Dumfries House: The ten year plan which lifted a town

Prince Charles met people from local community groups. Credit: ITV News

During the weeks in which the anniversary of Princess Diana’s death has been a big story, her former husband has maintained a low profile.

As we said on News at Ten last week, there was no point in Prince Charles taking part in a popularity contest when it came to marking Diana’s death 20 years before.

But now that moment has passed, the Prince of Wales is returning to work.

In Scotland, where he is known as the Duke of Rothesay, he’s been marking the tenth anniversary of the rescue of Dumfries House.

Dumfries House was due to be sold off. Credit: ITV News

Never heard of Dumfries House?

Well, it’s a story worth hearing about.

In 2007, the stately home, nestled in the Ayrshire countryside, was about to be sold off – and with it much of the old furniture and antiques inside.

So the Prince decided to use his various charities to buy it – and save the house for the nation.

Charles and Camilla are known as the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay in Scotland. Credit: ITV News

Now, saving an old house is one thing – but what was done here has also saved a community depressed by years of neglect after the closure of the coal mines.

Ayrshire might not trip off the tongue when on a list of the country’s once prominent coal mining regions – like South Wales, or Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire.

But here, the closure of the pits had the same, depressing effect: a loss of jobs, a failure of the local economy, and the slow demise of the entire community.

So what can one stately home in the hands of the charities of the heir to the throne do about it?

A garden party was held to mark the 10th anniversary of Dumfries House being saved. Credit: ITV News

Well, it turns out, quite a lot.

If you open the grounds to the people – free of charge.

If you employ local people to carry out the work to renovate the house and transform the grounds.

If you build holiday cottages for rent and hire the estate for weddings.

If you build kitchens to train the locals – even if they never knew that cooking was a career for them.

If you train the unemployed in front-of-house hospitality, have school children in for lessons on how food grows, build a sports hall for locals to hire, create accommodation for scouts and guides and companies wanting space for team building.

If you do all those things, you can change a community’s lot.

  • Prince Charles tells ITV News which parts of the project he is most proud of

Because here, the profits from Dumfries House have paid for the renovation of the local town hall, for the rebuild of the town’s swimming pool and have stimulated the construction of new affordable housing.

And so it’s possible to argue that the saving of one country house has done much, much more than simply preserve a few bits of bricks and mortar (important as they are).

Holiday cottages have been built to be rented out. Credit: ITV News

What struck me about my time here is how successful Prince Charles’ idea has been.

Dumfries House is now the second biggest employer in the area: the 200 employees include the staff on the estate, the lifeguards at the new swimming pool, and the man working in the reception of perhaps the best village community hall I have ever seen.

And before the money came from Dumfries House to renovate the hall, the local council was planning to knock it down.

Yes, demolish it.

Dumfries House has benefited the local community. Credit: ITV News

The Prince of Wales often gets knocked for his ideas and his long-held views on agriculture and the built environment, but rarely before have I seen a project in which the positive effects permeate into so many places.

In fact, you wonder why the idea can’t be put in a bottle and sold around the country.

I spent some time trying to find a downside, a negative or a bad consequence – and I couldn’t, although the rain was a bit too heavy for my liking at times.

Dumfries House is the second biggest employer in the area. Credit: ITV News

The town of Cumnock and the surrounding area still needs a lot of help, some more jobs, more shops, a few more people moving into the area rather than away from it.

This corner of Ayrshire still needs more businesses to employ the local apprentices which have been trained by Charles’ charity, The Princes Trust.

And there remain many areas where the housing is poor and the opportunities poorer still.

But you do dread what this area would be like today if Dumfries House had not been saved in 2007.

Rain failed to dampen the spirits of the garden party. Credit: ITV News