Our vision: To establish a unique arts and community hub, bringing vitality, new employment opportunities, high quality tourism and a sense of identity back to the heart of Stromness.
We will move into a new, larger building which will combine traditional bookbinding and letterpress printing studios with an art gallery, coffee bar and arts skills workshop areas.
Profitably creating beautiful handmade items and prints for export will continue to be our absolute priority.
The greater working space will allow us to become efficient, increasing output and broadening our range to include wallpapers and framed prints.
The space, with its facilities for customers will allow us to share our craft and educate visitors in a real-life, untimidating setting. It will become a destination venue for locals and tourists, increasing footfall in Stromness
Our current workshops will be repurposed as three artists' studios, allowing us to rent and/or donate working and display space to local and visiting artists, thus driving footfall and strengthening Stromness' potential in becoming a St Ives of the north.
This project will boost the commercial success of VPCo and:
- Create new skilled employment in Stromness.
- Increase global export activity outwith Orkney.
- Develop luxury and volume manufacturing capability.
- Grow year-round tourism through specialised residential arts skills workshops.
- Build community engagement with local groups and educators.
- Provision of new services for Stromness.
- Reinvigorate retail for local people and visitors.
- Enhance our town’s reputation as a renowned, thriving, and growing arts destination.
- Attract other arts-based businesses to Stromness.
You leave the inspiring Pier Art Centre, turn left, and walk down the street, past the chemists and a nice little shop selling artsy bits and bobs. You decide to look in on your way back down the street.
You wonder what else there might be to look at in Stromness, has anything changed since you were here last?
You continue down the street towards the museum.
Wait... what’s this place? The smart, gilded, sign written board above the door says VPCo.
The last time you were in Stromness it was a bank, wasn’t it? You can’t remember if you ever saw it open, certainly there was no sign of life the few times you walked by. Today the lights are shining brightly inside, it is open, it looks welcoming.
On either side of the main entrance, sculpted lavender trees. It looks very smart. A couple are sat on a bench with coffee and shortbread quietly watching the world go by. Next to them, an A-board on the pavement reads:
Intrigued, you walk in through the open front door of 99 Victoria Street into a little vestibule. You wonder what you’ll find inside... You’ve never been to a bookbinding workshop before, few people have.
You push the next door open and the strum of a real guitar, mounted above the door, activated by the opening mechanism, provides a moment of surprise! You let out a little laugh.
You stop and look around.
The warmth and smell of fresh coffee greets you. Immediately ahead is a coffee bar and a cash register. To your left is a long workbench with customer seating. It divides the customer area from the workshop, but it otherwise open plan, everything in plain sight. Behind you is a door leading to an art gallery.
The wall behind the barista displays rows of VPCo coffee, bagged up, ready to take home. Must be the same coffee they use here; you think to yourself. It turns out it is coffee made for VPCo by the coffee roastery in Kirkwall. Under the coffee display, floor standing, glass fronted refrigerators are filled with cold drinks and locally produced snacks on the countertop.
Throughout, the walls are painted in a soothing Scandinavian tone, the floors are walnut brown vinyl tiles. The lights in the ceiling are daylight led. It is bright and clean, sophisticated.
The workshop walls are lined with waist height, architects' cabinets filled with rare antique handmade paper. There must be a hundred drawers or more, all full of papery treasures. The cabinets are glass-topped, to roll out ink for the presses and as work surfaces for carving printing plates.
Above the glass there are long wooden shelves filled with new and half-used tubes of sticky inks in all colours. There are tools, brushes, paints, and mysterious materials in glass bottles you cannot identify. Fat rubber rollers with brass handles hang from hooks above the glass, ready to spread that beautiful sticky ink over a hand carved lino plate.
Specialist oily machines are in position, most of it antique and to the layperson, mysterious in their purpose. They are used every day to make wonderful things. Chattering printing presses, wood cabinets and heavy-duty guillotines are in sight but out of reach of the public – safely first!
