David Livingstone’s birthplace needs £12m lifeline

Livingstone explored Africa in the 1850s.  Picture: Getty Images
Livingstone explored Africa in the 1850s. Picture: Getty Images
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THE birthplace of the nation’s most famous explorer may be closed down unless it gets a multi-million-pound refurbishment, The Scotsman can reveal.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has warned it may have to stop financial support for the attraction at the old Lanarkshire cotton mill where David Livingstone lived and worked.

At least £12 million is needed to bring the centre dedicated to his exploration of Africa up to modern-day standards. Trustees of the conservation body, which does not own the birthplace museum, have warned NTS can no longer subsidise the centre in its current form because of the financial loss it runs at.

The trust admits its future is “uncertain” because the charitable trust that owns the visitor centre, which dates back to 1929, does not have the finance to pay for a major overhaul. The Scottish Government and Heritage Lottery Fund will both be asked to back a blueprint to transform the neglected attraction in Blantyre, which normally attracts just 25,000 visitors a year. It has been given a 12-month financial lifeline by NTS and South Lanarkshire Council, which helps fund the charity’s costs to run the centre and maintain its 20-acre estate.

Talks have taken place to transfer the site’s ownership to the conservation charity from the David Livingstone Trust. In a bleak scenario, the centre’s future could hinge on an application for up to £4.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Under an agreement struck five years ago, NTS and the council both pay £50,000 a year running costs, but it is understood the centre is currently making a further loss.

Minutes from a recent NTS board meeting, seen by The Scotsman, said an extension of these arrangements had been agreed for the year ahead to allow detailed plans to breathe new life into the site to be developed.

The minutes state: “They [the board of trustees] confirmed that the trust could no longer subsidise the centre in the event that fully funded plans for the property were not forthcoming.”

Among the plans being considered for the complex are the demolition of a 1970s visitor centre, a modern extension added to “Shuttle Row”, the 18th-century mill workers’ building and the creation of facilities for new outdoor activities in its grounds.

A spokeswoman for the trust said: “Trustees asked for further work to be taken forward on the masterplan, including identification of sources of funding, with a view to it being given further consideration at a future board meeting.”

Nat Edwards, project manager at the birthplace museum, said: “It is quite a delicate time at the moment as a number of discussions are ongoing, but we hope to be in a position to submit an application to the HLF next month. The future of the centre is uncertain at the moment because its owners don’t have a lot of capital available to finance major improvements at the site.”

No-one at the David Livingstone Trust was available to comment.