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November 28, 2007

Cumbrae Community Development Company

In 2002, the community on the island of Great Cumbrae, managed to overturn a Council decision to abandon a landmark building, Garrison House, by staging a mass sit-in. Since then, the community has mounted a successful campaign to buy the 18th century building and gardens and embarked on a £5m restoration programme. Work is nearing completion.


The Garrison House, Millport

Garrison House
Garrison House, a Grade B listed building, was built in 1745 as the residence of the Captain and officers of the Revenue Cutter ‘Royal George’ which was stationed at Millport. Throughout the 19th century various amendments were made to the original house and the Garrison is an excellent example of early 19th century gothic battlement architecture. In 1908, the arts and crafts architect Robert Weir Schultz remodelled both the house and gardens, including the sunken garden to the front of the house. It is one of the few examples of the architect’s work in Scotland and has significant historical merit.

In the early 20th century the House came into the ownership of the Marquess of Bute through his property company, Cumbrae Properties (1963) Ltd, and was let to Millport Town Council in 1947 on a 99 year lease. The lease was inherited by subsequent local authorities and the most recent lessee was North Ayrshire Council. The House was occupied by North Ayrshire Council until October 1997 when the decision was taken to relocate local services from Garrison House, largely due to the deteriorating condition of the building and restrictions of insurance cover on the property.

The protest group and funding process
There was strong objection within the community to the relocation of local services and possible closure of the Garrison. A protest group was formed by business people on the island, who organised a sit-in to prevent library books and effects from being taken from the Garrison. In 1998, Garrison House Steering Group was formed, comprising of North Ayrshire Council, Argyll and Islands Enterprise, Bute Estates Ltd and community representatives. Their objective was to investigate and secure an achievable development for the house. Jura Consultants were commissioned to undertake a pre-investment appraisal of proposals for the redevelopment of Garrison House. Following the Option Appraisal, Jura Consultants were commissioned by the Steering Group to prepare a feasibility study of the preferred option.

The preferred option was the subject of a Stage 1 Heritage Lottery Fund Application submitted in September 2000. The application was developed by Cumbrae Community Development Group, a locally based group made up of a number of original members of the Garrison Development Steering Group.

When the application was under consideration by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Garrison House experienced a fire in June 2001. The damage was significant and additional scoping, architectural, costing and business planning work had to be undertaken for a revised proposal to restore and re-use Garrison House. This proposal was set out in the business plan which accompanied a revised application to the Heritage Lottery Fund in September 2001. Funding commitments had already been made by both North Ayrshire Council and Argyll and Islands Enterprises, with Historic Scotland supportive of the project and indications from Highlands and Islands Partnership Programme that the project would be looked upon sympathetically.

After successfully achieving a Stage 1 from the Heritage Lottery and development funding from North Ayrshire Council and Argyll and Islands Enterprises, further work was undertaken on the best possible use of the building. In May 2003, two designs were presented to the Group’s board. The Board was unanimous in its support of the first option, an exciting blend of retaining the historic exterior of the building while opening up the interior to become a modern facility for all the community and visitors to island, making full use of light and space.

In January 2004, the Heritage Lottery Fund confirmed its funding for the project and a further award was achieved from the European Regional Development Fund in May 2004. Together with the funding from North Ayrshire Council, Historic Scotland and Argyll and Islands Enterprise, work started on the Garrison in November 2005 and was completed in December 2007.

After ten years since its original closure in 1997, the Garrison will reopen to the public in January 2008. It will become the vibrant hub of the community, housing the GP surgery, other medical care facilities, the library, one-stop shop, the Museum of the Cumbraes and a café.

The future
By securing two high profile tenants, Cumbrae Community Development Group has ensured the long term future for the Garrison. The top floor has been leased to the Health Board as the local GP surgery and the lower floor to North Ayrshire Council for use as the library, museum and one-stop shop. The surplus income from the leases will be used as seed capital or matched funding to attract public sector funding for community based projects which will aid in the economic regeneration of the Isle of Cumbrae.

The company has recently employed a full-time Development Manager to develop and grow the business for the community and visitors to the island. This was a condition of the funding package and the post is fully funded for a period of five years. The Development Manager is responsible for managing and developing Garrison House and grounds, as well as generating income through the café, an events programme and venue hire. They also have a wider community remit and will work with local organisations on a variety of projects that will have an economic benefit to the island.