Ambitious plans to save a farm built by Robert Burns where he wrote some of his most famous works have received overwhelming public support.

A digital engagement exercise found almost 90% backing for proposals to preserve and improve Ellisland Farm, near the village of Auldgirth in Dumfries and Galloway where Burns wrote Auld Lang Syne and Tam o Shanter.

A charity will now begin fundraising to take the plans to the next level, including an application to the National Lottery Heritage fund.

Ellisland Farm, on the banks of the River Nith was built by the poet in 1788 for his wife Jean Armour and their family.

The Robert Burns Ellisland Trust wants to develop the site as a visitor attraction, with plans to make the farmhouse into an “immersive space” where visitors can experience the couple’s domestic life.

The Herald: Scottish poet Robert Burns.

The charity behind the Ellisland FutureVision, want new generations of artists and musicians to work in the landscape that inspired the national bard, and also to create holiday accommodation and event hire to make the site sustainable.

They hope to bring the 1788 cottage back to its original state, with other historic buildings converted to host educational and community activity. Biodiversity would be enhanced by woodland management and native cultivation.

The proposals also include artistic residencies in the buildings, allowing a new generation of artists, musicians and writers to be inspired by the same landscape that Burns described as “sweet poetic ground”.

New accommodation will be modelled on the Hermitage, a tiny bothy on the neighbouring Friars Carse estate, where Burns would escape to write.

The digital engagement exercise found 96% agreed that conservation and education work should be subsidised by activities such as tourism and events, an approach known as “conservation through use.”

More than 92% agreed the cottage built by Burns for his young wife Jean Armour, which currently houses the museum and staff accommodation, should be returned to its original state to create an “immersive” experience for visitors.

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Almost 96% agreed that the barns and byres, which are well preserved but in need of urgent repair, should be restored to host workshops and events to celebrate the spirit of Burns in music, writing and culture.

The proposals were based on the principle of “conservation through use” with money raised from visitors and creative retreats used to subsidise community, heritage and educational events.

The Herald:

View of the courtyard from the cafe

A new visitor centre would be built at the site – with a cafe and an exhibition space where various items and artefacts from Ellisland’s collection will go on show, including manuscripts and some of Burns’ possessions, such as his books, flute and fishing rod.

More than 86% agreed with the trust’s proposals to create the visitor centre to house the important collection.

The FutureVision project aims to boost the Dumfries and Galloway economy with a heritage attraction of national and international significance.

Joan McAlpine, project director at the Robert Burns Ellisland Trust, said the overwhelming support demonstrated the value people placed on Burns and his legacy.

“We are very grateful to everyone who responded to the digital survey and who visited us on site for the engagement day too. It is very clear that people understand the power of the poet in generating economic benefits for Scotland generally and Dumfries and Galloway in this instance.

“The public agree with us that this precious heritage should be preserved but also help new generations be inspired and improve the wellbeing of local people, especially young people. We already maintain access to the riverside walks created by Burns, which is a valuable public amenity. But this site is at risk and only an ambitious plan such as our FutureVision can secure it, by making it financially and environmentally sustainable.

“Since the new trust took over in 2020, we have reached out to the community with our open days, cultural events and school visits programme. But to build on that, we need significant investment to create a world class heritage attraction which will attract people to the area from around the globe.”

The digital engagement exercise was conducted by Dumfries based independent consultancy, Indigo Words, and funded by a Community Led Vision Challenge Fund grant from Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Last year, a report by historic buildings experts Adams Napier funded by Historic Environment Scotland found the site to be of exceptional cultural significance and the best preserved of all Burns’ homes. But a condition survey in the same report warned the historic buildings were at risk and required extensive repairs.

The FutureVision plans were drawn up for the trust by Delfinity Ltd consultants and OCA architects.