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Movie Theatre of Dreams

Peter Scott Aiton charts the project management of a cinema in the Highlands.

2020 was the year of unprecedented change, however, the brand new, independent Highland Cinema bucked the trend and officially opened in Fort William.

The brainchild of local entrepreneur and author Angus MacDonald, the aim was to breathe new life into the town centre with the iconic venue becoming a hub for the 20,000-strong local population, screening blockbusters and classic Scottish films as well as hosting musicians and events.

Angus MacDonald’s vision for the cinema was of a traditional highland stone bothy with a red corrugated tin roof, inspired by the village hall in nearby Onich. He wanted it to be the most photographed building in Fort William.

The completed venue comprises a two-screen cinema with a 109- and 62- seat auditoriums, an 84-seat café and wine bar with a Douglas Fir ceiling and tables, and a terrace. The main auditorium also houses a red lotus sports car for two lucky customers.

Two and a half years earlier, Galbraith’s project management team was first asked to a round table discussion to explore the options to create an iconic cinema experience in Fort William. The client, Angus MacDonald, from a local family, had bought the former cinema/ tourist information building at the top of Cameron Square on the site of the old town hall.

We were appointed as project managers to guide the design procurement, involving Skye-based Dualchas Architects who had a reputation for designing the bothy vision. The red roof was seen as controversial at first but we liked it and encouraged Angus to go for it.

As part of Galbraith’s instruction, our professional team advised on rates and our planning team secured detailed planning permission for the scheme. This involved building on our established working relationships with the Council’s planning officers and positive dialogue and negotiation.

The existing building was on a very difficult site and there was a need to dig further into the steep bank in order to create the desired cinema size. We advised on bringing forward the demolition of the existing building in order to clarify some of the unknown ground conditions. This removed some unknowns and assisted with delivering to a very tight programme.

Meanwhile, we coordinated the design team involving Architects, Structural Engineers, Acoustic Consultants, Mechanical andElectrical Consultants, Quantity Surveyors, and Cinema Specialists.

The design process and site raised numerous challenges that we navigated through with the team.

Galbraith identified the need to bring on board a contractor with the ability to work on a challenging site and deliver a complex and unique building. We worked with 3b Construction to navigate everything the project threw at the team, including the difficulty of sites being closed due to Covid-19.

Angus MacDonald, founder and funder of the Highland Cinema said:

I am thrilled with the building; it has received universal appeal since it opened. I owe a great deal to the professionalism that Galbraith brought to the construction process.

The vision was delivered and the cinema opened on 25 September 2020. Fort William has been blessed with an iconic building providing a fantastic venue and a hub for the local community and visitors.