This Saturday sees the opening of Scotland’s latest international visitor attraction – Moat Brae house and garden, the new National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling.
The beautiful Georgian property in Dumfries, where the young J.M. Barrie and his friends played the games that inspired Peter Pan, was saved from demolition 10 years ago and £8 million has been raised for its restoration and transformation.
It is now looking forward to a new future – firing young imaginations and promoting a love of creativity – and is expected to attract 31,000 visitors a year and generate £1.3 million to the area’s economy.
Visitors will be able to enjoy themed interactive exhibits, reading and play areas, temporary exhibitions, a shop and café overlooking the river Nith. There will be costumed guides, discovery trails and a year-round programme of inspirational activities.
Among the delightful features will be the original Tinker Bell (a small bell that J.M. Barrie bought to be rung whenever his fairy character appeared in the original stage version of the story) and a spectacular dolls’ house nearly 6ft tall.
And outside, in the grounds where JM Barrie played pirates in the 1870s, will be the Neverland Discovery Garden with: A pirate ship; Wendy house; Mermaid’s Lagoon; A performance space- and much more.
Simon Davidson, Moat Brae Centre director, said: ‘The opening will be a very special moment – Moat Brae inspired a truly great storyteller to create one of the greatest and best-loved children’s tales of all time.
‘And now it has been brought back to life as our National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling in order to spark the imaginations of many thousands of young people from every corner of the world.’
Moat Brae, which J.M. Barrie referred to as ‘enchanted land’ will stage a wide variety of events and educational programmes.
It will also celebrate the immense richness of modern and classic poems, stories and children’s literature and illustrations from at home and abroad.
Dame Barbara Kelly, chairman of the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust (PPMBT) which runs the centre, said: ‘We are hugely grateful to all the many individuals and organisations who have come together to make our dream come true by saving Moat Brae and creating somewhere that children can play and let their imaginations roam free – just as J.M. Barrie’s did.’
The public fundraising campaign to save and restore Moat Brae was spearheaded by PPMBT Patron Joanna Lumley.
She said: ‘The moment you step into Moat Brae you understand why J.M. Barrie called it “enchanted land”.
‘It is fantastic that children and young people everywhere can now have the chance to enjoy its magic, discover the joys of Peter Pan, and revel in other children’s literature and stories from many different times, places and cultures. It’s a wonderful achievement.’
The project has been made possible thanks to the help of a wide variety of supporters including The National Lottery Heritage Fund, VisitScotland, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and Creative Scotland.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund contributed £1.78million to the transformation.
Riona McMorrow, Acting Head in Scotland, said: ‘The magical heritage of Peter Pan was for years hidden in the walls and garden of this neglected, old house. With funds raised by players of The National Lottery, magic and wonder now fill the air at Moat Brae. It will delight visitors from far and wide, inspiring a new generation of creative storytellers while protecting the wonderful legacy of J.M. Barrie.’
Caroline Clark, acting head of grants at Historic Environment Scotland, said: ‘We are pleased to support the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust with over £300,000 to restore the building and bring it back into reuse. We hope that generations of children to come will enjoy exploring the new National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling and be inspired to use their imagination, just as J.M. Barrie did when he played in the gardens almost 150 years ago.’
In years to come Moat Brae will host resident and visiting authors, poets, illustrators and others.
Moat Brae adds a major new addition to the visitor attractions of southern Scotland and provides a venue for other events and activities – for example staging performances during the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival and providing space for artists during the annual Spring Fling open studios weekend.
Paula Ward, VisitScotland Regional Leadership Director, said: “The opening of Moat Brae marks a new chapter for literary tourism in Scotland – the arrival of the Dumfries attraction is an important addition to our country’s literary legacy and is sure to propel the region into the spotlight, sprinkling its magical fairy dust across the South of Scotland and shining a spotlight on everything that it has to offer.
‘We know people people are inspired to visit destinations they know from books, TV or film and literary tourism is an important tool for helping us showcase Scotland to audiences around the world. Whether it is Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott or Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Scotland’s stories continue to entrance our visitors.
‘We hope that people young and old will feel inspired by the boy who never grew up and be transported back to childhood in a place where their imagination can run wild at Peter Pan Moat Brae.’
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