Actress Joanna Lumley has given her patronage to a Peter Pan-themed literary visitor attraction, which is set to open next year, turning a “forgotten corner of Scotland” into a major tourist destination.
Located in Dumfries and Galloway, the historic Moat Brae house is undergoing a major redevelopment to transform it into a national centre for children’s literature and storytelling.
Included in the plans will be interactive displays and exhibits designed to entertain and educate families. The centre will also host workshops, artists and writers in residence, giving visitors the chance to meet different authors and creatives.
The house was the inspiration for Peter Pan, the novel and play created by JM Barrie, who as a child would spend time in the gardens of Moat Brae “playing pirates”. The author and playwright called the house a “sort of Odyssey that was long afterwards to inspire the play of Peter Pan”.
As part of the restoration, the gardens are being landscaped to become a Neverland Discovery Garden.
Set to open in 2019 and expected to draw more than 250,000 visitors in its first five years of operation, Lumley – who boasts an acting career spanning nearly five decades, with roles in films and television shows such as The New Avengers, Absolutely Fabulous and most recently Paddington 2 – has thrown her weight behind the project, acting as the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust’s patron.
“I loved the idea of a centre for children’s literature and storytelling in the house where JM Barrie first imagined the adventures he would use to create one of the most popular stories ever written,” Lumley tells Attractions Management.
“The Moat Brae project matters on many levels. Dumfries and the wider region have had a tough time economically for many years and a new international visitor attraction will make a valuable contribution to all the regeneration work taking place. It’s a very beautiful part of Britain and once people discover it they often return.”
The Trust was established in 2009, saving the Georgian-era property, which was just three days away from being demolished when it was taken over by the group. Plans were then made to develop the historic location as the country’s first centre for children’s literature, with Lumley helping to raise £6.1m (US$8m) of the £8m (US$10.4m) needed for the full restoration.
“Over the years, my involvement has involved lots of different things, many of them great fun,” says Lumley. “For example, we organised a fundraiser in London with British actor and comedian David Walliams, where we answered questions and talked about his children’s books to a theatre full of young people.
“I’ve also made videos, spent time meeting people all round Dumfries and Galloway, done a fair few photo shoots and interviews to show how the project has been progressing.
“Ultimately my role is to focus attention on the really important things – the efforts being made by staff and volunteers at Moat Brae to create something that’ll be very special in the lives of generations of children.”
As the birthplace of Peter Pan, the building and its gardens have a significant place in literary history. For Lumley, though it’s not just about the past, but also the future – the house will act as a place of inspiration for young people who are interested in the creative realms of writing, acting and art.
“Moat Brae will give children and young people access to a whole new world of stories and creativity,” she says. “While JM Barrie and Peter Pan are very important, this historic location goes far beyond that one story and is about so much more.
“One of our key aims is to have the centre introduce children to tales from all sorts of different times and cultures. Something that has really impressed me is the way it’s bringing together writers, poets, illustrators and others from all over the country and beyond. Many of the activities are also being shaped by young people themselves.
“Firing young imaginations is enormously important and that’s what Moat Brae is all about,” she says. “The more we can ignite a love of stories in young people, the better. It’s by doing this that we will nurture the next generation of readers, writers, illustrators, actors, games designers and other creative adults.”