top of page
Window logo.jpg


Learn More
The Kelp Store: Welcome

Our History

The Kelp Store was originally built in the 18th century to house kelp for export. Now it houses the story of the days of kelp along with many other aspects of Papay heritage.
The burning of seaweed to create kelp for the soap and glass-making industries dominated the Orkney economy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Later kelp was used in the production of iodine. Papay had the highest kelp production per head of population of any
Scottish island. Islanders worked in terrible conditions to pay their rent in kelp, the sale of which then generated substantial profits for the Laird. The Laird also owned a sloop, stored by the pier, which was used to ship the kelp south. Much of the kelp was exported to Newcastle and the boat would return loaded with coal, seed and other merchandise. Kelp remained a significant part of the Papay economy until the end of the 19th century. Production finally stopped during the 1930s.
After it’s life as a kelp store ended, the building was taken over by a local co-operative and used for storing coal until the 1970s. After which the kelp store then lay empty and unused for many years.

The population of Papay had been declining from a high of 392 in 1861 to only 54 in the late 1990s. In 1999 local people set up the Papay Development Trust to try to turn this tide of depopulation. The restoration of the kelp store was central to the Trust’s vision and the first phase of works to renovate the external fabric and put on a new roof was started in 2001.

A further burst of funding a decade later allowed the building to be finally transformed into the island’s craft and heritage centre, which opened on the 2nd of June 2016. Among the growing exhibits, visitors can browse folders of archive material relating to every house on the island, watch films on shpwrecks or spoots, read about the last Great Auk or listen to the story of Loch of St Tredwell’s healing powers.

Papay Development Trust gratefully acknowledge the generous support from Orkney Island Council’s Community Development Fund, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Postcode Community Trust, The Traills of Holland, Coastal Communities Fund, Papa Westray Community Council, North Hill Grazing Committee and Orkney Marinas. Without this support the restoration would not have been possible.

The Kelp Store: Service


Exhibition - Workshop - Archive



Our main exhibition space. Here we host our main events. A multi-use space that can be transformed easily into a cinema, dancefloor, large workshop space or lecture theatre. In true Papay style it is, and has to be, useful for a number of purposes and roles.



Our workshop space can be used in conjunction with our main exhibition space or individually. Generally this is where the creative and crafty stuff goes on in The Kelp Store. It is also used for meetings and talks. This area regularly hosts the Papay Lunch Club, and Papay choir practice. In the summer this area, which has a fully functioning kitchen is the lunch stop for guests on the Papay Peedie Tour.

There is also a toilet with shower and wet room.



In the main exhibition area, you will also find the Papay Archive. Designed as a homage to the post office pigeon holes. The archive collects together photographic and genealogical information on a house by house basis

The Kelp Store: Programs


Aspects of Papay

Designed by artist and Papay Ranger Jonathan Ford. Our Boat Archive Cabinets form the centre piece of The Kelp Store Exhibition space. The cabinets were handmade by Ian Richardson, one of the last traditional boat builders in Orkney. They house a changing display of artefacts, reference and audio/visual interactive elements. Currently we have cabinets for Archaeology and Natural History. One of the remaining cabinets is being re-fitted for the forthcoming Shape of Farming exhibition. Our last cabinet is a work in progress, for opening during this summer.

The Kelp Store: Programs
bottom of page