunkhouse. Forget any anachronistic images you have of a ‘hostel’ – this comfy abode comes with a hot tub. They also offer weekend retreats and special interest events. Like the campsite. it is impressively open year-round.

Keeping Skills Alive

PCE’s swathe of projects directly benefits visitors and the community with their facilities, but PCE is also an employer, providing the community with varied volunteering opportunities and paid roles and working closely with local schools for training and work experience placements. Richards adds, “PCE also works with the local council and other bodies to develop the town into being a sustainable community and visitor attraction while creating lasting attractions, activities and events which bring income to the local area.”

Many of the volunteers are younger members of the community. This is key for PCE, insists Laura: “We strive to involve younger people, as well as more mature community members. We work with the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, and the boat festival now has an expanded raft race and a kids zone. Younger people also enjoy the expanded craft demonstrations where they can see and learn skills from artisans. We are keen to celebrate Scottish businesses and Scottish produce and show young people how important that is. We want to keep skills alive for future generations.”

Constant Evolution

I knew when I asked tireless PCE if they had any plans for the future, they definitely would! There is talk of work to develop local walking trails and guided hikes, bike routes too, and setting up bike hire. The local library is under threat, and if I were a betting man, I’d wager PCE will sweep into the rescue. There are of course, links to other boatbuilding communities evolving, tying into SCOTO’s drive to get communities and their projects talking. Richard is keen on these engagements - “We have links with other communities interested in traditional boats. And we work with the likes of Anstruther with its museum, the Northern Isles and even as far as Norway. PCE wants to show Portsoy is open to all as we continue what is a constant evolution that takes the community with us.”
















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