A GROUP whose aim is to raise awareness of Arbroath Abbey’s place in history and attract more visitors to the home of the Declaration has been established in the town.
And the Arbroath Abbey Action Group (AAAG) met last week with officials of Historic Scotland, custodians of the Abbey, to look at possible areas of co-operative working.
The AAAG is the brainchild of Angus South MSP Graeme Dey.
He explained: “The idea of setting up such a group came out of a meeting I had in the Scottish Parliament late last year with Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Ruth Parsons, the chief executive of Historic Scotland to look at how we might make more of the Abbey.
“And I am delighted to have been able to pull together a number of people with a real passion for the Abbey and its place in our country’s history along with a desire to develop its potential for attracting tourists.
“A lot of groundwork had been done by the time we met with Ms Parsons and some of her colleagues in Arbroath which, along with the positive attitude adopted by Historic Scotland, lent itself to a good meeting.”
The AAAG is to be chaired by Harry Ritchie, a stalwart of the unsuccessful bid to secure UNESCO World Heritage Status for the Abbey.
Working alongside Mr Ritchie and Mr Dey are local councillor Bob Spink, Geoff Bray of Timethemes, Dean of the Arbroath Guildry Incorporation and expert on links between Arbroath and the USA Ian Lamb, and Arbroath Herald Editor Brian Stormont who was also involved in the World Heritage campaign. There are plans to co-opt a further two members.
Despite the involvement of the local MSP and an Angus councillor it is being stressed that AAAG is a non-political organisation.
The aims of Arbroath Abbey Action Group are to:
l Enhance local knowledge of Arbroath Abbey and its place in Scottish/World history.
l Market the Abbey to a Scotland wide audience as the national treasure that it is.
l Increase overseas visitor numbers by tapping into the estimated six million US citizens who claim Scottish ancestry and building on the links between the Abbey and France.
Mr Ritchie commented: “I think Historic Scotland were impressed by some of the ideas we put forward at the meeting and we, in turn, were pleased to note their willingness to engage and undertaking to consider a number of our suggestions.
“Essentially we are looking at how, jointly, we can make the most of the Abbey in the short and medium term building towards 2020 and the 700th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration.”
A spokesperson for Historic Scotland commented: “We fully recognise the important role that heritage sites play within communities and are keen to work actively with them and local tourism operators to enhance the profile of our sites wherever possible.
“Arbroath Abbey is one of our most iconic sites and is associated with key aspects of Scotland’s history, from its monastic founding in 1178 by William I ‘The Lion’ to the issuing of the Declaration of Arbroath on April 6, 1320.
“We had a very productive initial meeting with the group and are keen to work with them to develop future opportunities to benefit both the Abbey and the local area.”
Complementing this work is an attempt on the part of Arbroath’s MSP to have the Abbey placed at the forefront of Scotland’s efforts to entice American visitors to these shores.
As was reported two weeks ago, having raised the issue during a Tourism debate in the Scottish Parliament, Mr Dey has written to VisitScotland chief Mike Cantlay and Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing pressing the case.