Saving JM Barrie’s Neverland

A new £8 million Peter Pan-themed visitor attraction will turn a “forgotten” corner of Scotland into an important tourist destination, it has been claimed.

The Dumfries mansion of Moat Brae, which features gardens that inspired JM Barrie, is being converted into a national centre for children’s literature and storytelling. It is expected to attract 250,000 extra visitors in its first five years and to bring millions of pounds into the region, where the economy has been struggling.

The B-listed building was abandoned in the 1990s and almost bulldozed. It was saved by the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust which has secured millions of pounds of lottery and grant funding to transform it into a literary visitor centre.

The attraction will feature a storytelling hub, exhibitions, galleries, a café and shop as well as an outdoor performance space alongside a pirate ship, mermaid’s lagoon and a Neverland garden.

JM Barrie, who was born in Kirriemuir, Angus, spent his adolescent years in Dumfries and played in the grounds of the Georgian townhouse with his friends Stewart and Hal Gordon. Referring to Peter Pan in his 1904 memoir he wrote: “Our escapades in a certain Dumfries garden, which is enchanted land to me, were certainly the genesis of that nefarious work.”

Dame Barbara Kelly, chairwoman of the trust, said: “This part of Scotland has largely been forgotten for a long, long time. In addition, Dumfries has been pretty challenged economically over the past few decades. The centre will boost the area economically and culturally and give the people of Dumfries and Galloway a new sense of pride about their heritage. We are also expecting loads of national and international visits.”

Cathy Agnew, project director, said: “The story of Peter Pan has a global appeal. People will come from all over the world to see the place that inspired JM Barrie. When the campaign began, Moat House was days from demolition. The roof was letting in water, the walls were saturated and the ceilings and plaster collapsing. The transformation is breathtaking. We are all so proud that it is still standing, has been restored, and will soon be a major new visitor attraction.”

The centre has been championed by Joanna Lumley, actress and patron of the trust, who will attend the official opening in March next year. Dame Barbara said: “Having Joanna’s support for the project has made a big difference to us. She has been wonderful.” 

After accepting the role Lumley said: “The idea this old and beautiful house can be saved and will become a children’s literature centre is brilliant. When I heard about it was just like Tinker Bell had gone ‘ping’ on my head with her wand.” 

A spokeswoman for VisitScotland said: “The centre has the potential to be a real game-changer for tourism in southwest Scotland. One in five visitors to Scotland have been influenced by books, TV programmes or films. A work as iconic as Peter Pan will bring lots more visitors to this part of the country.”

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