Earlier this year PLB’s project at Moat Brae was reopened as Scotland’s first National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling. It has also received fantastic reviews from both its visitors and the media and is championed by Joanna Lumley, who said: “Moat Brae proves that dreams really can come true”.
The Georgian Villa can be found in the centre of Dumfries along with the internationally significant gardens where JM Barrie spent much time as a child and is known as the inspiration behind Peter Pan. Whilst attending Dumfries Academy Barrie became close friends with brothers Stuart and Hal Gordon who lived in the house and the three boys played there, on the banks of the River Nith. Later, the author described these years as some of the happiest of his life and the gardens as an “enchanted land (which) was certainly the genesis of that nefarious work.”
The Georgian townhouse, built in 1823, was originally designed by architect Walter Newell for a prominent Dumfries solicitor, but had since fallen into disrepair and vandalism, following a period of use as a hospital and then a nursing home. The Trust’s vision was to restore the house to its former glory and then extend to create a visitor attraction which would engage young people in reading, including providing access to stories for children of all ages and abilities.
PLB was asked to join a consultancy team, led by LDN Architects, to provide design and interpretation services for both the new centre and gardens, whilst they focused to conserve and restore the existing building and develop a new entrance extension and dedicated learning space. The £8.5 million, eight-year restoration project nearly did not happen as in 2009 the building was just three days away from demolition when it was saved by The Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust.
PLB’s interpretation brought elements of the Peter Pan stories magically to life in different areas of the house and gardens and created numerous cosy spots for children to engage with stories in their own ways. Simon Davidson, the director of the Moat Brae centre said “our vision was very simple, a world where reading and storytelling are an integral part of growing up… we want to find ways to engage children who can’t or who struggle to read, and there are multiple means of conveying a story”.
The interpretation is designed to inspire and be inclusive to all ages and abilities. The three -story house has interactive exhibits such as making Tinkerbell appear using a mobile phone, the opportunity to catch Peter Pan’s shadow as it moves around the attic recreation of the Darling children’s nursery as well a giant version of Nana’s kennel which children can crawl through into a play theatre with dressing-up props. It even houses the original ‘Tinker Bell’ a small bell which Barrie bought to be rung whenever his fairy character appeared in the original stage version of the story. The interpretation linked to the terraced gardens with integrated sounds along with, of course, a full-scale pirate ship and a Lost Boys’ treehouse for hours of endless outdoor adventure play.
The Centre received donations from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Creative Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland, alongside funding from the Scottish Government and Dumfries and Galloway council.