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Open Day for saved Scottish architecture gem

The John McAslan Family Trust is currently heading the transformation of the derelict, Grade B-listed Burgh Hall in Dunoon, a gem of Victorian civic architecture by Glaswegian architect Robert Bryden. Still regarded as Dunoon's most significant civic building, the Burgh Hall was in a severe state of disrepair and without a future when acquired by the John McAslan Family Trust in November 2008. The Trust is currently transforming the building into a community arts centre in collaboration with the Friends of the Burgh Hall and the local community. The Burgh Hall demonstrates that with local support, limited funds and a phased delivery plan, communities can regenerate their civic derelict buildings for future use.

The Burgh Hall will re-open on 2 May 2009 with a day of festivities, including live music, highland dancing, a display of paintings and drawings from the Glasgow Boys, loaned from the Ewan Mundy Fine Art Gallery in Glasgow, and an exhibition of photographs of the A8 Road Corridor by acclaimed Magnum photographer Martin Parr. The Open Day aims to be like a US-styled Country Fair where the building is open to everybody in the community to exhibit and contribute. 

Originally opened in 1874, the Burgh Hall was for a time the only theatre in Argyll and remained a focus of public life up until the 1960s. Designed in Scots Baronial style by Robert Bryden, the Burgh Hall had an initial capacity of 500, marking Dunoon's rising popularity as one of the most important resorts on the western coast of Scotland.

John McAslan, Principal of John McAslan + Partners, adds, "I was brought up in Dunoon and remember visiting the Burgh Hall during my childhood. It is a fantastic piece of civic architecture, with its local green schist stone façades and elaborate internal plasterwork still intact. It was crying out to be saved and brought back to life as a community arts centre, and that is exactly what we aim to achieve. We plan to return this wonderful building into active use for the local community by early 2011. To date, In terms of funding, the JMFT has committed close to £100,000 to the project and we are now appealing for significant additional funding to complete the project, the total cost of which could be close to £1.5 million."

To date, works carried out include: removal of asbestos, roof repairs, dry and wet rot remedial works, window repairs, basic plumbing, electrics and redecoration, with sufficient repairs to bring the building back into use. Phase 2 of the project will bring the building back into active use, including external repairs to the stonework, guttering and stained glass window, painting and decorating, providing a stair lift, more toilets, a Friends Room, an exhibition/meeting space, as well as lighting and equipment for the main hall. Phases 3 and 4 will create a booking office, bookshop, a café, a caretaker's flat, installation of a lift and the restoration of the balcony in the main hall.

Currently Dunoon's cultural highlight is the world's biggest Highland Games, the Cowal Games, which are held every August and attended by 3,500 competitors from around the globe. The John McAslan Family Trust's aim is that the Burgh Hall project will provide continuous support for the town's creative industry base, to supplement the Cowal Games and the town's holiday resort status.

John McAslan adds, "The McAslan Trust has committed close to £100,000 to the initial work to save the Burgh Hall, but we are now appealing for significant additional funding - there is a huge amount still to be done to fully repair and fit out the building with arts spaces, community facilities and a fully operational performance space. The Open Day on 2nd May is intended to celebrate the building's rescue and also to highlight the considerable conservation and renewal work that lies ahead."
Comedian Billy Connolly famously mourned Dunoon's declining tourist trade during the 1960s with a comic tirade entitled, "Why don't they come back to Dunoon?" The town can also claim a number of thespian supporters, including Emma Thompson, who has a house in the town and Kate Winslet, who spent her honeymoon there. Julianne Moore's mother was born in Dunoon and the actress still has family in the town.
The area also has a rich political history: Holy Loch became internationally famous during the Cold War when in 1961 the US navy submarine USS Proteus brought Polaris ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines and CND protestors to the Firth of Clyde at nearby Sandbank, and Dunoon provided shore facilities.  It proved to be the most active and sustained campaigns of protest in modern British history and threatened to drive a wedge between Britain and America. Today, the area has close links with the US, further emphasised by Scotland's Year of Homecoming, an events programme celebrating Scotland's great contributions to the world, including its rich culture and heritage.

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