Last edited 20 Feb 2022

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Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

Aberdeenshire and the North East of Scotland Preservation Trust

With the North East of Scotland Preservation Trust relying on Aberdeenshire Council to provide operational support, there are benefits to both organisations.

Tullich church.png
Tullich Church after consolidation: following a harsh winter the ruins had started to collapse.



As pressures on the public purse increase and the competition for funding tightens, it is becoming increasingly important for organisations to draw on their strengths to bring projects forward which protect our heritage. Unlike city heritage trusts, which often benefit from annual funding grants from central government, the North East of Scotland Preservation Trust (NESPT) is reliant on Aberdeenshire Council to provide that operational support.

Aberdeenshire covers a vast geographical area, spreading to the Moray coast in the north, out west to Braemar and the Cairngorm National Park, and south to the boundaries of Angus. Coupled with the rurality of the region, this presents huge challenges for the organisations.

The NESPT, which holds charitable status and operates as a company limited by guarantee, has roots back to 1985. It was founded through an initiative by Grampian Regional Council and the Scottish Civic Trust. It operated on a revolving-fund basis, with the proceeds generated by one project being used to form the working capital for the next. When working with the Banff Preservation Trust (a trust set up wholly for the benefit of Banff’s historic buildings) they renovated a number of houses in the north of Aberdeenshire. Around 1999 Marcus Humphries (the now chairman) was appointed to the council of management by Aberdeenshire Council and awarded a £3,000 annual grant with the aim of protecting Aberdeenshire’s architectural heritage.

Now the North East of Scotland Preservation Trust has a full time project manager in the form of Paul Higson. Although appointed by the trust, he is hosted by Aberdeenshire Council, which currently meets 50 per cent of the costs associated with that role. The NESPT has long wished to be a financially viable organisation with an original model of taking on properties and raising funding to cover the costs of the development. But as funding streams have become more stringent and opportunities more complex, the model of turning over residential dwellings has had to adapt and change. The trust also undertakes private consultancy work for community groups as a means of independent income.

Aberdeenshire Council has had a strategic focus on heritage-led regeneration. This has presented unique project opportunities for the NESPT through conservation area regeneration (CARS) and Heritage Lottery-funded town centre schemes, formerly townscape heritage initiatives. The council further administers the Scottish Government Town Centre Fund. From the perspective of Aberdeenshire Council, the NESPT provides solutions for challenging buildings without restrictions of being a local authority. It enables access to broader funding streams, and has provided the council with a strong link between communities and aspirations for building acquisition, in some cases related to community asset transfers.

2/4 Old Castlegate, Banff

This Category B listed Georgian townhouse in the Banff Conservation Area was once a dentist’s surgery. Severe structural problems led to the building being abandoned and acquired by the council by a compulsory purchase order. The council could not afford to redevelop the building due to the development cost being well in excess of the end value. The council asked the NESPT to take ownership of the building and to take on the redevelopment work. In return the council agreed to host the post of NESPT project manager/trust administrator and cover the costs for an initial period of three years. The redevelopment cost was £780,000 and the end value (sale) was £398,500, leaving a conservation deficit of £381,500. The NESPT secured grants from HES, HLF, council, Pilgrim Trust, Monument Trust, Leche Trust and Scottish Enterprise Grampian to cover the deficit.

Sail Loft, Portsoy

This key building in the Portsoy CARS was taken on by Portsoy Community Enterprise. The NESPT acquired the range of derelict, Category B listed buildings at Back Green in the Portsoy Conservation Area for £1 in October 2006. The original idea was to convert the buildings into houses and to build new houses in the grounds. This proposal was abandoned in 2009 following serious flooding of the site. Over the next few years the idea of converting the buildings into bunkhouse accommodation for visitors was developed with the support of the local community and the agreement of the council’s flood prevention unit.

It took the NESPT many years to raise the funding but work finally started on site in 2015. The first-ever grant in Scotland from the HLF’s Heritage Enterprise Scheme to the value of £878,000 was secured, and with grants from the Coastal Communities Fund, HES via the Portsoy CARS and AHF (£15,000 development grants and £250,000 loan). The completed building was handed over by the NESPT to Portsoy Community Enterprise to operate as the four-star Sail Loft Bunkhouse. The bunkhouse was officially opened nearly 11 years after acquisition.

