Every Saturday afternoon, twelve-year-old Celia Sinclair walked down to Dumbarton Road from her home in Glasgow’s west end, to board the tram to Kelvingrove.

“I got sixpence pocket money, and I remember the tram cost a penny ha’penny return, so I had fourpence ha’penny left for a cup of tea and an empire biscuit in the tea room at the art galleries,” she smiles.

“I loved Kelvingrove – I knew that building inside out. It stimulated my interest in art.

“My love of Charles Rennie Mackintosh came later, but I felt – and still feel – very passionate about his work, and about saving it for the people of Glasgow.”

Fast forward just over five decades and Sinclair is on the brink of achieving exactly that. As founder of the Willow Tearooms Trust, she has purchased the original Willow Tearooms building at 215-217 Sauchiehall Street, with a view to creating a magnificent Mackintosh ‘hub’.

Mackintosh at the Willow will include the restoration of the original tea rooms, including the impressive Salon de Luxe; the creation of a visitor centre, education hub and exhibition; and the involvement of trainees in the building of more than 400 pieces of meticulously crafted Mackintosh furniture.

More than 200,000 people are expected to visit in 2018 and the education centre will play host to 2500 children. It’s estimated it will bring in £1m to the local economy, as tourists flock to the first ever Mackintosh ‘museum’.

The aim is not just to preserve one of Mackintosh’s finest buildings, and pay tribute to the original tearooms owner Kate Cranston, but also to encourage the next generation of artists, architects and entrepreneurs who follow in their footsteps.

“I’ve always been surprised by how much more popular Mackintosh is abroad than in his native country,” says Sinclair, over coffee in the project offices on the ground floor of the building.

“For a long time, he was neglected by his fellow Scots – even at the start of this, when I approached various organisations for support, I was amazed by the lack of interest.

“He was a man ahead of his time and we should be proud of him.”

Sinclair was a trustee of Glasgow Art Club when she heard the original Willow Tearooms were in trouble.

She made enquiries and realised a sale of the entire block, all the way down to West Campbell Street, was imminent.

“I knew if it went to auction, it would be a disaster – everything would be stripped out and sold off, perhaps disappearing out of Glasgow and we would lose it all forever,” she recalls.

“I’m just an ordinary Glasgow citizen, but I couldn’t let that happen.”

She laughs: “I remember sitting on a bench opposite the building, in the middle of Sauchiehall Street, and saying we can’t let this go - who is going to save these tearooms? I came to the conclusion, sitting on that bench that day, that it had to be me.”

The whirlwind of activity that followed – registering charity status, securing funding, hiring staff and dealing with massive press interest – took Sinclair by surprise.

“The day after the settlement I went up to the building, just to take photographs and have a look around and I found the entire Scottish press pack waiting for me,” she grimaces.

“I couldn’t get in for TV cameras and newspaper reporters. I’m a very private person, really, not used to speaking to journalists, and I had nothing prepared.

“But at the same time, I was thrilled by that reaction. People did care, after all.”

Art and architecture have always been ‘hobbies’ for Sinclair – her background is in commercial property.

“I’m a businesswoman, always have been – busy with work, busy raising my family,” she says. “Social enterprise, charity – that’s all new to me.

“I have been very fortunate to have such an excellent team working with me. The main challenge has been securing funding. There is a lot of competition in Glasgow at the moment, with big restoration works going on at the likes of the Burrell, Kelvin Hall, Glasgow School of Art.

“And we are not big and powerful – we are just a small team.”

She pauses. “It is a big responsibility, of course,” she admits. “My ethos has always been – if you are going to do something, do it properly. Make sure you get it right, and that it will stand up to academic challenge.

“I want Mackintosh at the Willow to be here for a hundred years and more.

“I hope it will inspire and educate young people about art – something that was perhaps missing in my own life. It is so important to introduce young people to art and design, to encourage them to understand their heritage and to be proud of it.”

She adds: “It’s hard work, there is no doubt about that, but I knew what I was getting in to. Probably, I’m a madwoman.”

There have been difficult times too – Sinclair’s husband George, the inspirational broadcast journalist who transformed BBC news – died in 2015 after a short illness. Later this month, the family is attending the Royal Television Society Scotland awards at which a prize for the best young journalist of the year will be presented in George’s memory.

“He was very proud of being a journalist,” says Sinclair. “The award is a lovely thing. He supported me, of course and thought what I was doing was a great thing for Glasgow. But he always worried I worked too hard.”

On a short tour of the building, this softly spoken, immaculately dressed woman seems out of place amidst the noise and rubble of the works in progress but Sinclair is in her element as she describes how her vision will take shape.

Attention to detail is key. None of the original carpet survives, but the team discovered a drawing pin with unusual threads on it, which has been sent away for closer examination.

“If that is indeed the original carpet, we may be able to recreate it,” smiles Sinclair. “We are restoring the originals, where we can, and recreating everything else.”

It is a painstaking process – all of the original glass has been sent away for restoration and exterior works are due to be completed in July. The interior doors are currently in Kelvingrove Museum for safekeeping.

“We had them valued at £1.5million,” says Sinclair, calmly. “When I got here, they hadn’t even been insured.”

The project is also breathing new life into Sauchiehall Street, says Sinclair.

“This used to be Glasgow’s grandest street,” she recalls. “As a child, I was allowed to come in to town, but only as far as Sauchiehall Street. It was considered genteel, and safe, whereas Argyle Street close to the busy docks, was a much more dangerous place to go.”

The building will open to the public on June 7 next year, in time for the Mackintosh at 150 celebrations.

Sinclair is full of admiration for Kate Cranston, whom she describes as one of Scotland’s first female entrepreneurs.

“She is a very interesting woman,” she agrees. “She was intelligent, an excellent businesswoman who changed attitudes.

“The Salon de Luxe, for example, was a symbol of social change in Glasgow where women began to socialise outside the home.”

She adds: “She ran all of her own training courses and all her staff had to toe the line. She grew her own flowers for the tea rooms, fresh foods were supplied by her own dairy.

“I think there were many women like Kate Cranston around at that time, but history simply doesn’t remember them, unfortunately. She was very astute, very clear in what she wanted to achieve.”

Sinclair breaks off with a smile as I suggest she could easily be describing herself.

“Perhaps we are alike in some ways,” she acknowledges. “We both just get on with it. No time for nonsense.”