Commercial property: Keep innovating

The challenges facing rural estates and landowners in the current economic and political climate are considerable but, with strategic and innovative thinking, assets can be maximised without losing the traditional character of the properties.

Rosebery Estates has begun a major diversification into commercial operations using its rural assets. Its Barnbougle Castle, which sits on the shores of the Firth of Forth, has undergone a complete transformation.

The category A-listed castle, originally built in the 13th century, opened this summer as an exclusive-use venue for weddings and corporate events.

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Succeeding in converting a building such as Barnbougle for commercial use, but preserving its character and features, having been left unused for 90 years, was no mean feat.

Lord Rosebery, and his family embarked on the project in 2016 and have committed significant investment.

The initial phase involved exterior repairs. Over many decades, water ingress from roof leaks, defective pointing and gutters had damaged many areas internally, staining historic wallpaper and panelling.

A collection of more than 10,000 books was beginning to suffer from the damp, and there was a real risk of more serious problems occurring.

Having dealt with the external envelope, the more involved internal phase of work on the castle began last year after extensive preparation.

With wiring from the 1950s and no effective heating, the scope included full rewiring and re-plumbing, a new electric heating system and the installation of a lift, a commercial kitchen and toilets to cater for events.

This was very challenging, given the requirements of modern building regulations and the need to conserve the historic building.

One crucial decision taken was to install a sprinkler system. Not only did this assist with technical compliance, but it gives comfort that, in the event of fire, the valuable contents and fabric of the building will have a greatly reduced risk of damage.

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With the devastating fires recently at the Glasgow School of Art and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a focus on fire prevention has never been so critical.

Although much of the castle’s features are original, a beautiful faux library partitioned room has created a new cloakroom and toilets, together with a ground-floor ladies’ boudoir.

The book titles here were chosen by Lady Jane Kaplan, daughter of Lord Rosebery, who oversaw every detail of the Barnbougle renovation project.

The original marble bath, dating from the late-19th century, has been preserved and returned to full working order, along with some magnificent bookcases, panelling and period light fittings.

The end result is a unique castle which is just a 20-minute drive from Edinburgh city centre, yet with a feeling of remoteness and tranquillity.

The building surveying team at Galbraith is working with Rosebery Estates on a number of similar projects, many of which seek to utilise redundant or underused former agricultural and commercial buildings.

At the southern end of the estate, another property is destined to be used for events, with luxury short-term letting accommodation incorporated on site as well.

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Other developments are focused on diversification, such as children’s nurseries, storage and office space.

Martin Cassels is a partner with Galbraith and leads its building surveying team.