Hanging on to the Haining
THE future of one of the region's most magical estates came under scrutiny last week at a packed public meeting in Selkirk.
Ever since retired lawyer Andrew Nimmo-Smith bequeathed his Haining home and surrounding estate to a charitable trust exactly three years ago division and opposing opinions have been to the fore.
But the Haining Charitable Trust's public meeting last week was told of a solid vision and sustainable future for the mansion, out-buildings and designed landscapes.
And details of the first phase of work, which starts this week, were unveiled.
Over the past two years the Haining's trustees have been guided by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust.
Its chairman, John Campbell QC, told Thursday's meeting: "We are honoured to be involved with this project and to help realise Mr Nimmo-Smith's wishes for the Haining to benefit the people of Selkirkshire."
Following Mr Nimmo-Smith's death in July, 2009, three Trustees, led by his legal representative Susan Eddington, faced a race against time to create a workable Charitable Trust to take forward the reclusive former lawyer's wishes.
If they had failed to form the Haining Charitable Trust within the 12 months, the entire estate would have been left to distant family members, and likely sold off.
Following the inception of the Trust in 2010, they brought in the experts to hold their hands through the various appraisals, studies, funding applications and condition reports.
Una Richards from the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust said: "We have been involved with the Haining Charitable Trust for over two years. From the consultation events that have been held there seems to be a lot of common thought for how the estate should be taken forward.
"We had to meet the conditions of Mr Nimmo-Smith's will and we also had to meet the regulations that go with being a charitable trust. Even more importantly, we had to produce a robust business plan for the future of the Haining."
Work on making the estate more accessible started two years ago with the creation of a footpath from Selkirk town centre car park. And upgrade work on the circular trail around the loch has also started.
But the largest project to date started this week with the restoration and conversion of the disused Coach House.
A total of six for-rent workshop studios will be created as part of the £970,000, fully funded, project - with the work carried by out by Borders firm, James Swinton & Company. The European Regional Development Fund along with Creative Scotland, Historic Scotland and Scottish Borders Council, as well as charity donations, are paying for the first phase of improvements.
And a separate smaller project on the main mansion house to restore the window shutters should also start later this year.
Mr Campbell added: "We want to do everything in slow manageable packages. The funders will look carefully at the track record of the Haining Charitable Trust as things progress."
Future plans include creating a centre for culture with exhibit space within the main house and a full year-round programme of events, as well as turning the estate into a popular venue for weddings, receptions and tourism.
And a community archaeological dig is in the pipeline for the Peel Hill part of the estate, site of Selkirk's royal castle which was destroyed during the 14th century wars of independence.
Susan Eddington, who has been the face of the Haining Charitable Trust since its formation, told us: "A lot of work has been done and a lot of work is about to be done at the Haining.
"The one thing we perhaps haven't done too well is communicate with the people of Selkirk and Selkirkshire, and that is why we are having these public meetings. We are learning as we are going."
Since the Haining Charitable Trust took over the running of the estate there has been a number of doubters.
And several were amongst Thursday's 150-strong crowd to raise their concerns.
Jim Sinclair, who lives in Dairy Cottage just 100 yards from the main house, is being forced to pack his bags after 20 years.
He blasted: "For me the Haining Charitable Trust are ruining the Haining. The biodiversity of the estate is being destroyed by these developments - I stand outside Daisy Cottage and there are no songbirds any more. All the insects have been wiped out as swathes of habitats are dug up."
The Haining estate dates back more than 500 years and has passed through the hands of some of the region's most noble families, including the Pringles, Riddells and Scotts.
Secret tunnels, bear pits and ice houses add to the mystery of the grounds, which also boasts its very own ghost.
But there was criticism on Thursday that much of the Haining's character is being eroded by the developments. Local writer Julian Colton said: "Most of the people of Selkirk are accustomed to the essential character of the Haining. It is a great concern that it is being spoiled."
But the meeting was also told of a band of 49 volunteers from in and around the town who are already giving up there time to help preserve the house and estate.
And a Friends of the Haining group was launched during the evening.
Volunteer Ewan MacDougall said: "Local people from all walks of life and of all ages have come forward to help. The Haining will benefit the people of Selkirk more than anyone else as it is right on our doorstep."
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