Dumfries’ Moat Brae has closed its loss-making retail division in response to a 70 per cent drop in visitors last year.
The center is now on a forced public closure through March and has eliminated its bistro, leading to a small number of job losses.
However, the center’s director, Dr Simon Davidson, said the Scottish Center for Children’s Literature and Storytelling has a bright future post-pandemic and will be “front and centre” for the country’s 2022 Year of Stories. when it reopens in the spring.
This includes a new partnership with the Wigtown Book Festival, a major world-class exhibition planned for July, the launch of a new Imagination Festival in August and hosting Scotland’s first Children’s Literature Conference in November.
A many-year £9 million fundraising campaign by the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust helped save the building on Dumfries’ George Street from demolition and patron Joanna Lumley officially opened the center in 2019.
It attracted 26,000 people in its first nine months before Covid-19 hit, leaving confidence with an uphill struggle from the business side of the site, which includes a bistro and gift shop, as visitor numbers dwindled. throughout the past year due to the pandemic.
It closed its doors this month with an advance Facebook post declaring it would be closed for the rest of January for “maintenance after a busy year”, but five employees are now known to have lost their jobs due to the closure of their bistro which generates losses.
Yesterday, however, Dr. Davidson confirmed that Moat Brae will not open to the public until spring, but will reopen next month for schools, community groups and pre-arranged tours.
He said: “Our bistro and shop have really suffered as a result of successive closures and restrictions and we recently made the very difficult decision to close the bistro indefinitely resulting in the sad loss of several key employees.
“Our visitor numbers last year were down 70 per cent compared to 2019 figures and with our quietest months still ahead of us, it had simply become unsustainable.
“We looked at all the options but, as a charity, the trust was unable to subsidize its commercial wing indefinitely, so it had no choice but to close the bistro until visitor numbers recover.
“People loved the bistro and I hope they come back one day.”
He said the trust had “welcomed” the Scottish Government’s recent announcement about lifting restrictions on hospitality “as it brings more certainty to our planning going forward.”
Trust chairwoman Flora Burns acknowledged that the last two years had been “extremely challenging” for Moat Brae.
She said: “Like any business that relies so heavily on footfalls, 2021 was a year of serious setbacks in establishing viable business operations designed to support our charity.
“It is only with the commitment and hard work of fellow trustees, supporters and staff that we have been able to navigate a path that sees the national hub continue to develop and flourish and with much to look forward to.”
A program featuring Benjamin Zephaniah, Nick Sharratt, Mara Menzies and Aardman Animations will launch in April as part of a new partnership with the Wigtown Book Festival.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.