The Dunsland Project

The Proposal

Originally referred to as The Dunsland Project or Dunsland: Contemporary Art and the Natural World the idea was to create an outstanding contemporary building to mark the Millennium.

The vision was to establish ‘a gallery, study centre and garden whose focus was on the arts of sculpture, crafts, design, architecture, photography, printmaking and performance which relate to the natural world and its associated sciences’. Calculations were based on a two storey building on the footprint of the old house which was approximately 34x26m i.e.880 sq.m. giving a new building of 1760 sq.m. with a likely total cost of £5 million – though this had not been estimated at the time.

Flyer for The Dunsland Project

At the start of 1996 the National Trust offered approximately a quarter of the 92 acre estate on a 49 year lease. Torridge District Council supported the project because it related to several of its policies; to provide and support access to the arts, encourage professionalism and the commissioning of artists and to increase cultural tourism. The focus on landscape and nature also made it appropriate for a rural area.

Preliminary Feasibility Study

A Preliminary Study was conducted and a Steering Group set up which included representatives from Torridge District Council, the National Trust, South West Arts, North Tamar Business Network and Holsworthy Tourism Workshop/Bude Area Tourist Board. I became the Project Officer. It was envisaged that an educational trust with charitable status would be formed later in 1997 to take over from the Steering Group.

During 1996, many representatives from the arts, including Jeremy and Annabel Rees (founders of Arnolfini), Satish Kumar from Schumacher College (Dartington), and a group from South Korea visited Dunsland and the sculptor Peter Randall-Page and architect Adrian Gale both wrote of their impressions.

Visitors at Dunsland left to right: Annabel Rees, Jem Southam, Katy Macleod and Jeremy Rees. Photo Clive Adams.

In addition to a contribution of £25,000 from North Tamar LEADER (European funding), Torridge District Council was awarded a grant of £75,000 in May 1997 from the National Lottery through ACE towards the cost of a Feasibility Study. In a letter of support to ACE, SWA referred to Dunsland as a ‘priority landmark visual arts project’. The first stage of the Study would have included working with consultants to establish the viability of the budget, the effect on the local area and relationship with the National Trust.

Western Morning News, 4 November 1996.

Withdraw from Dunsland

Soon after the grant was announced, numerous articles and letters appeared in the local press, some for and some against the proposal, and it was decided to hold a public meeting at Bradford and Cookbury Village Hall on 15 July. Chaired by the Leader of the Parish Council, presentations were made by David Pinney, Director of Planning at Torridge District Council and myself.

Western Morning News, 13 September 1997.

After the meeting, the National Trust received around 100 letters from objectors, and petitions containing over 280 names and other letters which were in favour of conducting the Feasibility Study. Because local opinion was clearly strongly divided, the National Trust withdrew the offer of the lease in September 1997, whilst supporting a Feasibility Study for the project elsewhere else in Devon.

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Pros and Cons

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