From a male-dominated past, it is now women who are the driving force behind securing the future of one of Stirling’s most important historic buildings.
Cowane’s Hospital, next to the Church of the Holy Rude in the Top of the Town, was established in the 17th century as a place to care for needy members of the old Guildry of Stirling.
Hazel Barton, current master and factor of the Cowane Trust which looks after the grade A-listed property, is leading efforts to raise the £2.5 million needed to bring the landmark back to life.
Along with grants fundraiser Michelle Sweeney, artist Iona Leishman, soapmaker Emma FitzGerald and cafe operator Sara MacMillan, it really is a case of sisters doing it for themselves.
Money from Historic Scotland has already been secured, with the Heritage Lottery Fund next in their sights for a major cash injection of cash.
However, they also want to spread the word about what is already going on at the work-in-progress, including ways that locals themselves can help towards making sure the building has a viable future.
Hazel said: “At the moment we’re working on having as much of the building open as possible and just letting people know that we’re here.
“While we get tourists coming by as part of their visit round the castle and then the church, a lot of locals don’t even know we’re here and that’s something we’d really like to change.”
Iona Leishman, formerly Stirling Castle’s artist in residence, calls the building “inspirational” and will host open studios over the Easter weekend (10.30am-3.30pm from March 29-31) when everyone will be welcome to go and see her at work.
Soapmaker Emma also holds short public demonstrations of her craft every Tuesday and Thursday from 1.15pm and has produced a range of Cowane’s Soaps, inspired by the building and its surroundings, proceeds from which go directly to the renovation efforts.
And according to Sara in the cafe its popularity is steadily growing.
“It’s been fantastic really,” she said. “We had a good summer last year in spite of the weather and even managed to stay open throughout the winter.
“The number of locals popping in is definitely increasing, which is good.
“I think, with the historic feel of the place and the open fire, it’s a really nice, inviting place for people to come.”
Hazel is hopeful the unique surroundings will also prove popular for those looking to mark a special occasion.
“We are licensed for weddings and have had a few ceremonies already but are quite happy to hear from anyone with an event they might like to hold here: naming ceremonies, birthday parties, corporate events or whatever.
“We have big plans for the future, including creating our own commercial kitchen on the premises, but there’s already a lot we can do and we’re always happy to talk to people about the options.”
For more info see www.cowanes.org.uk.
More info on Iona’s work is available at www.ionaleishman.co.uk and on Emma’s soapmaking at www.purpleherb.com.