Farr North Community Development Trust and Caithness Chamber of Commerce have teamed up to reach out to businesses in the northern Highlands to raise awareness of opportunities for receiving support when hiring apprentices.

The Farr North Apprenticeship Scheme is managed by the Trust and is supported by a grant of around £100,000 from the SSE Renewables Strathy North Community Fund.  The scheme offers eligible businesses up to £15,000 over a three-year period towards the costs associated with employing and training an apprentice.  In some cases this can be combined with the Caithness Business Fund to bring the overall level of support to over £24,000.

Apprenticeships provide a cost-effective way to upskill and expand the workforce. Taking on an apprentice can be a smart investment, benefiting both the business and the local skills base.  But as a business in the north, where do you begin?

A good place to start would be Caithness Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber offers a huge range of help and advice to businesses across the north (not just in Caithness!) and they have links and contacts with agencies that could help you.  Through this network the Chamber can help you to decide if an apprenticeship would be right for your business, help to identify suitable training opportunities for your apprentice and help you find the right person for your company.

Find out more on about The Farr North Apprenticeship Scheme on the Caithness Business Fund website.

David Shearer, SSE Renewables Community Investment Manager commented:

“Investing in young people is a particular focus for our community funds and we have a number of apprenticeship programmes available in Sutherland.  The apprenticeship programmes ensure that there are viable employment opportunities to retain young people in the local area and also helps to ensure that the local economy benefits from thriving local businesses.”

Simon Lee, Manager of Farr North Community Development Trust commented:

“Farr North is working to develop vibrant and resilient communities.  We are delighted to be able to work with the other SSE apprenticeship programmes in Sutherland and working with Caithness Chamber of Commerce brings even more opportunities to support local businesses, develop workforce skills, and encourage our young people to stay in the area.”


GMG Energy and Finlay Mackay Modern Engineering Apprentice.

Nestling in the Strath of the river Halladale, GMG Energy is an ambitious timber processing company established by Malcolm Morrison in 2016.

Finlay began his apprenticeship with the company in 2022 whilst studying at the Engineering Maintenance framework at UHI.  He is now working towards his SVQ3 work-based qualification.  Malcolm is delighted with his apprentice:

“He’s a bright kid, learns quickly and is a great asset to the company.” He enthused recently.

Finlay is equally enthusiastic about the experience:

“I feel I’ve really landed on my feet.  GMG Energy has given me a huge range of opportunities to apply the knowledge I get from college.  I’m gaining experience, I’m learning and I’m earning!  What could be better?”

Businesses in the region have opportunities to thrive by investing wisely, upskilling their workforce, and embracing apprenticeships. It’s heartening to see the positive impact on both businesses and individuals

Local businesses have united to back the Highland Historic Commercial Vehicle Road Run. Scheduled for Saturday, 4th May 2024, this annual event will showcase a procession of 80 vintage commercial vehicles, raising funds in support of the Scottish Air Ambulance[1].An ode to the rich history of commercial automotive heritage, the Highland Historic Commercial Vehicle Road Run has traversed the Highlands for the past 14 years, gathering support and raising funds for charitable causes and organisations such as the Blood Bikers and Marie Curie.

This year, the road run will embark on a picturesque expedition through the North Highlands. Starting from Dingwall Mart and journeying towards Bonar Bridge, Lairg, Tongue and finally along the North Coast before arriving in Thurso[2]. Participants hailing from across the Highlands and the wider UK, including as far as the Netherlands, will showcase their classic and vintage haulage vehicles. This will be followed by a social gathering, charity auction and raffle at the Weigh Inn.

When HHCVRR organiser John Mackenzie sought help from the Chamber regarding parking arrangements, he found swift support from the local business community. Chamber members, Thurso-based enterprises Lionvolt and Denchi Power stepped in ensuring ample parking space at Thurso Business Park to help with seamless execution of the event.

Caithness Chamber CEO Trudy Morris commented “This collaborative endeavour underscores the strength of the chamber network. Thank you to Lionvolt and Denchi Power who have generously provided parking space to facilitate the smooth flow of the event.

We are pleased that the Chamber could play a role in facilitating these connections and extend our best wishes to John and all participants of the Highland Historic Commercial Vehicle Road Run for a successful event. Undoubtedly, the arrival of the fleet will spark immense interest and excitement among the Caithness community.”