A woman is stood at the coffee bar – she's buying a pen, hand printed cards and a tote bag made with VPCo patterned fabric. You overhear her telling the retail assistant that she is taking it back to California. Next to her a customer waits to pay for his art materials and a takeaway coffee, he is a local artist, a friend of VPCo. There is some music playing quietly in the background. You immediately feel comfortable, this is lovely!
To your left, 9 visitors from the latest cruise liner berthed in Kirkwall are seated on a row of tall stools on the customer side of the 7-metre-long bookbinding workbench. An original fixture, it used to be the bank counter, now repurposed for our highly skilled craft.
On the opposite side of the bench, facing the cruise line visitors are a couple of guys wearing well-worn aprons. They have obviously been working on those glass topped cabinets which is why those aprons have so much ink all over them, printing is a messy business but great fun.
The seated visitors are sipping coffee, watching, and talking to each other and to the craftspeople as they work, asking questions about what they’re doing. It reminds you of a Japanese teppanyaki grill restaurant you once went to. The chefs cooked up wonderful creations, inches away from their customers. It’s just like that, you think to yourself, but they’re making books not dinner! Visually though, it’s just as delicious.
At the bench, directly opposite the seated visitors, Mark is carefully adding gold leaf to the spine of a handmade book. Hundreds of intricately patterned, antique wooden-handled brass stamping tools are neatly displayed in rows, on wall shelves, next to his workstation. He picks up one after another, slowly building up a beautiful, delicate golden pattern of leaves and flowers on a dark walnut coloured leather – this book looks amazing.
Beside him, William is helping some children make a simple book. This must be the “Make A Book In 15 Minutes Workshop” advertised on the poster you saw next to the coffee bar. The look on the kid’s faces as the book takes shape is lovely. You always wondered how a book is made, you might book a spot for tomorrow, looks interesting.
To the left of the bookbinding bench, the clank of the antique cast-iron printing press is slowly turning out handmade prints designed by Megumi who hangs them up to dry. They’re beautiful, you’ve seen paper a bit like this when you were in Venice, but these are different somehow, more detailed. You might grab a coffee in a minute and watch her more closely, she looks like she would not mind.
Behind Megumi, the open vault door reveals softly lit treasures – gold leaf prints, and beautiful handmade books bound for export. You can see them from here, but you will need to ask for a guided tour if you wish to look at them closely, they look expensive so handling them under supervision is necessary.
At the back of the workshop but in full view for all to see, David is cutting glass for a batch of picture frames for a local customer. Later, when you are talking to Megumi, you find out that a framing service has not been available in the town for years, so this service is a welcome addition for the people of Stromness.
Rachel is at the mail order bench packing up a roll of VPCo handmade paper to send to an artist in Singapore. It is only lunchtime but already she has a couple of Royal Mail sacks heaving with parcels ready for collection. Waiting to be packed are framed prints being sent to Europe, bought by walk-in customers who were not able to take them home on the plane. This is not an issue for VPCo, they are mail order experts.
Behind Rachel there is a red light softly glowing above a closed door. A customer asks what this means. Louise explains this means not to open the door because something is happening in there. It is a dark room for cyanotype printing and other photographic processes. Today Duncan is in there making prints of seaweed shapes just like the ones you saw in the Stromness Museum the last time you were here. Tomorrow, Tomas will be using the darkroom. He is holding a workshop, showing youngsters how to develop black and white camera film. As usual it will amaze, and delight people born in the digital age.
Moving through the doorway in front of you, you leave the noise and bustle behind and enter a quieter space, a gallery, filled with gorgeous prints and artworks on every wall. From the ceilings hanging at various lengths, dozens of lampshades in various diameters, lit with low voltage warm light, covered in VPCo fabrics. The walls are painted in deep rich Victorian red. A comfortable sofa invites you to sit down and enjoy the peace. It reminds you of the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow, very relaxing.
Daylight streams through the windows to your left. You look out, you can see the sea! There is the ferry, the Hamnavoe, slowly making her way out of the harbour and back to Scrabster. Tourists line the rear deck, some of them waving goodbye to someone on the shore, they are getting their last look at Stromness for a while.
