A CHARITY that had hoped to refloat the historic paddle steamer, Maid of the Loch, spoke yesterday of its “devastation” after learning that its bid for £3.7 million in Heritage Lottery funding had been rejected.

But it promised that the decision “is not the end of the road” and said it still firmly believes in the project.

John Beveridge, Chairman of Loch Lomond Steamship Company, which has spent years restoring the Loch Lomond vessel, said after learning of the news: “We are absolutely devastated with the Heritage Lottery Fund’s decision not to grant funds to the Maid. It is going to take some time to absorb this news and the reasons behind it.

“It was HLF that encouraged us to apply. The West Dunbartonshire area was a top priority for them and we really felt we put forward a strong case for the funding - not just for what the donation would represent in transforming the ship, but for what it would bring to the area and indeed Scotland as a whole if Maid of the Loch was to sail once again. This had been reinforced by an award of almost £1 million from the Scottish Government.

“Unfortunately, this decision jeopardises the whole project, and our vision for refurbishing the ship now hangs in the balance. Our team of dedicated volunteers, our board of Directors, tour guides, maintenance and so many more hard-working and passionate individuals, have worked incredibly hard over the past 22 years to protect and preserve our much-loved paddle steamer.

“To have to explain to them that we won’t be sailing next year after all is extremely tough.”

Mr Beveridge said the charity had succeeded in raising the equivalent of £2.3m towards the restoration of the Glasgow-built Maid, which was launched in 1953 and carried some three million day-trippers, including royalty and celebrities, before it was decommissioned in 1981.

The group received an HLF ‘stage 1’ development grant of £152,000 in 2015 to enable it to progress the project, and it pledged to raise £1.7m in order to bid for further HLF funding of £3,640,000.

Mr Beveridge said that for such a small charity, with only nine directors and 40 volunteers to raise the equivalent of £2.3m towards the restoration was “something we are extremely proud of. Moreover, for the likes of the Scottish Government, West Dunbartonshire Council, the Robertson Trust, the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society and so many other funders to have faith in us and support our cause over the years, is something we are incredibly grateful for, and we are sorry to disappoint them too.

“The Maid’s return to sail would have been the single biggest project to take place in South Loch Lomond in more than 20 years, and it’s a huge blow to the area now that this £6m regeneration programme will not take place. The effects of this decision will be felt by the whole community.

“It’s a very sad day indeed and does not auger well for the future of our industrial heritage. For now, we will take some time to reflect on this news and discuss as a team where we go from here.”

Lucy Casot, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “We understand this will be very disappointing news for the many dedicated volunteers involved with the Maid of the Loch. Returning the paddle steamer to full operation is a complex and specialised project with many challenges and risks.

“HLF has a high level of competition for grants at every stage of the applications process and we are unable to support all of the applications we receive. We have to make difficult decisions and weigh up benefits with risks. Unfortunately, in this competitive situation the Board felt that other applications for funding were stronger and they were unable to support this project. We recognise the heritage importance of the Maid of the Loch and remain supportive of its long-term sustainability as a visitor attraction”

Yesterday, after a scheduled board meeting of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, Mr Beveridge told The Herald: “We felt so confident that we had everything all ticked and wrapped up. We’d done everything we thought we were supposed to do with them, but we understand that the decision was taken by HLF in London. We’ll be meet HLF next week in Edinburgh so we’ll get some feedback then.

“This would have been a £6 million investment in West Dunbartonshire, the biggest in the area for 20-odd years.”

Asked if there were alternative funding sources to be explored, he said: “We will need to look at that, because a lot of our current funding sources were there on the basis of our getting the full HLF funding. We will need to go back to existing funders and explain the situation and find out what their reaction is.

“The board is determined to fight on. We believe so much in the project and what it can do for the area, that we will not let this get in our way. It’s a setback, but we will have to come up with a different route.”

Martin Docherty-Hughes, SNP MP for West Dunbartonshire, tweeted: “Devastating news that the @heritagelottery has not approved the funding promised to help get the Maid of the Loch sailing again. The Maid is an important part of West Dunbartonshire’s cultural heritage, enjoyed by many people from across Scotland and all over the world. I will be offering my full support to ensure the ambitious efforts to restore the Maid to her former glory are not derailed as a result of this baffling decision.”