Trust “gutted” by funding snub

A last-ditch appeal has been launched to save the unique Borders home of acclaimed woodworker Tim Stead for the nation.

Tuesday, 17th November 2020, 2:36 pm
Maggy Stead in the Steading at Blainslie.

The appeal, from the Tim Stead Trust, comes after after a bid for funding to purchase the property was knocked back by the UK’s National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), which said it was a “high-risk” project given current Covid-19 restrictions.

Nichola Fletcher MBE, chair of the trust, said: “We dispute that.

“Our project is eminently viable and, given that the purchase is for buildings which could be sold if need be, the risk is minimal. Our project is particularly covid-secure, being small, rural, and not reliant on catering or retail sales.

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“[Mr Stead’s widow] Maggy was offering to gift Tim’s entire archive and collection, worth over £250,000, as our contribution, so we are both disappointed and perplexed by this decision.”

The trust was established in 2015 with the aim of saving the house and its contents as a part of Scotland’s national heritage, benefiting the country and the local community.

Mr Stead, a sculptor, furniture maker and poet, died in 2000 at the age of 48.

His best-known works include Café Gandolfi in Glasgow, the Millennium Clock at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and the oil industry memorial chapel in the Kirk of St Nicholas in Aberdeen.

He was also a keen environmentalist, raising funds to create the UK’s first community woodland in the Borders at Wooplaw and helping form the Carrifran rewilding project.

But it’s at his home – the Steading, in Blainslie – where his love of working with wood is most clearly seen, as every room readily displays his genius; every piece hewn from locally-sourced wood.

One of the Steading’s biggest fans is the Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles, who has visited twice.

Maggy told us in 2016 that she wanted to retire back home to Europe, and said she wanted to safeguard the Steading’s future as a living showcase and to keep this highly significant example of Scottish craftsmanship and environmental philosophy here in the Borders, where it can be viewed, and touched, by the public.

Then, she said: “The trust was created to keep this house the home of Tim Stead, not as a museum, because museums are dead places, and there is a lot of life in this house.

“It has been an inspiration to many people and continues to be so.

“We think it should be a vibrant place, with an artist in residence, running workshops for children as well as adults.”

The trust has been working ever since, to try to make that dream a reality.

However, the decision by the NHMF has meant time is now almost up, and unless £450,000 is raised by the end of December, the house will be sold to a private bidder, who is already said to be waiting in the wings.

On hearing the news of the knockback from NHMF, Maggy said: “That is terrible news.

“This was my last hope that the Steading could be saved as part of national heritage.”

Mrs Fletcher said: “We are gutted.

“We have prepared a fantastic programme to make the future of the Steading not only secure and viable, but of huge benefit to a wide spectrum of people who are inspired by the extraordinary work of Tim Stead.

“It would give real, genuine benefit, both locally and nationally, and we have dozens of local organisations wanting to work in partnership with us.

“These proposals are highly appealing to funders and we have the resources to support us whilst applying for grants.”