John Mackenzie commented “Thank you very much to Trudy for all of her help. We were faced with the momentous task of securing a new parking space for our vehicles and are delighted by the support of the local business community.”

The first lorries are expected to arrive in Thurso at around 4pm on Saturday 4th May 2024. Photographers are welcome to set up along the route to capture the rally in action.

Further information on the Highland Historic Commercial Vehicle Road Run can be found on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/hhcvrr


[1] After running costs, all surplus funds will be donated to the Scottish Air Ambulance.

[2] Vehicles will arrive from the west into Thurso, a map of the route can be found on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=948494473646755&set=a.561474995682040


Photography credits: Barry Scollay 

The 2024 Scrabster Harbour cruise season started with a record this week when the largest vessel to ever berth at the port arrived. The AIDAsol, operated by AIDA cruises, arrived at 6.30 am last Tuesday. The Sphinx class vessel measured 253 metres in length and 71,304 tonnes.

On a 11-night voyage of Scotland and Norway 2,071 passengers and 624 crew were aboard. The German passengers enjoyed sixteen organised excursions to various attractions and locations around Caithness. In addition, Scrabster Harbour Trust provided free shuttle buses to take the visitors and crew into Thurso town. The guests were welcomed at the quayside and in town by an enthusiastic volunteer “Meet & Greet” team armed with information on the local attractions, facilities and shops.  Prior to departure, the passengers were entertained quayside by the Caithness Junior Pipe band and local highland dancers.

AISAsol has a further two Scrabster calls scheduled for the 2024 cruise season.

Sandy Mackie, Trust Manager said: “The berthing of the AIDAsol is further demonstration of the harbour’s capacity to accommodate larger ships. We look forward to the remainder of the cruise season. Although our cruise vessel numbers are modest in comparison to some other ports, I am encouraged that we have a number of maiden calls, and the Trust will continue to work hard to increase future bookings.  The Trust appreciates the community cooperation and effort to ensure the cruise visitors have an enjoyable experience”.

The Caithness Collection is thrilled to announce the grand opening of Wick Bay Apartments, the newest addition to their collection. Nestled along Wick Bay, these modern retreats offer unparalleled comfort and stunning views.

Discover the epitome of contemporary living in their one-bedroom apartments, complete with a cozy double bedroom, lounge, and fully equipped kitchenette. Enjoy meals in the dining area, perfect for gatherings with loved ones. For those seeking sophistication, their studio ensuite apartments feature a luxurious king-size bed, inviting seating areas, and a convenient kitchenette equipped with essential appliances.

For more information, contact Wick Bay Apartments at: wickbay@thecaithnesscollection.co.uk or call 01955 603344.

Following the success of its Business Digital Grant scheme launched last year, The Highland Council is delighted to announce further funding to help Highland companies access digital support alongside other business growth support.

Chair of the Council’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee, Cllr Ken Gowans said: “We have had a great response with our UKSPF supported Digital Grants programme so I’m delighted that we have reallocated some of the UKSPF grant to bolster our Business Growth grant programme and continue our Start-up grant scheme.”

In 2023 the Business Digital Grant from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund helped 160 local businesses with financial support totalling £570,000.

Cllr Gowans added: “This investment helped businesses with their digital transformation, allowing them to better adapt to the demands of a rapidly evolving digital landscape and enhancing their competitiveness, improve customer experience, and upskilling employees providing growth opportunities.”

One of the businesses to benefit was the Inverness Coffee Roasting Co. Manager Kevin Donnachie said: “We used the grant to invest in new hardware which will improve efficiency and accuracy in despatching coffee ordered from our new Shopify website. It also allows the progression and development of other areas of the business and has opened the space for a new job opportunity. The application process was simple, efficient and quick. It was also important to us that we purchased the hardware from a local supplier keeping the expenditure in the Highlands.”

This support to help with digital transformation will now be included within the Council’s successful Growth Business Grant. Growth grants are valuable to help businesses accelerate their growth plans, unlock new opportunities, achieve sustainable growth, drive innovation, and contribute to economic prosperity in the Highlands.

Over 250 businesses have accessed the start-up and growth grant funding totalling half a million pounds from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. This financial boost has allowed them to innovate, increase productivity, create jobs, and stimulate economic growth in their communities.

Cllr Gowans is encouraging businesses not to miss out on this opportunity of support. He said: “We expect the demand for grant support to remain high, so I recommend businesses to contact our Business Gateway Highland team who provide specialist start-up and growth advisory support and full details on grant and loan support.

