Plans to restore a historic Moray landmark to its former glories will continue despite issues surrounding management and funding.
Friends of Grant Lodge was formed to campaign for the restoration of the Cooper Park building that was first built in 1750 and ultimately donated to the people of Elgin by Sir George Cooper in 1903.
The building was once home for the local library service before being used as a store for Moray’s historic records. However, it was badly damaged by fire in 2003 and has remained derelict since.
In 2011 a meeting was held amongst local people who wished to see the building brought back into use – and their cause was boosted by an intervention from First Minister Alex Salmon in 2012. While possible funding streams to help restore the building were identified via Heritage Lottery Funding and Historic Scotland, Moray Council have been unable to provide the estimated £1.3million match funding required.
While it was thought that the project to turn the building into a mixed tourist attraction and registry office were completely halted, a meeting of the Friends of Grant Lodge this week learned that was not the case and investigations into funding and use of the building were continuing.
Speaking for the group, Sarah Nicholson said: “Members of the committee of Friends of Grant Lodge had an informative and productive meeting when they met with Richard Lochhead, MSP and members of the Castle to Cathedral to Cashmere Partnership Management Group.
“The current project which is being considered as part of the Castle to Cathedral to Cashmere Partnership initiative, and which the Friends of Grant Lodge supports, would see the building used as the local heritage centre, a wedding room for civil weddings, and a hub to tell the story of the rich heritage of Moray and its people.
“A design has been made for a purpose built archive centre which would comply with the strict storage regulations now required and would enable the important documents at present held in Edinburgh and Aberdeen to be returned to their rightful home in Moray.”
Moray Council’s Libraries Manager, Alistair Campbell, told the group that funding sources were still being explored in the hope that the burden on the council would be less than initially proposed.
He added that should funds be available then it would still be possible for a proposal to go forward to Heritage Lottery Funding’s application stage, while external funding form Historic Scotland should also still be available.
Ms Nicholson added: “It is ten years since the fire at Grant Lodge rendered the building unusable for the purposes of the local heritage centre. Despite much local pressure and a failed attempt in 2007 to develop a regeneration plan the Council has yet to agree its uses and funds for the Lodge which are currently an essential part of the Partnership project for the building.
“A vision for making Grant Lodge a tourist attraction and community building is something that Friends of Grant Lodge are delighted to endorse.
“Friends of Grant Lodge feel it would be far more cost effective to support the current proposals, which have gained support in principle from Historic Scotland and The Heritage Lottery Fund, and that the recent surveys and expertise involved through the Castle to Cashmere Project Partnership have produced detailed plans which would give Grant Lodge a viable future for the benefit of Moray’s residents and visitors.”