Grapes rejuvenated by CARS scheme

The old Grapes Hotel, Whithorn.
The old Grapes Hotel, Whithorn.

THE former Grapes Hotel in Whithorn, once regarded as the biggest eyesore in the town has been rejuvenated, thanks to funding from the Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS).

Many properties in the historic main streets of the town benefited from the CARS scheme but the Grapes was regarded as the flagship property in the scheme and, accordingly , got he biggest grant for improvements.

Dumfries and Galloway Council Conservation Officer, Volkmar Nix, who was heavily involved in the project said: “Our council had long recognised the unique and special character of Whithorn and so was delighted to be able to apply to Historic Scotland for funding under a newly launched initiative by the Scottish Government in 2005. The initiative enabled the setting up of the Whithorn Conservation Regeneration Scheme (CARS), with funding amounting in total to over £500,000.

“In the early stages considerable support was received from the Whithorn and District Business Association and the Whithorn Regeneration Group who helped Solway Heritage prepare the initial submission to Historic Scotland.

“The application for funding was successful and the scheme in Whithorn formally launched in March 2007. With guidance from Historic Scotland the scheme comprised three main elements;

* A property repair grants scheme that would help individual property owners repair and restore buildings to a high conservation standard. Originally it was envisaged that some 26 buildings would be helped, but in the end a total of 36 received grant assistance. Part of that element was the definition of the priority building, the former Grapes Hotel. This building had been the subject of unsuccessful repair schemes before and because of its prominence in the centre of the conservation area it was felt that its repair and restoration should be a critical part of the CARS.

* Works to a select part of the public realm. After considerable discussion the upgrading of Bruce Street was settled upon as it was an important route in the most historic part of the town; and

* Training for local contractors and awareness-raising for local residents. Two successful events for contractors, to help them better understand the preparation and use of traditional lime mortar, took place. A meeting and, as part of Doors Open Days, a public event organised by the Scottish Lime Centre Trust, provided information and ‘hands on’ experience for local householders.

“The original aims of the scheme were to arrest the decline in the building fabric, to bring a key vacant property back into use, to better understand the local heritage and to allow Whithorn to prosper once more. These aims have been met and through the CARS Whithorn can again be seen as a gem amongst the historic burghs of Dumfries and Galloway.

“The Whithorn CARS was but a part of the wider initiatives that had been taken and continue now with the focus on Whithorn as the Cradle of Scottish Christianity. Repairing the buildings and improving the streetscape has given the town a boost. This work can be taken forward and, even though there are no longer grants for the repair work, the sense of place and pride in the historic built environment means that in future the care of the historic buildings of Whithorn will be undertaken with a sensitivity befitting the town.”

A spokesperson for Historic Scotland said: “The Conservation Area Regeneration Schemes support initiatives to improve the historic character of areas and give a boost to communities across Scotland. Whithorn was awarded £370,000 in 2007.

“In addition to funding repairs to the Grapes Hotel, a significant numbers of small grants were made available to property owners for high quality repairs and conservation, some public realm work and training programmes in traditional skills.”

Another hotel in the news recently has been the Ellangowan Hotel in Creetown, currently in the process of being sold.

Selling agent Colliers International spokesman Alistair Letham said: “We are dealing now with a preferred bidder on the hotel and respective solicitors are exchanging missives as part of the legal and due diligence process. We are not at liberty, as yet, to disclose the identity of the preferred bidder.”