Transforming Moat Brae
Find out about progress on site as the final phase of restoration and building works help to transform Moat Brae ready for opening as a National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling.
We are Due to Open to the Public as a Visitor Attraction and National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling in Spring 2019
September 2018: Restoration Is Complete
A first glimpse inside the newly restored Moat Brae House, where Peter Pan began, has revealed the extent of the work undertaken to save a Scottish architectural gem.
The B listed Georgian house, dating from 1823, was designed by Walter Newall and was regarded as being such a fine building it was often referred to as “Number One Dumfries”.
By 2009 the once luxurious house was derelict and came within three days of being bulldozed when it was taken on by a small group of volunteers. After nearly a decade the first stage in its transformation into Scotland’s new National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling is largely complete.
The Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust (PPMBT), along with LDN Architects from Edinburgh, main contractors Balfour Beatty and others have saved the house and created a new education suite to one side and café on the other.
Key parts of the project have included restoring wonderful features like the dramatic circular gallery and glass dome above the entrance hall.
The Trust recently received the keys from the contractor and is preparing for a second transformation as it is fitted out with magical interpretation and furnished, ready for a full public opening in spring 2019.
Before that, however, a “Dreams For The Future” festival is planned by the Trust’s Youth Forum in late November to celebrate Scotland’s Year of Young People which will involve a series of events around Dumfries and at the house itself.
Two of those at the forefront of the campaign to save Moat Brae house and gardens, and to give them a new future, have been PPMBT chairman Dame Barbara Kelly and project director Cathy Agnew.
Cathy said: “When the campaign began Moat Brae was days from demolition. The roof was letting in water, the walls were saturated, the ceilings and plaster collapsing, the windows were smashed and it had been extensively vandalised.
“The transformation is breathtaking. Now you open the door and enter an elegant Georgian house full of light and space.
“We are all so proud that it is still standing, has been restored, and will soon be a major new visitor attraction.”
One small but delightful feature is an upstairs window where, during Moat Brae’s time as a hospital, nurses would take children and tell them it was the place where Peter Pan flew in.
An ongoing part of the work is the transformation of the gardens, which J M Barrie said inspired Neverland, into an area where children can play and have fun.
Moat Brae will also make a significant contribution to the economic regeneration of Dumfries.
Dame Barbara said: “Moat Brae house and gardens are of real significance in the architectural history of Dumfries and Scotland, and in the cultural and literary history of the world. J M Barrie said he spent more time in this house than any other during his teenage years in Dumfries. It was here that he and his friends let their imaginations run wild and their adventures at Moat Brae were the beginning of the story of Peter Pan.
“Now the house is restored and the new wings have been built we can focus on the next stage and get ready to open Scotland’s new Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling – which we hope will be enjoyed by visitors from all over this country and far beyond.
“This will bring new jobs to the town and generate income for the local economy as well as providing lots of opportunities to encourage children and young people to take joy in reading and writing.”
Moat Brae will also have an exhibition area dedicated to telling the story of Walter Newall, whose projects helped shape the architectural landscape of South West Scotland and included churches, houses, country villas and farmsteads as well as the transformation of a Dumfries windmill into an observatory.
Mark Hopton, a Partner at LDN Architects, said: “It has been a real privilege to help the trust deliver this unique project which we hope will be a source of inspiration, learning and enjoyment for the people of all backgrounds and ages who live in and visit Dumfries; whether playing in the garden and taking part in activities in the house, enjoying refreshments in the new café with friends, or simply appreciating Walter Newall’s architecture which has now been restored to its original beauty.”
Paula Ward, VisitScotland Regional Leadership Director, said: “It is fantastic to see one of the region’s architectural gems preserved for future generations to discover and enjoy. Moat Brae House, the birthplace of Peter Pan, will create a new and inspiring experience for visitors of all ages. Of course, none of this would be possible without the incredible efforts and visions of Dame Barbara Kelly and Cathy Agnew, whose tireless hard work and never-ending passion have helped save and transform this critically important national asset.
“The project to create a National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling demonstrates a real commitment to further enhancing our region’s tourism offering and attracting more visitors to Dumfries & Galloway. Scotland’s reputation as a quality destination relies on continued investment to ensure that current provision meets future demand.
“Tourism is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy, causing a ripple effect which touches every industry and community, creating employment and economic growth.”
February 2018: Work is progressing on site as things begin to take shape
Work is progressing well on site. Fantastic features are now being added to the garden, including the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship and the Mermaid’s Lagoon, with a rocky outcrop which isn’t actually made of rock at all! The good news is that the flower beds are now ready for planting and most of the plants will be going in over the coming months so that they can become established ready for full bloom in 2019. The planting has been specifically selected to survive the north facing sloping landscape and it reflects the different stories we are going to tell; tea plants near the café, large architectural plants near the Mermaid’s Lagoon and American plants near the American Indian encampment. There will be more surprises to come in the garden over coming months.
