Scotland’s vast history has been preserved in buildings and museums serving communities across the nation. But how costly is it?
Historic preservation has always been an important part of society. But at a cost. Preserving Scotland’s rich history is a costly upkeep that governments and local authorities have been battling to balance for years.
In February, Glasgow City Council reported a £ 50 million black hole in costs after the renovation and refurbishment of several museums across the city. All of which any of us, Glaswegians, or tourists alike, can take a stroll into for free. For now.
Some may argue that history should not be paid for. History is key to the development of civilisation. If the man who invented the very first wheel never passed his invention onto his neighbour, we might all still be walking everywhere. However unlikely the metaphor serves; history sets a precedence of what we should follow and what we have tried before.
Spanish philosopher George Santayana puts it more eloquently: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Scottish Tourism contributes more than £ 4 billion every year to Scotland’s economy and one of Scotland’s biggest draws is the landscapes sprinkled with monuments to Scotland.
Now many of the buildings once sanctuaries to kings and queens are rubble which the feet of tourist plough over year and year on end.
I investigated some of these buildings, some well-known, some forgotten and collated how Scotland is conserving its history.
The Keil Hotel
Joined the Buildings at Risk Register in October 2001.
The Keil Hotel sits at the very furthest point of the Mull of Kintyre in Argyll, in a town that’s population – last recorded in 2001- was 497 residents. Though small, the area is home to vast quantities of landmarks, historical sites, and incomparably beautiful scenery.
In a local Facebook forum that focuses on the history and preservation of Argyll, people are encouraged to share memories and stories from the area.
On a post dedicated to the Keil Hotel, one woman recollects: “A shame to see… Had some good Sunday afternoons back in the day… If it falls into disrepair unfortunately it will be curtains due to cost….”
The hotel which was supposed to open in 1939 by owner Captain James Taylor was requisitioned by the Navy during World War 2 and became a wartime naval hospital.
Its distinct, white-walled appearance made it easy for navigators crossing the sea to follow it. Despite sparse detail on the hotel’s involvement the local area holds vast details of wrecks and battles that have taken place on its shores.
In 1947 it finally was able to open as a hotel.
The Keil hotel faced uncertainty through its many years of operation as it was passed from owner to owner until its demise in October 1990.
After being reportedly bought over in 2010 by a local who owns property in the area it has faced a slow rate of repair under private ownership.
Local Council, Argyll and Bute, report that the building is not within their jurisdiction due to its distance from the roadside and its private ownership.
However local MSP Jenni Minto seemed optimistic about its potential: “It is disappointing that a building with the potential to be a real community asset, or could provide a great development opportunity, has been allowed to become such an eyesore.
“It is challenging when a building such as this is privately owned however if there is the necessary will amongst the community there could be positive ways forward.”
Clydesdales horses, a café, and a visitor centre. That’s what this A-listed building will be turned into after successfully receiving funding to restore and revamp this prominent part of Pollok Park.
In October 2021, Glasgow City Council were able to gain funding from the UK Governments Levelling Up Fund.
The scheme which was announced in November 2020 was commissioned to invest in “local infrastructure that has a visible impact on people and their communities and will support economic recovery.”
The money set aside for this scheme has funded projects across the UK, specifically in areas of deprivation and with the lowest standards of living.
Just over £ 13 million is being put into the project which the council says will create a net-zero carbon “living” Heritage Centre and community and visitor attraction based around the famous Clydesdale Horses.
The Glasgow Building and Preservation Trust (GBPT) played a key role in securing the money as they advocated for the repair of the building and engaged with the community to understand what role they need it to facilitate when repaired.
“Scotland’s built heritage is an important part of Scotland’s story.” A spokesperson for the GBPT says. “It is very important that this legacy is protected, preserved and renewed so that it is there for future generations to enjoy and understand.”
“Our Feasibility Study formed the basis of a successful Levelling Up bid in 2022, with Pollok Stables award £13m by the UK Government.
“The Council is progressing a zero-carbon project to restore the stables as a mixed-use visitor attraction which will compliment Pollok House and the Burrell Collection.”
Work on the project is still underway with the latest update posted in January 2023 reporting a substantial amount of the deteriorating structure was removed.
A spokesperson from Glasgow City Council was able to give an update on the project: “We put in a bid to the levelling up fund department in the UK Government and we’re thankfully successful.