Find out if your business is eligible here

Tourism businesses and organisations from across the North Highlands are set to attend Venture North’s annual Tourism Gathering later in March.

Venture North is the Destination Management Organisation ( DMO) for Caithness and Sutherland. Venture North works with local businesses, communities, and stakeholders to provide a united voice and vision for the development and promotion of responsible, sustainable tourism across the region.

The focus of this year’s Tourism Gathering is to explore “Destination Opportunities for the North Highlands” with introductions from keynote speakers Marc Crothall MBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance and Chris Taylor, Visit Scotland’s Destination Development Director for the Highlands and Islands, who will set the scene from a Scottish and worldwide perspective.
The day will also include NatureScot (Flow Country UNESCO bid) and the UNESCO Northwest Highlands Geopark sharing the opportunities and benefits of UN ESCO world heritage status, Community Tourism Initiatives with the John O’Groats Mill & Development Trust and Wick Development Trust, Visit Scotland supporting Travel Trade ready businesses, and Caithness Chamber of Commerce & Developing Young Workforce (DYW) North Highland on opportunities for careers and young people in Tourism and Hospitality.

With updates, practical workshops and ample networking opportunities delegates will have a full day to share ideas, inspire each other, build collaborations ahead of the peak visitor season and contribute to future strategic planning for the North Highland region.


  • Some of the Venture North board of directors and staff team at last year's Taste North food and drink festival in Wick. From left: Catherine Macleod (board member), Tanya Sutherland (board member), Niamh Ross (staff), Cathy Earnshaw (staff), Susan Barrie (staff) and Scott Morrison (board member).
    Some of the Venture North board of directors and staff team at last year's Taste North food and drink festival in Wick. From left: Catherine Macleod (board member), Tanya Sutherland (board member), Niamh Ross (staff), Cathy Earnshaw (staff), Susan Barrie (staff) and Scott Morrison (board member).

Cathy Earnshaw, Destination Strategy Manager at Venture North comments: “By working together, we can maximise the immense destination opportunities that the North Highlands hold, while ensuring we care for and protect our amazing environments and communities who live here. This is our third annual Tourism Gathering and each one has built crucial steps in our Destination Strategy by harnessing the collective knowledge and passion of our industry, created new ideas and collaborations and enabled Venture North, as the representative voice of tourism for the region. With new legislation such as a potential Visitor Levy on the horizon, it is essential in our role the views of our North Highland region are part of future consultations and planning for the benefit of all.”

This year’s Tourism Gathering takes place at Mackays Hotel in Wick on Thursday 28th March, and is supported by Caithness Chamber of Commerce & Developing the Young Workforce North Highland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, NRS Dounreay, and VisitScotland.

Trudy Morris, Chief Executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce & Developing Young Workforce (DYW) North Highland Lead said: “Caithness Chamber of Commerce and Developing the Young Workforce North Highland are delighted to be principal sponsors for the Venture North Tourism Gathering 2024. The North Highland region is an exceptional tourist destination, showcasing breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and unique cultural experiences that appeal to visitors from every corner of the globe.

The region offers an authentic and warm highland welcome to visitors throughout the year. Facilitating connections for young people to opportunities within our renowned hospitality and tourism sector is crucial. It opens doors to a range of rewarding career paths, nurtures skill enhancement and plays a pivotal role in driving local economic prosperity.

The event offers businesses a unique opportunity to network and make valuable connections with fellow hospitality businesses and organisations. It also gives DYW North Highland insight into how we can work collaboratively and showcase hospitality and tourism as a career of choice, which will help ensure businesses are equipped with the skills they need to thrive.”
There is currently a wait list for tickets to the event and reservations for these can be made via Eventbrite or contact info@venture-north.co.uk for more details.

Aberdeen’s new South Harbour and Energy Transition Zone (Photo credits: OGV Energy.)

The UK government has announced a further £21 million of support from the Net Zero Hydrogen Fund to develop the production of green hydrogen and derivative fuels across the UK. Seven projects are receiving support involving SHFCA members: bp Aberdeen Hydrogen Energy Ltd, EDF Renewables, Hynamics, RWE, and Shetland Islands Council. Two of these seven projects are located in Scotland – the Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub in the city of Aberdeen and Veri Energy at the Sullom Voe terminal in the Shetland Islands.