You turn around. In front of you, against the deep red walls, a floor to ceiling explosion of colour and pattern - framed VPCo prints, like the ones Megumi is currently printing next door in the workshop, oh, and there are those deep blue cyanotype seaweed prints Louise told you about– the ones Duncan is working on in the darkroom right now!
On the other wall are framed artworks from artists working out of the Lighthouse Studios and information about how you can see them at work, further up the street near the museum. It says that VPCo converted their old Alfred Street workshop into artist studios for local and visiting artists. Wow! You did not realise there was so much art happening in Stromness, it’s like a burgeoning St Ives, an arts town, you think to yourself.
In the middle of the gallery, a large purpose-built table is covered with a trove of goods for sale – specialist bookbinding tools sit in pots. Postcards, hand printed greetings cards, journals and sketchbooks are piled up beautifully, so many lovely things and they are all made right here in this building.
What you do not yet know is that the table doubles as a workbench for evening workshops – tonight a local group of recently bereaved local people are meeting for their weekly bookbinding session. Later in the year, out of the tourist season, a group of Americans staying at the Linklater Voice Centre are going to be here for an intensive, weeklong bookbinding workshop.
Between the two windows in the gallery, on shelves, sit more of the VPCo fabric tote bags the woman from California has just bought. There is a glass fronted cabinet in the corner filled with very fancy books just like the one Mark is making in the workshop. In another antique cabinet, sunlight reflects off expensive Orkney-made, thick brass rulers. Too rich for my blood, you think to yourself.
From the next room you hear the strumming sound of the door guitar again as other visitors come or go, you hear them laughing, just as you did.
You pick up a few packs of cards, a print of an old map of Orkney and a pad of VPCo Handmade Watercolour paper for your friend who paints. You head back to the coffee counter to pay for your products.
The cruise liner visitors have gone now, there is somewhere to sit. You pay for your goods and a coffee and sit down at the workbench to watch Megumi working on the printing press. You have never seen anything quite like this before, it’s fascinating, and the coffee is delicious!
You recognise the print she is working on as one you have just been admiring in the gallery, and you strike up conversation with her. You were right, she did not mind talking to you at all. She runs you through the print process and even offers to let you have a go, but you are happy to sit back and watch as she expertly creates another print in front of you and hangs it with the others to dry.
You finish your drink, say your goodbyes, and get set to leave VPCo. This time you are expecting the door guitar to strum so you pause and take a video of it – your friends back home will love the videos and photos of VPCo you will post on Instagram.
You walk up the street. Looking back, you see the Vintage Paper Co artisan gilded sign, window boxes and cheery painted benches. Another group is entering the old bank, you hear the feint guitar followed by laughs as you head down the street to the Lighthouse Studios to meet a local artist whose work you admired in the VPCo gallery.
It has been an inspiring afternoon.
You have seen art processes you knew nothing about before today, you have been able to talk to the craftspeople behind the products and watch them at first hand creating things of beauty, right here in Stromness. You promise yourself that you will go online and book that 15-minute bookbinding course for tomorrow.
We buy and refurbish the recently closed Bank of Scotland in Stromness.
Why this building?
The old bank is perfect, a once in a lifetime opportunity for VPCo.
It is affordable, and it offers the perfect space, location, layout, and facilities to fulfil the realisation of our vision for VPCo without any compromises.
Empty bank building - the counter will become the centrepiece of the new VPCo with customer seating running along this side and VPCo's craftspeople on the other.
There are no other buildings available in Stromness that share these essential characteristics.
WHO WE ARE, WHAT WE DO AND HOW WE DO IT.
Described as a "national treasure", Vintage Paper Co (VPCo) is a well-established business proudly based in Stromness. We make luxury books, hand printed paper, specialist tools and handmade paper. Our largest market is the USA.