“Pollok Country Park is a place that has a number of attractions that are important at a local, national, with the Burrell collection an international level. And so you know, hopefully people will enjoy the facilities when the projects complete in August of 2025.
“We bid for other levelling up projects and will continue to do so. They usually have a heritage element to them that can certainly bring economic, environmental and social benefits to local communities, and I think will continue to bid for that in the next round of the fund.”
The People’s Palace
The People’s Palace and Winter Gardens were originally built in 1898 to serve the health of the local Glaswegian community. It’s now notably known for preserving the history of Glasgow’s society over time and for its remarkable gardens which showcase plants from around the world.
Sitting in the heart of Glasgow Green, the museum has been serving the community for years.
In a recent survey conducted by Glasgow Life, they registered the public’s opinion on the building. When asked what three words best describe the palace to them the answer was: “for the people.”
In 2019, the building closed for repairs and remained closed for a two years throughout the pandemic.
Glasgow City Council committed £ 2.9 million to the Peoples Palace. However, the project missed out on Levelling Up Funding that was granted to other buildings including the Pollok Stables.
At the time of the announcement Council leader Susan Aitken hit out at the process of selection for funding and branded it “skewed.”
This follows accusations hitting recent headlines claiming funding is being directed toward the personal interests of the government and not to those who may need it most.
Following the pull of funding the council announced in February this year entry to the building will now be charged.
Glasgow City Council commented at the time of the report that they aimed to strike a balance between raising revenue and cutting services.
The introduction of the charges is expected to raise £185,000 a year for the council.
A spokesperson for Glasgow City Council, said: “This is a measure agreed by councillors as part of the council’s budget for 2023/24, which has required the council to identify almost £50m worth of savings to cover a funding gap for this year.
“The budget aimed to protect services and jobs wherever possible and has looked to deal with the funding gap by raising additional revenue.
“Further details on what this measure will mean in practice at the Kibble Palace will be announced in due course.”
Scotland Street School Museum
Kids across Glasgow have been fascinated by Scotland Street School Museum for years. A museum that looks like a school.
Not only could it provide an enjoyable history lesson, but it was a perfect excuse for parents to press how important education was but mostly ardently ‘how good we have it now’.
Designed by one of Scotland’s most renowned architects, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the school was built in 1906 and is considered one of his masterpieces.
Closing in 1979, the building was turned into a museum primarily for the use of school groups in 1990. Over the years, the building has created more educational spaces: hosting visitor tours, creating interactive lessons for children and opening a GlaswegAsians exhibit.
However, in 2020 plans were proposed and subsequently approved to transform the ground floor space into a nursery.
In 2017, the Scottish Government introduced targets for 2020 including to ‘increase the statutory entitlement for early learning and childcare (ELC) from 600 to 1140 hours by August 2020.’
When the policy was made, they searched for buildings which could be provided funding for the renovation began and after analysis, it was found that there was a ‘need for more early learning and childcare places in the Pollokshields area.’
‘Officers explored the area for potential sites which included buildings currently owned by Glasgow City Council.’
Scotland Street School Museum then was approved as the next building to be chosen with nearly £ 45 million in funding.
Plans included retaining educational facilities, relocating exhibits and the retention of guided building tours.
Commenting on the announcement Chair of Glasgow Life and Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council at the time, Councillor David McDonald, said:
“This will create a multi-purpose setting, which will provide nursery facilities alongside a highly valued and evolving museum service.”
There has been no update on the development of the project since 2021. The official site for the building describes the building as ‘closed for major refurbishment.’
Scotland Street providing educational facilities once again is one of the most prominent methods of transforming spaces to serve today with the preservation of history.
On the success of this project might the Scottish Government see this as a potential blueprint for other projects.
The Covid19 pandemic damaged Scotland’s tourism drastically. As many hotels, restaurants and tourist activities ceased trading there were large falls in visitors, staffing and in many cases closures.
As recovery begins, the preservation of historical sites across Scotland could provide an extra boost for the economy.
The Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland provides information on properties of architectural or historic merit throughout the country that are at risk.
Currently, they list 2199 buildings.
Further commitments by the Scottish Government are expected to follow as projects across the nation are ongoing. As for the black hole of funds – it’s yet to be announced who or what will fill the void.