The perilous financial position of Scotland’s ice rinks has been highlighted at Holyrood by local constituency MSP Finlay Carson.
He warned that it remains a worrying time for ice sport enthusiasts whether they be curlers, skaters or ice hockey players as prohibitive energy price increases threaten the existence of many ice rinks, including Dumfries and Stranraer.
Speaking in a members’ debate, the Galloway and West Dumfries MSP said: “As the Scottish Ice Rinks Association has stated, we have literally come to the end of the road unless someone can wave a magic wand and get energy prices down to a realistic level or we receive significant external funding.”
Where annual bills used to be between £50,000 and £60,000, he added, many are now heading towards almost £200,000 and more – three to four times the increase.
Mr Carson continued: “That is purely for energy, but energy is needed to make the ice. There is no way around the matter, essentially, ice rinks are massive refrigerators.
“Talks are being held with governing bodies, utility firms and the Scottish Government to find a way forward. Given that Scotland’s ice rinks have been the breeding grounds for such exceptional international talent, we need to support them in those efforts.”
The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP explained that in the south of Scotland, there are three different ice rink models – one in a hotel in Stranraer, a council-run facility in Dumfries and a registered charity in Lockerbie.
He told MSPs that The North West Castle Hotel was the first hotel in the world to have its own indoor curling rink and continues to attract visitors from around the globe.
Having been taken over by Bespoke Hotels at a time when the energy was having the strongest hit, Mr Carson said there were fears the facility would be lost despite producing a succession of star curlers.
The local MSP explained: “Thankfully with a season now under the belt, things now look slightly more encouraging. I put on record my thanks and the thanks of the people of Stranraer and the wider community to the management of Bespoke Hotels, including the ice rink manager Gail Munro, for the sterling work that it has done to keep curling in Stranraer – which, arguably is the most prolific breeding ground for world champions.
“Dumfries Ice Bowl has an enviable reputation for nurturing world-class curlers, too. It has been successful in attacking the world ice hockey championship, and it is home to award-winning skaters and synchronised teams: the Solway Stars, Solway Eclipse, Solway Lightning and Solway Comets.
“All of that, along with the ice hockey team that is based there, helps to sustain the venue’s two ice rinks, and the hard work of the team there deserves to be recognised.”
Mr Carson praised the vision of Dumfries and Galloway Council staff, particularly Richard Grieveson, who went on to become the chairman of Ice Hockey UK for five years.
He argued that we must ensure that the legacy of the phenomenal success enjoyed by our local curlers is felt for years to come.
The MSP added: “Winning a gold medal at the World Championships in Ottawa was the crowning glory of the Scottish men’s curling team skippered by Bruce Mouat, who was assisted by three team mates from the south of Scotland.
“Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan from Stranraer are the latest trailblazers to have carried on the fine skills developed by their respective families. Those lads were joined on the winner’s rostrum by Dumfries curler Grant Hardie and their near perfect curling saw them defeat the home nation favourites 9-3.
“That glorious achievement came just months after team Mouat clinched their third European men’s curling championship in Sweden, adding that to the silver medal that they won in the 2022 Winter Olympics.”
Joining them on the conveyor belt of talent from Stranraer, he continued, is Hugh Nibloe, who helped Scotland win bronze at the world wheelchair curling championships in Canada, reaching his century of appearances for the Scottish national curling team.
Mr Carson highlighted also the success of Fay Henderson from Dumfries and Robyn Munro from Stranraer in striking gold for Scotland at this year’s world junior championships in Germany.
Not to be outdone, he explained, Scotland’s junior men’s team, skippered by Orrin Carson with team mates Logan Carson, Archie Hyslop, Charlie Gibb and Scott Hyslop – all from Dumfries Curling Club – won a bronze medal at the world junior championships.
There was success also for Blair Haswell from Stranraer and Jack Carrick from Dumfries, who won gold for Team GB at the World University games at Lake Placid in New York State.
He said: “I cannot pass up the opportunity to praise my own daughter, who scored the one and only – and first ever – goal for Team GB ice hockey squad, against Japan, at the same games. She has had a wonderful experience of playing ice hockey on rinks right across Scotland, the United Kingdom and the World. It has been a huge part of her life and continues to be so.
“The achievements of all those players are now inspiring many youngsters to take up sport, which can be only good. To ensure that those sports have a future, though, we must ensure the future of our much-loved ice rinks.”