Lochaber Chamber of Commerce boss hails Ideas Week as ‘extremely positive’

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This year’s Lochaber Ideas Week has been hailed overall as an ‘extremely positive’ five days of events, coming as it did after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid pandemic.

The seventh outing of this popular fixture in the annual business and community calendar, slimmed-down and Covid-safe for 2021, brought the local business community together not only to focus on and celebrate the power of ideas, but also to inspire and inform.

In partnering with West Highland College UHI’s Advancing Manufacturing Centre, Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre, Ben Nevis Distillery, Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) West Highland and BSW Timber, Lochaber Ideas Week offered exclusive opportunities to promote business growth, while encouraging the community back into the swing of sociable, safe, and in-person business-focussed events.

Organised by Lochaber Chamber of Commerce (LCC), Ideas Week started with an amazing turn-out from a wide variety of Highland businesses for the official opening of the new Advancing Manufacturing Centre (AMC) by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy Kate Forbes MSP.

The centre is one of 12 across Scotland which affords all businesses and emerging business ideas access to engineers, technicians and state of the art equipment.

As part of Ideas Week, the DYW team organised a trip to the new Advancing Manufacturing Centre – part of West Highland College UHI – for pupils from Mallaig High School and upper primary school children from Lundavra Primary.

Each cohort of students received a tour from the AMC’s staff where they viewed a 3D printer, robotic arms and other pieces of equipment in action.

Excellent for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) career promotion, and the team can’t wait to get more schools through the AMC’s doors.

Wednesday was all about aquaculture and the ongoing collaboration with the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC).

There was a full house, with representation from across the sector, and the diverse industry topics covered included the use of data, recruitment, staff retention and the diversity of career opportunities available within the aquaculture industry.

Thursday saw everyone get stuck into Tourism Day, and LCC marketing manager Mark Gibbings gave a great insight into the role that the chamber takes in promoting the Outdoor Capital of the UK, with VisitScotland, Highland Council and Expedia backing up the need for collaboration and the importance of combined working.

The day was rounded off by Ruari Watt from Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) and Gavin Ross from the Scottish Government’s Major Events Unit covering the needs of cycle-based tourism and the likely impacts of the 2023 Cycling World Championships.

Friday included two tours of the BSW Sawmill at Corpach, with mill manager (and Lochaber Chamber Director) Olly Stephen sharing his knowledge and understanding of the processes and what the future may look like, as well as explaining the factors affecting the current markets.

These morning and afternoon tours were well attended and proved popular with interested members of the community.

In his weekly chamber briefing to members, chamber CEO Frazer Coupland this week said it had been an extremely positive week, but admitted to being disappointed by comments from businesses in manufacturing, aquaculture, renewables and construction about the lack of engagement they are feeling from partners in education.

Mr Coupland added: ‘Through our DYW school coordinators and the wider DYW team we did try to engage with all of the nine secondary schools in our catchment, but only one school was able to bring pupils along to a special Ideas Week event at the Advancing Manufacturing Centre on Tuesday.

‘I will this morning write to Nicky Grant, executive chief officer for education and learning at the Highland Council, to raise our businesses’ concerns.

‘I am sure she would agree that there needs to be a more collaborative approach from local education providers to create the kind of ‘effective partnership working’ that will help give our young people the opportunities they deserve after high school.


Lochaber Chamber of Commerce CEO Frazer Coupland, pictured, said it had been an extremely positive week. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos