A community survey undertaken by the Unicorn Preservation Society, the charity responsible for national treasure, HMS Unicorn, has confirmed Scotland’s oldest ship as a much-loved fixture of Dundee, with strong support for its restoration.
The survey, which received 2,430 responses, formed part of a wider community consultation in the summer of 2022 engaging local partners and volunteers. The consultation was required as part of the planning process for Project Safe Haven, the plan to move HMS Unicorn from its current location to East Graving Dock in Dundee, forming the centrepiece of a new Maritime Heritage Centre.
Of those who responded to the survey, 54% were from Dundee, 25% from Fife, Perthshire, and Angus, 9% from the rest of Scotland, 8% from the UK and 5% worldwide, including responses from the USA, Canada, Argentina, Iceland, South Africa, Iraq, India, Thailand, Laos, Philippines, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
The survey responses received were from a mixture of employed (57%), self-employed (7%), retired (30%), unemployed (3%) and those within education (3%); so reflective of the community in which the ship calls its home. Most respondents had visited HMS Unicorn and were aware of its historical significance, expressing affection for the ship based on memories from years ago, including from when the ship was used as an events space. The respondents also expressed concern about its visible deterioration, and commented on the apparent lack of investment in the ship, compared with other Dundee visitor attractions. The ship’s current location and access issues were also viewed as problematic.
Comments received from donors for a crowdfunding campaign run by the Unicorn Preservation Society in 2020, also highlighted the affection held locally for the ship and the need for her to be restored:
“My father used to work for the harbour board, so as a child I was able to attend Christmas Parties that were held on HMS Unicorn. She is a beautiful old ship and deserves to be cared for in Dundee, as it has been her home for many years.”
“As a Dundonian, I have wonderful memories of the Unicorn. In the 1960’s I was on board the Unicorn dancing on a Saturday night. I fully support this restoration to preserve such a wonderful and unique piece of history.”
“This wonderful ship has such a great history, including acting as a training location for Wrens in WW2. My mother did part of her training on this ship and it deserves to be preserved for future generations to appreciate its historic role.”
Museum Director, Matthew Bellhouse Moran, said:
“The community survey was enlightening for us as it really highlighted the strong affection which is held locally for the ship, but also its influence and reach on a global scale – with responses coming in from all over the world. HMS Unicorn is a much-loved fixture of Dundee and there is an appreciation that compared with other visitor attractions in the city, it has over the years been underinvested in, underutilised and underappreciated. The survey confirmed there is local, national and international support for its restoration and that through Project Safe Haven, it really is her time to shine.”
HMS Unicorn is currently in need of immediate conservation repairs, namely the replacement of missing or rotten timbers and engineering works to strengthen the ship’s weakest points, estimated to cost £1 million. The work will be completed in advance of the ship being moved to dry dock at East Graving Dock in Dundee for further major conservation works, as part of Project Safe Haven, which it is estimated will cost £20 million.
First launched in 1824, HMS Unicorn is the third oldest ship in the world and has been under the care of the Unicorn Preservation Society since 1968. Scotland’s only preserved warship, the Unicorn Preservation Society is working to protect and preserve HMS Unicorn for future generations to enjoy.