Here is the latest update from the Comrie Development Trust, specifically looking at the future of the museum, which was sent out to members earlier in the week.

Please remember that the CDT is owned by it’s members within the community, and is run for the benefit of the community as a whole.

If you are not already a member of the CDT, and wish to get involved, details on how to join can be found here

We need to talk about the museum…

TL;DR: The museum and events at Cultybraggan don’t cover their costs, and are not demonstrably supported from within the community; do we suspend these to reduce the risk to other projects?

We’re in a fix! As I’ve said before, there’s no spare capacity in the Trust’s finances as we continue to bring more rigour to the pricing of services and rental at the Camp to ensure we cover costs. We have just signed up to a new loan package from Social Investment Scotland as we restructure our debt to allow us to extend the payback time for our previous expenditure.

So we’re looking very closely at where we spend money, what we spend in support of with respect to our charitable purpose, and whether we have a means to adequately recoup those costs – obvious, really!

For CDT to be able to support community projects, it requires a minimum of administrative and financial capacity. To run Cultybraggan Camp to deliver the community benefits envisaged when it was bought, requires further administration and finance resource, and additionally, estate management and maintenance capacity. Whilst there is some external funding to support these roles, the Trust’s goal of ‘financial sustainability’ should mean these are met from revenue, with prices set to generate sufficient income to fund further development of the infrastructure. We have yet to achieve this position and, importantly, there is currently no surplus with which to fund or resource other projects.

To be clear, CDT has delivered lots of great initiatives in the past, and continues to host some really popular groups and projects on its estate (allotments, Men’s Shed, Cubs, the orchard, the woodland, the outdoor playgroup). The important thing about these projects is that they are led and delivered by enthusiastic and committed groups that are self-organised – I see this as CDT working effectively in its role as a facilitator, acting as the legal body required to channel funds and taking on the corporate responsibility, freeing up the individual interest groups to concentrate on devising, funding, and delivering their projects. Great!

Where our accounts show that this model is not working so well is with regards to running the Camp’s museum and the public events at Cultybraggan.

Despite Cultybraggan Camp being of clear historical and cultural significance, with a valuable story to share, I’d suggest that no museum in the country is able to sustain itself financially through admission donations alone, and most are presumably dependent upon a range of external benefactors. There is not currently a community-led interest group to raise funds or provide volunteer staff for the museum, so it is currently reliant on the dedication of our Visitor Experience officer, Susan, who’s post is funded from CDT’s other revenue. This is unsustainable, both financially, and in terms of the demand on Susan.

There are two types of events held at the Camp: those organised and delivered by Trust staff (i.e. Susan), and those where we rent out the venue to others. CDT-run public events invite significant financial risk, as it is difficult to ensure sufficient attendance to cover costs. They are also hugely demanding and, currently, reliant upon volunteer marshals, first-aiders, &c. Notably, most attendees are from outwith Comrie. Hiring out the Camp as a venue is less risky, requiring only sufficient infrastructure, and minimal administration and oversight.

So now we come to the crux of this letter: it is the Board’s view that operating the museum and delivering public events do not currently have enough community-led support to justify their inherent financial burden and risk. The Trust simply does not have sufficient reserves to underwrite the shortfall in income evident over the last 5 years. My view is that, since the Trust exists to deliver community-benefit for Comrie, we should not risk compromising our ability to support community projects and businesses operating at Cultybraggan by diverting funds to operate a museum and run events that are arguably of greater interest to an audience beyond Comrie. Similarly, since Comrie clearly has enthusiasm and capacity to run popular events (Fortnight, Flambeaux, Ancblasters, cinema, White Church lunches, bingo and pub nights, and so on), I believe that impetus for these at Cultybraggan should come from within the community, supported by the Trust’s staff.

Consequently, I’d like to seek your views on the following:
1: how to avoid mothballing the museum until there is demonstrable and sustained support from within Comrie to secure funding and operate it, and
2: ceasing to run events that aren’t community-led, whilst continuing to hire out the Camp as a venue to third-parties.

Here is a scheme of how the Trust could (and, in my view, should) operate – feel free to provide your comments on this as well

Projects are driven and delivered by interest groups, and supported by staff, as required, who also perform key operational tasks associated with Cultybraggan Camp, overseen by the board which ensures the Trust’s governance.

This includes scope for groups to fund and employ project-specific staff or contractors to effect delivery.