Issue 202
March/April 2018

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Apr 27, 2018
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    Rescue plan for the mill on the Nith

    ONCE, at Dumfries railway station, there stood a lovely old cabbie's kiosk. Then, one morning before last Christmas, it disappeared. So, who dunnit? The finger points at someone but, as yet, Holmes and Watson haven't solved the crime. This vanishing act, and there have been many similar, reminds me of the time when, in the late 1970s, the then oldest house in Newton Stewart was demolished to make way for a Safeway's car park.

    So, who knows if Rosefield Mills, on the banks of Dumfries's River Nith, will escape the wreckers' ball? My guess is if it's down to the enthusiasm of the town's residents and Dumfries Historic Buildings Trust, this beautiful but derelict, Victorian building will survive.

    At the beginning of last year, this old woollen mill went to auction and Luke Moloney from DHBT, in securing the building with a deposit, received immediate support from the Prince's Regeneration Trust. Dumfries & Galloway Regional Council, other charitable bodies and the Architectural Heritage Fund agreed to fund the project's first stage (November 2017 – March 2018), which amounted to raising (£76,500) to buy the building, commissioning an architect's appraisal, a survey on what the community wants from the renovated mills and a business plan.

    "By the end of the first stage," explains Mark Zygadlo, the project co-ordinator, "we will have raised the bulk of the purchase price from the community itself, which shows how Dumfries regards this building and how important they feel it is."

    Rosefield Mills is unique. Apart from its architectural merit – built in 1886 in brick with steel posts and beams, with a façade of pink sandstone in a Venetian style – it exudes a Victorian confidence from a time when industrial Britain was at its height.

    Some 1,500 people worked in the mill, which was one of several that operated on the town's river. During WWI, Rosefield manufactured khaki serge for army uniforms and even blue cloth for the French army. But the mill closed in 1937 and the building has been used for all sorts of activities since, even billeting the Norwegian Army during WWII.

    Superbly positioned near the town centre, Rosefield's frontage is on the Nith. "People want the building to relate to the river," asserts Mark. "but because of the recent floods, it's been demonised. Although the town turns its back on it, people still want to enjoy it. Can you imagine anywhere else, other than Dumfries, situating in the centre of town a car park and bus stop on a beautiful river? It's tragic!"

    When all's said and done, what will this 2200 sq metre structure on two floors be used for? "At the moment, we have carloads of families leaving the town at the weekend for entertainment in Carlisle or Glasgow, which means that a lot of money is spent elsewhere."

    The community wants restored Rosefield to be all-inclusive, catering for all tastes, providing good meals, but nothing too exclusive or fancy, along with a flexible performance space for dance and theatre; also an area for gigs so that bands may have space to perform and a curated space for exhibitions.

    "You know how, in the old days, towns had Assembly Rooms. As a social hub, they were ideal for locals to gather around to drink tea, chatter and relax and even have a dance once a week. That's how I see Rosefield Mills!" says Mark.

    Although Dumfries with its population of 49,000, has cultural organisations like the Theatre Royal, the STOVE, The Big Burns Supper and the Arts Festival, these venues lack storage space and workshops.

    Since, accompanying the riverfront building which would serve as a social space, is a complex of smaller structures, sheds in varying states of repair and derelict spaces now functioning as garages, this huddle could eventually become offices, well-equipped central workshops, storage and individual artist space, and the large structure behind the main building is ideal for this purpose.

    It all sounds wonderful, but when quizzed on the likelihood of achieving his vision, Mark is philosophical. "Nobody's going to come and say, 'Well, here you are! Here's the money!' It's not like that these days. You have to put forward a bomb-proof plan and the way the budget is put together, must be fool-proof. The key to everything is that funding will cover renovation costs but from then on, the building will have to support itself."

    Who knows what will happen to Rosefield, but let's hope it will become Scotland's answer to Salts Mill, a former textile mill and now an art gallery showing local artist, David Hockney's paintings, a shopping centre and restaurant complex in Saltaire, near Bradford in West Yorkshire. As World Heritage Site, it enjoys the same status as the pyramids!

    So, go for it, all you Doonhamers! You can do it!

    Mary Gladstone

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