VPCo contracts two full time and two part time craftspeople. Additionally, we subcontract to four other craftspeople in Orkney to provide goods and services as well working with creative partners in Edinburgh.
For four years VPCo has rented a workshop, 4 Alfred Street, Stromness, and a store on the pier from OIC. The workshop has three small rooms used for manufacturing and storage and a narrow corridor used for retail.
Continuous growth, diversification of product, and more complex manufacturing process means that 4 Alfred Street is no longer viable. Even with the additional storeroom there is no more room for expansion, we are pot bound. These limitations mean the business must leave Alfred Street within 12 months to achieve our ambitions.
THE FUTURE - THE VICTORIA STREET BANK
We aim to transform a derelict building in a prime location into a vibrant, class-leading standalone artisan arts venue, welcoming locals, and visitors alike.
Even in these challenging times, VPCo’s manufacturing and mail order business is booming. However, our biggest opportunities, those we have not been able to exploit due to the limitations at Alfred Street is in-person retailing and skills workshops. Moving out of Alfred Street and turning the old bank into a fabulous venue will rectify this.
As detailed in the “Picture This” section above, we will create a commercial book bindery, print studio, shop, art gallery, and coffee bar. There will also be a picture framing studio, art skills workshop space, customer bathrooms and photographic dark room.
Visitors will be able purchase high-quality Stromness-made products (books, prints, tools, bags, homewares, greetings cards and other handmade goodies) in a beautiful, authentic setting.
The melding of our craft, bookbinding, with this type of customer experience will be unique. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world.
Importantly, this is not a novelty “life museum” showing how books were made 200 years ago, this is a real, working, creative business, a commercial outfit seeking profit whilst sharing our skills and craft with the public.
The shape and content of this experience will comfortably coexist and complement other arts-based businesses in the town without distracting from or undermining their own unique selling points.
We will hold and host art exhibitions and skills workshops for tourists and local groups. This will encourage year-round tourism; a valuable source of income for us and Orkney. Workshops reinforce the message of our passion for education in the crafts and provides yet another unique selling point for Stromness.
Creating an imaginative and engaging destination for visitors will generate untapped revenue through in-person sales, workshops, coffee, and picture framing which, due to the limitations of Alfred Street, is a source of income we have not been able to fully capitalise on.
THE STROMNESS CONUNDRUM
We love Stromness. We live here with our families. Our kids go to school here. In and outside of work we are part of the community. We are emotionally, personally, and professionally invested in this town.
Stromness feels like it is in decline. It is not the town that it was a few years ago. Shops are shuttered, there are fewer places to eat and drink than before.
There appears to be little appetite, imagination, or confidence to invest in Stromness. Recent business ventures, such as Grooves Toy Shop, have not managed to endure the challenging retail environment. The existing, thriving businesses all tend to provide a unique range of goods or services relying on quality, convenience, online marketplaces, and local loyalty.
Stromness feels like it is slowly falling into a deep sleep, woken up occasionally for a couple of days by a festival or coach parties. Kirkwall, by contrast, has investment, vibrancy, choice, and boatloads of cruise ship passengers.
There is not an obvious plan in place to address this malaise – it urgently needs a kickstart fuelled by commercial enterprise and ambition.
Rather than trying to be a comprehensive retail destination with a full variety of shops, we think the future for Stromness is to focus on its strengths. As the Christmas exhibition at the Pier Arts Centre shows there is a huge amount of artistic and creative talent.
Instead of believing the town is only big enough for one or two galleries we think having ten or twelve galleries, and a marketing strategy that celebrates this, positions Stromness as an arts destination. It is about strength in numbers and the confidence that brings.
Our inspiration for this project comes from what has happened to St Ives and its international reputation as an arts town. There is no reason Stromness cannot and should not be a St Ives of the North, we already have the raw ingredients, we simply need support to make it happen.
Stromness is our home. We want nothing more than Stromness to thrive, we know that this project could play a significant role in the reinvigoration of Stromness. We believe that this is an innovative and yet highly achievable proposition - great for VPCo, great for Stromness.