By Stuart Coull –
The Community Council has given its wholehearted support to Stonehaven Tolbooth Association (STA) in its bid to obtain a Community Asset Transfer (CAT) for the historic harbour-side building from Aberdeenshire Council.
STA members Gordon Ritchie and Andrew Newton were in attendance at the monthly SDCC meeting on Tuesday (April 11) to raise awareness of their application for transfer of ownership of the Tolbooth building, which was built in the 1600s, and garner community council support for the move.
The Tolbooth – the oldest building in Stonehaven – is currently owned by the Council, which gives the STA what’s known as a Rolling Licence to Occupy. The STA requires funding for essential maintenance work to the ancient structure, and they have planning permission in place for a significant extension. However sources of finance, such as lottery funding, are not available to them due to the STA not owning the building, or at least having a longer term lease on it. The first floor of the Tolbooth is leased as a Restaurant, and this would continue if STA take over the building.
Gordon Ritchie said: “The council gives us a rolling licence to occupy on an annual basis, which doesn’t really give us much security and doesn’t allow us to forward plan. It certainly wouldn’t allow us to get any lottery funding.
“You either need to have a very long lease or ownership, and we feel ownership would be preferable.
“It needs major repair and maintenance, the roof needs regular attention, the outside sandstone walls show considerable weathering and spalling. Internally, the walls of the museum are bare stone, and the floors are uneven. The ceiling of the museum is the floor of the restaurant above. Any spillages upstairs come straight through.
“The reason for the Community Asset Transfer application is for STA to obtain ownership of the whole building and continue to run the museum, using the income from the museum, donations from visitors and the shop, and the rent for the restaurant. Out of this we would maintain the whole building, and carry out improvements.”
Addressing members, Mr Ritchie added: “What Im looking for is your support for our application, which has been with the council for some time.”
Mr Ritchie said there has been significant support for their application amongst museum visitors, and he highlighted the museum’s central role in the community, as well as it being a source of tourist information for events such as the annual Fireballs ceremony.
He said: “We had a community drop-in day on March 11 and we had 100 visitors in 3 hours. We got questionnaires completed with nearly 100% support for what we are trying to do. So the public appreciate what we are doing, and we hope that the community council supports our efforts.
“The Tolbooth is essential to the fabric of Stonehaven; it continues to bring visitors to the town. Before COVID we had about 28,000 visitors, last year we were just short of 9,000 and hopefully that will be improved this year.
“We also have an educational function, telling the story of Stonehaven, connections with Dunnottar castle, the harbour, the fishing industry, famous people from Stonehaven, the fireballs, and other facets of the town.
“Last New Year’s Eve, we opened in the afternoon and we were very busy with lots of visitors from all over the world, wanting to know more about the fireballs. We were the only tourist type venue that was open.”
The Tolbooth was rebuilt in the 1960s by the town council, with a tea room upstairs, and the museum opened in the 1970s. It was closed by the Council in 2011, but reopened a few months later by a group of local volunteers. The STA was then set up and they have run it ever since.
In 2019, the STA received The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award possible for voluntary groups, and the Museum was visited by The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay, now King Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort.
Mr Ritchie added: “We have a committee of 12 with all the various skills and knowledge we need. We have spent 12 years running the museum and we have what we believe is one of the most successful museums in the north-east of Scotland.”
SDCC Chair David Lawman, said: “Can I take it that the community council wholeheartedly supports the STA in their endeavours to get a CAT?”
Community council members then unanimously supported the motion.
Mr Lawman added: “We want to wish you all the best with the project.”