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Campaigners who have fought to keep doors of Moray landmarks open embrace growth deal support

Stuart Huyton, a member of Friends of Grant Lodge, outside Grant Lodge in Elgin.
Stuart Huyton, a member of Friends of Grant Lodge, outside Grant Lodge in Elgin.

Campaigners who have been fighting to support two under-threat Moray landmarks have backed the growth deal vision aimed at revitalising them.

Elgin’s Grant Lodge has been boarded up for 17 years after a blaze started in the building’s basement before reaching the upper floors.

Efforts to restore the 18th Century former library have been thwarted until now, partly due to restrictions in the deed of gift legal document that transferred ownership of the building to the town in 1903.

Hopes have now been raised the Cooper Park landmark can be reopened as part of the £100 million growth deal package confirmed this week for Moray as part of a “cultural quarter” project.

The UK Government has committed £3.5 million, with local organisations pledging £14.9 million to projects including reopening the building as a visitor centre showcasing the area’s heritage and food and drink industries.

Last year campaigners had lodged documents with the council to take over Grant Lodge and reopen it with their own heritage centre vision as an alternative.

However, supporters yesterday backed the growth deal project.

Stuart Huyton, a member of the Friends of Grant Lodge campaign group, said: “We’re obviously pleased the future of the building looks to be more secure than it has been for a number of years.

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“Ultimately, our aim is to have it restored and brought back into use.

“It’s good the growth deal will do that. It’s important it gets done before it passes beyond the point of repair.

“We will obviously keep our eye on it and see if there is a way for us members of the Grant Lodge Trust to be involved in the future.”

Mike Devenney, chairman of the Elgin Town Hall for the community working group, outside Elgin Town Hall

The wider cultural quarter project in Elgin, which is receiving a further £12.7 million from the Scottish Government in the package, also includes support for a privately-funded hotel development and improvements for the Cooper Park and Lossie Green area.

The funding also includes a refurbishment of Elgin Town Hall, which was under threat of closure just two years ago.

Volunteers have been running the venue since August 2018 to keep the doors open in the face of Moray Council budget cuts.

Yesterday, Mike Devenney, chairman of Elgin Town Hall for the Community, said the funding would expand the range of events capable of being hosted at the venue.

He said: “We’re happy in the extreme that the town hall has been formally included in the deal.

“I’ve been reflecting on where we were two years ago and I don’t think anybody could have imagined we would be where we are now.

“I don’t think anybody would be in the hall if we hadn’t taken the keys.

“There’s still a job to be done to make it happen. One of the most important points for me is to ensure that what we have at the end is self-sustaining.”

Industry leaders have continued to welcome government support for the Moray growth deal bid.

The £100 million project, which is receiving a combined £65 million from the UK and Scottish governments, is expected to be delivered over the next 15 years.

Officials expect the value of the funding, which remains subject to business cases being approved, to treble with external private support.

Yesterday Moray College UHI welcomed investment that will enable it to create two new campuses, with one to support growing businesses in Elgin and another near RAF Lossiemouth to nurture the next generation of aviation talent.

Crichton Lang, interim principal of UHI, said: “The nature of employment is changing and we are working with employers, communities and learners to respond to their needs.

“As a flourishing university, we aim to retain, attract and nurture talent in our region to reverse population decline and build innovation and socio-economic prosperity.”

Charlotte Wright, chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, added: “This will support projects that create opportunities to build on the local economy and diversify it to ensure we have jobs for the future in our Moray communities.”

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