Work on the house and extension are also taking shape. The fantastic learning suite is almost there, with a wonderful glass frontage giving views over the garden and river Nith. The interiors are nearly ready for the first coat of paint and plans are well underway to develop the permanent interpretation and exciting temporary exhibitions reflecting our links to children’s literature and storytelling. To make this all happen we are joining forces with lots of individuals and organisations locally to showcase the best of Dumfries and Galloway.
August 2017: Our Patron, Joanna Lumley calls in to view progress on site at Moat Brae
Joanna Lumley, Patron of the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust, called in to the Birthplace of Peter Pan in Dumfries this week to see progress on the restoration of the Georgian property and landscaping of its new Neverland Discovery Garden.
The final phase of works to create a National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling at Moat Brae began in April 2017 and it is hoped the new Centre will open to the public at the end of 2018. Edinburgh-based architects LDN and contractor Balfour Beatty guided Joanna around the site on the banks of the River Nith. She visited the foundations of the Mermaids Lagoon, the Home Under the Ground and discussed the plans to create an inspirational new visitor attraction which will become an important resource for the region.
Joanna said: “It is so exciting to actually stand here in JM Barrie’s ‘enchanted land’ and see our dreams for a Neverland Discovery Garden begin to come true”.
April 2017: Work Begins
Work has started to transform the house where Peter Pan began into a new national centre for children’s literature and storytelling.
Contractors Balfour Beatty, the international infrastructure group, have just taken possession of the Moat Brae site in Dumfries, after winning the £5 million contract to revive the house and garden where the young J M Barrie was inspired to create Peter Pan, his friends and their pirate foes.
Joanna Lumley, Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust Patron, said:“Sometimes dreams really can come true. It’s marvellous that work has now begun to turn this beautiful house and garden, that had gone to rack and ruin, into a national centre for literature and storytelling that will welcome children from around the world.
“I think JM Barrie would be overjoyed that the place which inspired his dreams of Peter Pan will soon be firing the imaginations of today’s children.”
The centre will open in the autumn of 2018 and will be a place to discover children’s literature and storytelling from many eras, countries and cultures. The grounds will be reinvented as a Neverland Discovery Garden.
Dame Barbara Kelly, PPMBT Chair, said: “It’s all systems go as the restoration begins and the house and garden are transformed. Moat Brae will soon become an inspirational year-round local, national and international visitor attraction and resource for all ages to enjoy.
“The project’s contribution to the economic regeneration of Dumfries is of tremendous importance and cannot be under-estimated. It will directly create at least a dozen new jobs and will provide many other opportunities for people in the area.”
Janet Archer, Chief Executive Officer at Creative Scotland said: “Creative Scotland is delighted to be supporting the creation of the National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling at Moat Brae House. The centre will be a valuable national cultural resource which will delight and inspire children and adults alike. We wish the trust well with the build and look forward to its completion in 2018.”
Cathy Agnew, PPMBT Project Director, added: “Moat Brae House will be at the heart of many children’s lives – a place to discover and enjoy wonderful stories from every part of the world.
“The start of work is a very special moment, when a vision starts to become a reality. We are grateful to all those who have supported us. And it’s especially delightful that Tinker Bell, Peter and Nana were there to welcome Balfour Beatty to Neverland.”
Once complete Moat Brae will feature a learning and education suite, café, shop and magical interpretation to inspire visitors, to stimulate children’s imagination and reveal the many stories the house has to tell.
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, said: “The new National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling will make a significant contribution to the cultural and tourism sector in Dumfries and across Scotland. Moat Brae’s link to the timeless and much-loved children’s classic, Peter Pan, will help to attract visitors from all over Scotland, the UK and overseas, and further cement Scotland’s reputation as a great storytelling nation and I have been a keen supporter since the start when Historic Scotland provided initial funding to stabilise the building.
“The Scottish Government is committed to widening access to culture and the arts for everyone in Scotland, protecting and preserving our rich heritage for future generations to enjoy and promoting the south of Scotland as a visitor destination, and I welcome the funding provided for this project through Creative Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland.”
The restoration contract was awarded after an extensive competitive tendering process.
Stephen Scott, Regional Managing Director, Balfour Beatty said: “We are delighted to be a part of this extremely unusual and historic project, to create the new home for children’s literature and storytelling.
“We will utilise our extensive knowledge of complex restoration projects and specialised conservation techniques, to ensure that we deliver a building that will inspire future generations for years to come.”
The project, which will cost £5.7 million overall, has support from The National Lottery, Creative Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland and Dumfries and Galloway Council.
Ronnie Nicholson, Leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, said: “This is a major step forward for an exciting project that promises to bring real benefits to the town centre and to the wider region. As well as creating jobs, the regeneration of Moat Brae will encourage locals and those from out with the region to come and visit Dumfries and Galloway, which is why the Council invested in the project.
“Arts and culture can play an important role in promoting social and economic goals through local regeneration, attracting tourists, the development of talent and innovation, as well as improving health and wellbeing.”