Record £5m raised saves Millport landmark
Fearing their island’s focal point and historic centre was about to be lost forever, the people of Cumbrae staged a sit-in to prevent its imminent closure.
Eleven years, one devastating fire and a massive community-led fundraising effort later, Garrison House has been fully refurbished and opened once again in the heart of Millport.
John Burtt, the retired local bookmaker who led the sit-in, turned his attention to lobbying and with the help of island officials and politicians won millions of pounds in cash and support from local, national and even international sources.
Now, to the delight of islanders, the B-listed Garrison House has been transformed from an embarrassing eyesore to a community facility for residents and visitors alike.
Yesterday, the whole town turned up to witness its official opening and congratulate those whose determination to raise the £5m made it possible.
The building, which dominates the seafront on the Clyde coast island, dates to 1745, when it was built as a residence for the captain and crew of a customs and revenue ship stationed at Millport to prevent the smuggling of goods from Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Later it became the ancestral home of the wealthy Boyle family, before it became part of the property portfolio of the Marquis of Bute early last century. He leased it to the council for community facilities, but in 1997 it was decided the repair bill was too steep and that services were to be relocated throughout the town.
However, the local community intervened and the sit-in, to prevent books being removed from the library, forced a change of heart and an agreement to discuss how to save the building.
They then persuaded the Marquis of Bute to lease it to them for 150 years for £100, and embarked on one of the biggest community fundraising projects in Scotland.
Campaigners feared the worst when the building went on fire the following June, adding to the total cost and altering the plans for the building.
Mr Burtt, who is now chairman of the Cumbrae Community Development Company, said: ‘We had to start all over again, but we raised the money and got it back on track. Looking at it today, I think it is fabulous. It is once again the focal point of the town and rightly so.’
Today it is completely remodelled inside, with a partly-glass roof. It houses the Museum of the Cumbraes, the library and the Cumbrae Local Office, for which North Ayrshire Council pays rent. It also has a GP surgery rented by NHS Ayrshire and Arran, and the Garrison Cafe.
The fundraisers secured £2.8m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £735,000 from the local council, £612,000 from EU funds, and £455,000 from Argyll and the Islands Enterprise. Historic Scotland added another £75,000.
Local people are delighted the Garrison is back to its best. Pensioner Sandy Morton said: ‘There is a lot of affection for the Garrison. It is the geographical centre of Millport. We couldn’t let it fall apart and become so derelict it had to be demolished.’
John Graham chief executive of Historic Scotland said: ‘ I think it is really important, when you arrive in Millport and see its position in the town. It is a landmark, which is important both architectural and historically.’