Both the Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub and the Sullom Voe Terminal Hydrogen Project are located adjacent to strategic North Sea harbours. CEO of Shetland Islands Council Maggie Sandison said: “This is the first hydrogen project for Shetland and we are delighted that Veri Energy has received funding support to progress a Front-End Engineering and Design study. This is clear recognition from the UK government of the strategic importance of the Sullom Voe Terminal and its significance to Scotland as a whole.“

Oliver Taylor, Chief Executive of bp Aberdeen Hydrogen Energy Ltd, added: “Bp Aberdeen Hydrogen Energy Ltd welcomes today’s announcement that the Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub will benefit from funding from the UK government’s Net Zero Hydrogen Fund. This is an important step towards considering final investment decision on the project to deliver phase one of a scalable green hydrogen production, storage and distribution facility in Aberdeen. By harnessing natural resources, a skilled workforce, and the pioneering spirit of the north-east of Scotland, the Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub could create a new energy solution that builds on the region’s strong oil and gas heritage.”

Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub: For more than 10 years, Aberdeen has been at the forefront of hydrogen innovation, with the H2 Aberdeen initiative driving growth of a hydrogen economy and the adoption of hydrogen technologies within the region. In March 2022, Aberdeen City Council and bp formed a joint venture called bp Aberdeen Hydrogen Energy Limited (bpAHEL). The partnership intends to enhance the hydrogen economy in the Aberdeen city and North East of Scotland by building the Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub to help deliver the city’s net-zero vision.

The Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub project is a scalable and sustainable green hydrogen production, storage, and distribution facility, powered by a new solar plant and additional renewable energy sources. The project is designed to scale up in line with hydrogen market growth. Phase one targets delivering over 800kg of green H2/day, sufficient to fuel at least 25 fuel cell electric buses and the Council’s fleet of hydrogen vehicles. Additional capacity is designed to support private vehicle refuelling for consumers and fleets.

Future phases see production increase to meet the demands of road and other transport sectors, including rail, and marine. A final phase anticipates hydrogen for heat and net export – helping to deliver Aberdeen’s vision to be a climate positive city at the heart of the global energy transition.

The strategic Sullom Voe Terminal in the Shetland Islands

Sullom Voe Terminal 50MW Hydrogen Project: Veri Energy intends to establish the Sullom Voe Terminal Energy Hub project as an advanced facility for hydrogen generation and derivative production. The project will have an initial capacity of 50MW, with potential expansion to 300MW in subsequent phases.

This project will harness Shetland’s abundant renewable wind and tidal power to generate hydrogen through advanced electrolysis technology.

The Sullom Voe Terminal (SVT) is operated by SHFCA member Enquest and Veri Energy is a wholly owned subsidiary of Enquest. SVT has a highly skilled workforce, a well established supply chain, a supportive local government, and existing infrastructure which includes access to utilities, civils, deepwater port and jetties, that offers significant potential for reuse and repurposing. This project will help to transform Sullom Voe into a green energy hub, supporting the creation of new jobs and maximising positive impacts on the community and the environment.

The Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub, Sullom Voe Terminal Hydrogen Project, and the Tees Green Hydrogen Project are located adjacent to strategic North Sea harbours. The seven projects receiving this latest Net Zero Hydrogen Fund support have the potential to increase UK hydrogen production capacity by 800MW, supporting local communities to cut their emissions while moving towards net zero.

The UK government has also launched a call for evidence on the hydrogen and carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) elements of the Green Industries Growth Accelerator. Announced at last year’s Autumn Statement, the £960 million Green Industries Growth Accelerator will speed up advanced manufacturing capacity in sectors including offshore wind, networks, carbon capture, usage and storage, hydrogen and nuclear.

Net Zero Fund £21m announcement

The 7 hydrogen projects

Link to Call for Evidence

A Bold Initiative Unleashed for Small Business Owners

In a groundbreaking move, Fiona Macintosh of More than Motivation, is set to revolutionise the small business landscape by introducing her new “Liberating Leadership: Transforming Entrepreneurs into Extraordinary Leaders” program.

Recognising the pivotal shift from small business owner to employer, Fiona acknowledges the unique challenges that come with this transition. From navigating the complexities of employee management to fostering a culture of growth and development, the journey demands a nuanced skill set beyond the hands-on operations typically associated with entrepreneurship.

This innovative Leadership Development program is carefully crafted to address the specific challenges faced by small business owners entering the realm of leadership. Delivered online, in the evenings or at weekends, it accommodates the demanding schedules of entrepreneurs.