49–53 Bridge Street, Banff

This Category B listed building in the Banff Conservation Area was in a seriously dilapidated condition. The development of a CARS in the area provided the opportunity to encourage the owner to repair the building or sell it. The NESPT tried to buy the building without success. The council eventually served a repairs notice on the owner, and undertook emergency work to prop up the building and prevent its collapse. The next step would have been a CPO, but to speed things up and to allow a CARS grant to be secured, the NESPT managed to buy the building from the owner for £1.

An options appraisal, funded by the council and the Architectural Heritage Fund, identified a great use for the building as accommodation for student silversmiths studying at the nearby Scottish Centre for Excellence in Silversmithing (a project also helped by a CARS grant). The accommodation, called the Silversmiths Quarters, would comprise three self-contained, one-bedroom townhouses and would be run by Vanilla Ink, operators of the Silversmithing Centre. Work started on site in 2019, funded by grants from North Aberdeenshire LEADER, council regeneration fund, HES via the Bridge Street CARS, HLF, AHF and the Pilgrim Trust. Work was completed in February 2020 but the houses have yet to open due to Covid-19 lockdown.

John Trail Hotel Project

This key building in the Fraserburgh 2021 TH/CARS was identified as a priority when the area was first surveyed. The building was initially understood to have no owner and so essentially handed back to the state. However, on investigation a previous owner came to light, but the company had been dissolved and had to be reformed temporarily to allow ownership to be transferred to the council. The council approached the NESPT to take over the property so it was able to access funds not available to the local authority (with the same model as Banff), find an end use, raise the funds find a tenant/operator and act as ongoing landlord. This was even further from the NESPT’s core aims as the building was not listed, but there were benefits in terms of continuing income for the trust, and this would enable the council to find an owner/operator.

This time the building would be turned in to a hotel; this need was identified initially through community support and confirmed through an options appraisal. Work was due to start on site at the end of March 2020 but was delayed until the end of June by the Covid-19 lockdown. The NESPT has secured funding from F2021, a partnership between the council, HES and the NLHF, Scottish Government Town Centre Fund, council regeneration fund and AHF. On completion in the autumn of 2021 the NESPT will lease the hotel to a local operator.

Former Clydesdale Bank, Fraserburgh

This Category B listed building situated in the Fraserburgh Conservation Area became available when the Clydesdale Bank closed the branch. It was attached to the John Trail Building and created an opportunity to extend the hotel being developed there. The NESPT purchased the building and carried out essential repairs during February to April 2020 using a grant of £140,500 from the Scottish Government Town Centre Fund. Applications for planning permission and listed building consent were submitted in November 2020 and work on the building warrant application is ongoing. The NESPT has secured a further grant of £312,774 from the Scottish Government Town Centre Fund. This will allow the development work to be completed and some capital works, such as refurbishment of the exterior and work to link the two buildings together, to begin soon, with completion this autumn.

Tullich Church

Consolidation of a medieval scheduled church and the construction of a bespoke shelter to house an important Pictish stone collection. The NESPT put together a funding package from Cairngorm LEADER, Heritage Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, Wolfson Foundation and Aberdeenshire Council. It is a good example of the NESPT, Aberdeenshire Council and the community working together. The scheduled monument, owned by Aberdeenshire Council, was a ruined church which had a significant collection of 17 Pictish stones. A small sum of money had been allocated to a project to conserve the stones and construct a purpose-built shelter on-site to protect them. However, following a harsh winter the church started to collapse. This took the project from being a £37,500 project to a £250,000 project, and beyond the ability of the council to deliver without support. The project had strong community support from people who had an emotional connection to the site. The council required the skills of the NESPT as funding specialist to develop a funding package to deliver the project, and to engage the community and harness its enthusiasm to support the application and deliver a training and outreach programme.

This article originally appeared in Context 169, published by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) in September 2021. It was written by Cheryl Roberts, environment planner south (built heritage) with Aberdeenshire Council. .

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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