27/01/2015
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Bid to save historic Stirling almshouse for the nation

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A bid has been launched to raise £3 million to save one of Stirling’s most historic buildings and return it to the heart of Scottish life.

Cowane’s Hospital, a 17th century almshouse which has what could be the country’s oldest bowling green in its gardens, is in urgent need of repairs.

The Cowane’s Hospital Maintenance Trust, which now runs the building in the heart of Stirling’s historic Old Town, has now applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £2 million towards the project.

This would give the almshouse and gardens a sustainable future back at the heart of Scottish life as a community resource. It would become a national visitor attraction telling the story of how modern Scotland was made – through trade, charity and leisure. The revived Cowane’s would feature:
  •     Restored historic rooms and kitchens
  •     An exhibition about the hospital, Scottish trade and charity
  •     Gardens and bowling green returned to their 18th-century splendour
  •     Community heritage projects
  •     Costumed guides and family activities

 The leader of Stirling Council and fifteen Members of the Scottish Parliament have put their names to a motion by Labour’s Dr Richard Simpson which congratulated the trust on its work to save a building of such national importance. Dr Simpson said: 'This is a fantastic project for Stirling and Scotland. Cowane’s Hospital tells the story of the making of modern Scotland and played a hugely important role in the development of Stirling.

'As Cowane’s is near to the castle, and right beside the Kirk of the Holy Rude, it could help in regenerating the Old Town area by attracting more visitors and encouraging them to spend longer exploring everything that Stirling has to offer.'

SAD SIGNS OF DECAY

For centuries the almshouse was the headquarters of Cowane’s Trust – Scotland’s second oldest functioning charity, which exists to help a variety of vulnerable groups. But the building is no longer fit for purpose and they had to move out.

Major works are needed including a new roof. Vandalism and decay are also taking their toll. One sad sign of the deterioration is that the hand has fallen off the statue of John Cowane (who is known affectionately as Auld Staneybreeks) which is reputed to come to life each Hogmanay and dance in the courtyard.

John Cowane died in 1633 and left a large sum of money to set up an almshouse to care for 'decayed' merchants – those who had fallen on hard times. The charity gradually developed to assist many other groups of people. The hospital became the meeting place of the once powerful Stirling Guildry and is still known by many as the Guildhall.

At present Cowane’s Hospital is open to the public and visitors can see the main hall and gardens, as well as enjoy home cooking at the John Cowane’s Coffee Shop café. It also hosts a range of events and functions.

Cowane's Hospital, 49 St John St, Stirling FK8 1QG; website.

See the parliamentary motion here.

(Images copyright Janie Meikle)

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