Burns festival aims to create permanent cultural venue in town where Scottish poet spent final years

The organisers of one of the world’s biggest Robert Burns-inspired events want to turn its new home into a year-round venue in the town where the celebrated poet spent his final years.

The company behind the Big Burns Supper, which has already brought some of Scotland’s leading bands and performers to Dumfries, wants to turn the Loreburn Hall into a new flagship venue for the south of Scotland.

It is hoped the hall will also help revitalise the historic heart of Dumfries, where Burns lived for his final three years until he died at the age of just 37, and where he is buried.

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The Loreburn Hall, which dates back to 1890, was declared surplus to requirements by Dumfries and Galloway Council last year after previously being used as a gymnasium and a Covid vaccination centre.

Morgan Barbour and Freya Pellie are among the performers in Le Haggis, the cabaret show revived for this year's Big Burns Supper festival in Dumfries. Picture: Stuart Walker

The venue, which has been under council ownership since the late 1960s, has played host to The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Who, Black Sabbath, Runrig, Big Country and The Shamen.

A pilot project by Electric Theatre Workshop, the company behind the festival, to use the B-listed building as an event space has already seen more than 30,000 tickets sold for events since last spring.

Now it is hoped the success of the festival in bringing annual audiences of more than 26,000 to Dumfries in January will help persuade the council to agree to hand over control to allow it to become a permanent cultural hub, rather than put it up for sale for potential development.

The Big Burns Supper team has already secured interest from more than 30 different organisations who would potentially use the hall, which has been transformed into a vast cabaret venue to host the four-day festival this month.

Cabaret show Le Haggis has returned for this year's Big Burns Supper festival. Picture: Stuart Walker

Its blueprint for the future of the Loreburn Hall envisages the venue as “a way to help us redefine our town centre, but also as a place where our community can reconnect as a social space”.

Acts to previously perform at the Big Burns Supper include KT Tunstall, Deacon Blue, Eddi Reader, King Creosote and Donovan.

Electric Theatre Workshop founder Graham Main, executive producer of the Big Burns Supper festival, said: “We were initially offered the Loreburn Hall for our 2022 festival, which we had to cancel at the last minute due to Covid restrictions.

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“Over the last 12 months we have tested out a range of different cultural events, which has been a kind of living feasibility study of what it could be.

Graham Main is executive producer of the Big Burns Supper festival in Dumfries.

"We want to keep it going and make it into a home for what is now one of the biggest community arts organisations in the UK, with more than 700 members.

"The council tells us they want to let out the building long term to a community group, so we will formally have to apply to use the building and put together a business case.

"We’ve just carried out a community consultation and it was very obvious that local people believe there are key parts of our cultural infrastructure missing.

“We now really want to drive forward a vision of creating the biggest entertainment and cultural hub in the south of Scotland in the Loreburn Hall.

“It is a really important asset for the town. We really want to help return it to the people.”

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