Actress Joanna Lumley today urged admirers of author JM Barrie to help raise the final £1.5m to transform a Georgian house said to have inspired him to create Peter Pan into a centre for children’s literature and storytelling.
Lumley, the patron of a trust which rescued Moat Brae House in Dumfries from demolition six years ago, has recorded a video plea to help ensure the £5.5 million project is finished by 2017.
You can make your gift as big as the crocodileJoanna Lumley
Her plea was released online ahead of a Scottish Youth Theatre performance of a “lost” Barrie play, Bandelero the Bandit, for the first time in 138 years.
Written and performed in 1877 while Barrie was still a pupil at Dumfries Academy, a handwritten copy of the script for what was his first ever play was recently discovered in a library in Yale University, in the United States, even though the writer thought it had been destroyed.
Barrie, who was born in 1860 in Kirriemuir, Angus, spent his teenage years in Dumfries and played in the garden of the house with friends Stuart and Hal Gordon, who lived there.
The Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust launched an initial fundraising campaign spearheaded by Lumley, who has a home in Dumfriesshire, in August 2011. It has already secured the backing of Historic Scotland, Creative Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The final tranche of funding will largely pay for the creation of a “garden of discovery,” named after Neverland, the fictional location featured in Barrie’s famous stories. It will be specially landscaped with a Peter Pan theme and even have an area for outdoor performances.
The B-listed building, which was designed by celebrated Dumfriesshire architect Walter Newall and dates back to 1823, has been made wind and watertight, and had a new roof installed since being taken over by the trust. The restoration project will see the creation of permanent and temporary exhibitions, a children’s library, education workshops, a cafe and a shop. Work on the next phase of the project is hoped to begin later this year if the final tranche of funding can be secured.
In her message, Lumley said: “As a little boy it was Moat Brae House, and its lovely garden, where JM Barrie played and dreamed up the story of Peter.
“We’re looking for funds to develop the garden into a place for Neverland, for children to roam free, where their imaginations can catch fire, they can think of anything, examine stories and see the power of imagination. You can make your gift as big as the crocodile in Peter Pan or as tiny as Tinkerbell, but do just give something and give it now.”
Project director Cathy Agnew said: “Around £750,000 has been spent on the building so far to make it safe and secure. We don’t want to press the button on the rest of the work until all the funding is in place.”