An important landmark has been reached in securing a future for Perth’s A-listed Lower City Mills. Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust have announced an award of funding of £204,036 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, towards £286,912 of work to develop a full bid for a £2.7 million project to fully restore the building and its rare working machinery, allow public access once again, and establish a heritage skills and conservation hub, and centre for Scottish mills and milling.
Maggie Wilkins, the Trust’s chairperson, said “we are delighted with news of the funding – and we hope to secure local support and funding to help us make this national gem a significant part of Perth’s wider cultural offer.”
The Trust’s secured a benevolent lease of the building from Perth and Kinross Council with a view to finding a sustainable future for the historic site. Moving their headquarters to the Mills in late 2019 was a first step, however funding applications at that time were withdrawn in 2020 due to the impact of Covid. This saw most heritage funding directed towards supporting established heritage sites. The funding is a great start to developing the larger project, however the Trust still has to find around £900,000 over the next year to secure £1.2 million of National Lottery Heritage Fund cash.
The Trust’s Director, David Strachan, said “this is fantastic news for Perth. At a time where Perth & Kinross Council is investing £24M in the new City Hall museum, we need to ensure we make the most of all of Perth’s unique heritage assets.”
A nationally important survivor of the burgh’s agri-industrial past, the mill and its machinery saw an extensive programme of restoration in the 1980s by the then Perth and Kinross District Council, with the support of The Gannochy Trust and other agencies. It functioned as a working mill visitor attraction through the 1990s with a café and craft shop, and then became the home of the Perthshire Tourist Board. Public access ended in around 2001, however and the mill served as office accommodation for VisitScotland until they vacated in 2019.
Part of Perth’s Common Good, the structure has been on the Buildings at Risk Register since 2012 and the building requires conservation of both the building and its machinery. The Heritage Trust’s vision is for a sustainable future as a hub for heritage conservation and traditional skills, and as a hub for Scottish mills and milling.
While the mill won’t re-open as a visitor attraction in the short-term, public access will increase, and Doors Open Days in September 2021 saw over 100 people tour the mill and its lade, to find out more about Perth’s medieval past.
Another step towards bringing the building back into use will happen over the weekend of 7-8th May this year when The Trust will host first ever Scottish conference on mills and milling. Speakers such as Mark Watson from Historic Environment Scotland and Andrew Whitely from Scotland the Bread, will cover a range of topics including community projects, case studies and the process of milling. The conference will also feature a pop-up café with Scottish milled produce and a trip to visit mills in the local area. Details can be found here.
The quality and range of Perth’s craft work was recently recognised through its designation as the first UK City of Craft and Folk Art. The Lower City Mills project will revive the traditional crafts of the miller and the millwright through training schemes which will pass on these rare skills to future generations.
The Trust are asking the people of Perth to get in touch with any information, stories or photographs they may have relating to the mills at any stage of its use – including the 1980s restoration.