The Scottish book industry has spoken out in support of the creation of a new centre for children’s literature in Dumfries, due to open in 2017.
The Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust (PPMBT) is hoping to raise £5.9m to open the centre at Moat Brae—a Georgian townhouse, currently in a state of disrepair—where Peter Pan author J M Barrie played as a child.
Moat Brae was once owned by solicitor Henry Gordon, whose sons Stuart and Hal befriended Barrie. Barrie later said the games he played in the garden inspired the adventures of Peter Pan, who first appeared in his novel The Little White Bird (Hodder & Stoughton).
In the 20th century the house was used as a hospital, but by 1997 it had fallen into disrepair. The PPMBT was formed in 2009 to look after the house, and in October it was given a grant of £680,000 by Creative Scotland for the next phase of the building’s development.
Catherine Colwell, head of marketing and events at PPMBT, said it would be “Scotland’s first centre for children’s literature and storytelling”, with information about a range of authors and illustrators, not just Barrie. Plans for the three-storey centre include a shop, café, education pavilion and a Neverland discovery garden.
Jasmine Fassl, head of schools programme at Scottish Book Trust, said the plans for the centre were “really exciting”. “The more promotion of children’s reading and writing there is, the better,” she said. “There’s a vast appetite for live literature in Scotland. We do a lot of events, and they’re definitely on the up.”
Scotland is at a geographical disadvantage when it comes to attracting authors—especially to rural areas, Fassl said. “We want to entice readers to Edinburgh, but also to Aberdeen and Stirling. There are tiny primary schools in the Highlands, but there is still value in taking authors to them. Michael Morpurgo once did a tour of the Highlands and people there still talk about meeting him.”
Janet Smyth, Edinburgh Book Festival’s children and education programme director, said the centre would provide a focal point for children’s literacy in the region of Dumfries & Galloway: “Because of the rural spread, it would provide a great focus for the area.”
Colwell said the charity hoped to raise funding from trusts and charitable foundations, adding that it would also organise public fundraising events, including a performance of Barrie’s first play, “Bandolero the Bandit”, with the Scottish Youth Theatre next year. “When we were doing our research, we discovered the original manuscript of ‘Bandolero the Bandit’, written when he was only 17,” said Colwell.
Next year, Edinburgh- based publisher Birlinn will publish a book inspired by the house—Sixteen String Jack and the Garden of Adventure, written by Tom Pow and illustrated by Ian Andrew—and a graphic novel about Peter Pan, written and illustrated by Stephen White. Birlinn events co-ordinator Anna Renz said the centre would be a fitting tribute to Scotland’s rich heritage.
There are several other children’s literature and storytelling centres in the UK, but most are based in England—including Seven Stories in Newcastle and the Discover Children’s Story Centre in London.