Campaigners pushing for one of Moray’s most cherished landmarks to be reopened have warned the process may take a further five years to be completed.
A heritage centre dedicated to the region’s food and drink, a World War I memorial and a wedding venue are all part of the latest vision for Grant Lodge in Elgin.
Last night, the Grant Lodge Trust revealed it planned to take the first step to reopening the doors in March by submitting paperwork to the building’s custodians, Moray Council.
However, detailed plans including possible tenants for the 18th Century landmark, a court bid to allow a change of use of the former library and the process of securing about £5million to restore the building are all expected to take several years.
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Trust chairman Grenville Johnston explained the inclusion of Grant Lodge in Moray’s bid for growth deal funding from the Scottish and UK governments had unlocked more opportunities for the “flexible” structure – but warned it would take time.
He said: “If the growth deal happens then it has the potential to allow us to do far more than we would have been able to do on our own.
“It could allow us to go back to the plans and add more to the lodge itself to make it even more viable than it is just now.
“I don’t want to start fundraising now without knowing we have a sustainable future for it but the growth deal would remove the problem for funding entirely – if it comes off. I have a feeling that could take several years though.”
Caroline Webster, chairwoman of the Friends of Grant Lodge campaign group, described the building in “good condition” despite it being boarded up for more than 15 years following a fire.
However, concerns were raised about the repeated instances of dry rot that had been reported in recent years.
Grant Lodge Trust is expected to submit a community asset transfer bid to Moray Council in March to allow the building to be transferred to their control.
A bid to the Court of Session is also required to allow the building to be converted for the next chapter of its future, which could also include meeting rooms, a cafe and rehearsal space for performers.
At last night’s meeting it was revealed that the trust has already received five expressions of interest from groups who would consider moving to the lodge.
However, Mr Johnston explained that securing an “anchor tenant” to finance a large proportion of the running costs needed to be identified to make it sustainable.
Jim Grant, Moray Council’s head of development services, explained the ultimate aim was to have the lodge managed by an external organisation in the future.
He said: “The cultural quarter part of the growth deal is looking at the main aspects of Elgin’s town centre and how to connect them together better – Grant Lodge is part of that with Cooper Park and the town hall.
“If we get investment through the growth deal then it needs to be run commercially and sustainably to make sure it has a viable future going forward so it doesn’t need to rely on council funds.”
Grant Lodge has held a special place in the heart of Elgin residents since a huge crowd attended the ceremony that marked the official handover the building to the care of the town in 1903.
A general holiday was declared to allow as many people as possible to attend the opening of the landmark, which had been a private home up until then, and the surrounding Cooper Park.
Sir George Cooper bought the lodge at the end of the 19th century and donated it to locals after four years of renovations and restorations, which including pulling down a wall that had surrounded it.
The landmark is now most fondly remembered by locals as a library.
However, it has been boarded up for more than 15 years after a fire started in the basement in 2003.
Since then, repeated attempts have been made to reopen the former reading rooms for it to be used by the community again.
However, the original document signed by Sir George that donated the building to the town has been blamed for restricting its possible uses in the future.
The text specifies that it can only be used as a library, reading room or art museum.
It is estimated that a bid to the Court of Session to alter it will cost tens of thousands of pounds.