As a child, J.M. Barrie spent many an hour playing in a large Georgian villa called Moat Brae House in Dumfries. This house would go on to inspire the writer to pen the magical world of Neverland in his much beloved play Peter Pan. The house will now open this weekend as Scotland’s first National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling.
As The Guardian reports, the house was originally built in 1832, the house was later used as a hospital, and then a nursing home, before it fell into disrepair. It was just days away from being demolished before it was saved by a local trust in 2011. Over the past eight years, the house has undergone an £8.5m restoration process and is now reopening as a hub for children’s creativity.
Inspired by Peter Pan, the centre now features a full scale pirate ship, a mermaid lagoon, and a Lost Boys’ treehouse. The centre’s goal is to make storytelling an essential part of growing up in Scotland and the house even includes a recreation of the Darling’s nursery, where visitors can attempt to catch Peter Pan’s shadow. There’s also a play theatre which is accessed via a Nana’s kennel.
The house will serve as place for parents to visit with their little ones to foster their creativity and imagination. There are, of course, plenty of quiet, comfy areas to sit and read any of the thousands of books that are on offer, from Ladybird classics to more modern children’s books.
Barrie was born in Kirriemuir, near Dundee, in 1860, and spent five years attending Dumfries academy, which he described as some of the happiest years of his life. It was there he met the brothers Stuart and Hal Gordon, who lived at nearby Moat Brae. They spent much time playing in the house’s grounds and Barrie described it as an “enchanted land [which] was certainly the genesis of that nefarious work [Peter Pan].”
The trust that saved the house from demolition was heavily supported by actress Joanna Lumley and it not only restored the original building, but also added modern extensions, as well as the creation of an adventure garden, thanks to the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Creative Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland, alongside the Scottish government and Dumfries and Galloway council.
Director of the Moat Brae centre, Simon Davidson, said: “We didn’t want an archive of books that nobody could touch. Our vision is very simple: a world where reading and storytelling are an integral part of growing up.
“The national centre is about engaging young people and setting the national agenda for best practice in children’s literature, in terms of developing interest in reading, making it accessible to children of all ages, reaching children who are dyslexic, reluctant readers, those with additional support needs, as well as encouraging authors to improve the diversity of the sector.”
He added: “The mechanism is not important. We want to find ways to engage children who can’t or who struggle to read, and there are multiple means of conveying a story.”