Fiona’s Liberating Leadership aims to empower small business owners with a practical roadmap for success. By equipping participants with essential yet often overlooked tools, the program instils the confidence needed to lead with dignity and strength. The focus on a practical process, underpinned by a set of competencies, attitudes, and beliefs, promises to guide entrepreneurs through the intricacies of leading people.

The program’s philosophy encourages the art of nurturing employee growth, steering them from dependence to self-reliance and onwards to interdependence. This transformative approach aims to cultivate proactive and capable individuals who collaborate, willingly sharing resources with others.

Investing in this program goes beyond honing leadership skills; it’s a strategic investment in the prosperity and high performance of growing teams. As Fiona boldly opens the doors to this transformative experience, small business owners now have the opportunity to evolve from mere entrepreneurs to extraordinary leaders.  To find out more email fiona@morethanmotivation.co.uk

More than Motivation

Meet David Buchanan, Founder of  Secret Shebeen Club in Wick, a new business fostering culinary fusion and local collaboration.

The Secret Shebeen Club is a unique culinary destination nestled in the heart of Wick, making its new home in the iconic Backstairs, which was once painted by Lowry, in the town’s historic harbour. It offers exclusive pop-up supper clubs that combine global flavours and local collaboration for an immersive and authentic dining experience. David Buchanan, the visionary behind this new venture shares his insights into its inspiration, philosophy, and aspirations. David has a rich background, having grown up in Wick and he honed his culinary skills in kitchens across 75+ countries with a noteworthy career working for private clients, celebrities, and royal families, bringing a wealth of global experience to this exciting new venture.

David, captivated by the Blackstairs was inspired to create The Secret Shebeen Club concept, drawing from his vast experience and the pop-up restaurant trend in London. The goal of this Supper Club is to combine immersive lifestyle experiences and his philosophy of collaboration, providing an experience that goes beyond just dining.

Can you describe the concept behind your business and what vision you have for the new venture?

We have a grand vision for the Secret Shebeen Club. We plan to offer unique dining experiences and provide a platform for collaboration and community. Our goal is to bring our enthusiasm, knowledge, and expertise to create a space that goes beyond just dining.

Growing up close by in Pultneytown, I have many fond memories of Caithness, which is a magical place. We want to take the best of what is on our doorstep and connect our guests with local artisan producers, farmers, and other talented individuals. We want to help these producers get access to top clients who are interested in their products but can’t navigate local markets or Facebook pages. We aim to add a degree of confidence and instil faith in small producers on the global stage.

In the future, we plan to expand our operations to cover retail, guided tours, and sea excursions, and continue to collaborate with local producers on supper club events. We will offer cookery school classes such as breadmaking and chocolate masterclasses and team-building events. Following renovation works we will open up our accommodation in the spring and our yoga studio will be open by the start of 2025.

What is your brand philosophy?

At the core of the Secret Shebeen Club is a commitment to connecting guests with local artisans, farmers, and producers. The vision is to bridge the gap between quality producers and clients, creating a global platform for small-scale businesses. The Supper Club incorporates seasonality, local producers, and exclusive products, ensuring a constantly evolving and sustainable menu.  I have championed Mey Select for 20 years and truly believe in the small-scale farming philosophy as the antidote to large-scale agriculture where animals are bred for profit and not for quality.

We aspire to support local artists, musicians, and clubs, providing a platform for events and community. Collaboration is at the forefront of our vision, with a commitment to nurturing the next generation of talent across Caithness.

What is your signature cooking style, and what ingredients and flavours do you most like creating with?

I am passionate about sourcing the best quality and suitable ingredients from all over the world. In 2018, we established Vanillaism, which is the only rainforest-to-fork organic vanilla producer. Since then, we have been planting, growing, curing, and selling 100% organic vanilla beans in Bali and across Indonesia. We also provide practical, ethical, educational, and financial support to our farmers and their communities. We operate on a non-profit model and reinvest our profits to help empower communities to develop tourism and enterprise and work their way out of poverty.

As a vanilla grower, I use it a lot, but often in savoury cooking more so than in sweets. Vanilla has a complex series of volatiles, eugenols, and compounds that we are all familiar with, but Vanilla is the most intoxicating scent compound.

Caithness Chamber members can join David for an exclusive networking event on the 24th May, for booking and further information contact fiona@caithnesschamber.com

Find Secret Shebean Supperclub on Facebook.