The premises have been used for many community purposes, including a nursing home and a youth and community centre. Transition Edinburgh South (TES) runs the Gracemount Community Garden in the former walled garden of the Mansion.
Up until the early twentieth century, it was common for a big house standing in its own grounds to have a walled garden. Charles Green, a book publisher and local Land Lord then owned the Masion. He would have employed at least one full-time gardener and a cook, and perhaps other servants. In these days, the cook and the gardener were expected to make sure the household could eat home-grown fruit and vegetable all year. This meant careful planning by the gardener and, in the days before fridges and freezers, somebody who knew how to bottle, preserve and store produce as well as make the dinner.
We can guess what was grown then. We know that there were greenhouses. Tomatoes, peaches and more exotic fruit and vegetables might have joined the more usual salad, green and root vegetables growing outside. After the ownership passed to the local authority, the Parks Department ran the garden as a nursery for all the city parks until 1978. Then it became overgrown. Meanwhile, the Mansion was a youth and community centre. In 2001, John Boag, the youth and community worker, helped the garden enter and win a competition run by the TV programme, Beechgrove Garden. It then received a make-over as an ornamental and recreational garden. When funding ended, it gradually became neglected. In 2013, TES secured Climate Challenge funding for a project called Grow Stronger and could employ staff. This was the beginning of the current Gracemount Community Garden, once again growing fruit and vegetables. Many funders have helped . We now have a great team of staff and volunteers. The garden grows for the local community in ways that are good of wildlife and the environment.
Gracemount Community Garden, the grounds around it and the building known as the Mansion are owned by City of Edinburgh Council. TES is securing a 40-year lease from the council of the walled garden and the derelict stables block 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 rooms 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) for the above. However, following a ceiling collapse and closure of the Mansion in April 2018, council officials encouraged TES to put our plans on hold because of uncertainty about the future of the Mansion and its grounds. Since then Friends of the Mansion reformed and TES has worked with them to gather local support for the setting up of the Gracemount Mansion Development Trust and an expanded CAT application.
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 extremely popular community meals we provided every Thursday lunchtime. Since then TES raised funds for a portacabin to mitigate the loss of toilets and kitchen. Unexpected difficulties in getting this connected to electricity are not yet sorted.
An assessment of work necessary to bring the Mansion, a Grade B listed building, back to good order was put at about £1.35M (in 2018) with a warning that the final costs were likely to rise to well over £2M. Gracemount Mangement Development Trust are determined to make the building ‘Fit for Purpose’ and work out how to sustain the operating costs and the ongoing maintenance of such a building, respecting the fact that the Mansion and grounds were gifted to the city for public use.
In 2020 City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) commissioned a local consultation called ‘My Gracemount’. This was completed but not widely circulated. TES and Friends of the Mansion have since conducted further consultation with a range of interested local groups to help establish a strong local voice, to best represent the interests of the community.
The Gracemount Management Development Trust are working towards the full asset transfer and seeking to secure the future of the mansion. You can view the plans on the page about the future and see regular updates on their website.