Gracemount Mansion was built in the late 18th century, expanded and altered many times over the years. The house and estate were gifted to Edinburgh Corporation in the early twentieth century and is still owned by its successor, the City of Edinburgh Council. The premises have been used for many community purposes, including a nursing home and a youth and community centre. Transition Edinburgh South runs the Gracemount Community Garden in the former walled garden of the Mansion.
The Mansion was closed for safety reasons in April 2018, resulting in the 5 different organisations that operated from there having to find new bases. This also meant the loss of toilets and kitchen facilities for the garden volunteers and the suspension of the very popular community meals we provided every Thursday lunchtime. Lack of maintenance and vandalism caused roof leaks, a ceiling collapse and created Health & Safety risks. An assessment of work necessary to bring the Grade B listed building back to good order was put at about £1.35M with a warning that the final costs were likely to rise to well over £2M. Perhaps not surprisingly, the council does not have this amount of money to spare and there is no money available for Grade B listed buildings from National Heritage Scotland (formerly Historic Scotland). In terms of the future, the issues that need to be considered include the difficulties of making the building ‘Fit for Purpose’, the costs and responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of such a building, and respecting the fact that the Mansion and grounds were gifted to the city for public use.
In 2020 the council commissioned a local consultation called ‘My Gracemount’ and the report is currently due. This council are forming plans for replacement schools and the report is expected to include proposals for the Mansion (as part of the council portfolio in the area) within a broad approach of how best to serve the community, on a reduced budget. TES has participated in consultation events and is currently speaking to a range of interested local groups to help establish a strong local voice, to best represent the interests of the community. The consultation, whilst well intended, was managed by the council, hence cannot be considered as neutral.
From the TES perspective it is vital that future proposals for the Mansion and grounds complement, or support the work we carry out in and around the walled garden, as any prospective new owner would become our landlord. Should a developer be taken on board this could put Gracemount Community Garden and our plans for a community cafe at risk. Watch this space is possibly the best way to describe the current situation here!
Should these issues be sufficiently resolved for TES to continue a Community Asset Tranfer of ownership of the walled garden that we started before things were thrown up in the air by the council’s uncertainty of its next steps, then whatever happens is going to take time to come to fruition. We could be talking of 5-7 years (or more) to put realistic and achievable plans into place for a supportive project. A project of this size will have major planning and listed building hurdles to overcome before anything will be carried out. The supporting Business Plan would need to reflect the timescale involved and associated costs.
With all of this in mind, we would invite any interested party keen to be involved in the future of the mansion and grounds, or with suggestions of how best to support the community, to get in touch and bring their ideas to the table as soon as possible.
Capital Asset Transfer of Garden and Stables
The site of Gracemount Community Garden, the grounds around it and the building known as the Mansion are owned by City of Edinburgh Council. TES has been in discussion with the council for several years about securing a 40-year lease of the walled garden and the now derelict stables building of the Mansion. The plan is to redevelop and expand the stables to create a community café and teaching kitchen, with some office space or room for a variety of community purposes. To that end, TES submitted a business plan as a stage 1 expression of interest in a Community Asset Transfer (CAT). Following a ceiling collapse and closure of the Mansion in April 2018, council officials encouraged TES to put plans on hold because of uncertainty about the future of the Mansion and its grounds. TES believe their future should be decided by local people and have gathered substantial local support to make the CAT application. The council has conducted its own consultation called ‘My Gracemount’. TES hope to get greater clarity soon, subject to the outcome of the ‘My Gracemount’ report.