In summer the café at Abbot House, Dunfermline probably has one of the best views in Scotland. From the tables in the very pretty walled garden you can see the historic Dunfermline Abbey. With the 2016 opening of the new museum next door there are plans to link the Abbot House garden to the Museum’s modern garden, creating a larger, more diverse space.
The garden is all the more impressive when you find out it is cultivated by volunteers. Likewise the café is staffed by volunteers. No uniformed baristas here; instead, Dunfermline locals, who know the area well, serve the coffee and homebaking.
For Catherine Gillies, the new manager who started on 5 January, that local community involvement is the defining virtue of the House. As well as being run by volunteers the location is one of the largest provider of supported work placements in the area.
The venue is unusual in the heritage sector because it is a historic building but without a significant collection to display. Again, community is the key here; Catherine believes that making sure the building is widely used and accessed is the priority. She would like to see temporary exhibitions of other collections, more music events, open air theatre and is keen to provide a venue for other events, such as weddings.
The new director is full of praise for the high quality restoration that was completed in the 1990s by the then director, Elspeth King – King now manages the Smith Museum in Stirling. Catherine herself has worked in the heritage sector for several years; she recently managed Dunollie House in Oban; a career change to the heritage sector followed jobs as a journalist with the Oban Times, Radio 4 and BBC World Service.
It’s twenty years since that sensitive restoration was completed and Catherine is hoping to stage events to celebrate the 20th anniversary; Alasdair Gray has been invited to speak and revisit his mural in Abbot House but watch this space for further dates.