The buck stops at the Buck’s Head as regen project takes off

No one will be passing the buck when it comes to restoration of one of Galston’s most attractive historic properties, after the scaffolding went up last week.

Helen and David Murdoch, new owners of The Buck’s Head called time on years of deterioration as work started to return the fine Victorian sandstone building to its former glory thanks to grant funding from East Ayrshire Council’s Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS).

The scheme gives building owners grants of up to 90% of the cost of renovating historically important town centre buildings, using only sympathetic, traditional materials and methods, to ensure the buildings are wind and watertight and fit for purpose in the 21st Century.

Kilmarnock and Cumnock town centres have already benefited from multi million pound schemes which have resulted in the revamping of over 30 properties ranging from whole blocks to private homes, but for Galston, this is the first of many projects earmarked to benefit from the regeneration scheme.

For David and Helen Murdoch, who have extensive experience in construction and restoration projects, this isn’t just another building for their business to turn over. Explains Helen: “I was born and bred in Galston, and we bought this with a view to enhancing and saving it. It’s a great way to put something back into this town. We’re passionate about Galston, there’s so much that’s good about this town and we wanted to help restore some pride in the beautiful architecture here. When buildings are run down it’s easy to dismiss them, but there are so many fantastic features in them, beautiful stonework and craftsmanship.”

But doing up old buildings isn’t all plain sailing as David explains: “Over the years our company has tackled lots of different projects, from new build bungalows to the old primary school in Glebe Road, and the Erskine Hall in Wallace Street, both of which were converted to residential use. So we already have experience of working with old buildings – you can never be sure what you’ll find once you start stripping things out.  And it’s no good using modern materials on old buildings – it not only doesn’t look good, they can actually hamper and damage the existing fabric. But a project like the Buck’s Head would not have been financially viable for us without the CARS assistance. It explains why so many older buildings fall into disrepair – the costs of repair outstrip the eventual value of the building, so it’s uneconomic to attempt it without extra finance

“We’ve found working with East Ayrshire’s CARS team very good so far. Obviously there’s a lot of paperwork and a lengthy legal, planning and design process to go through, but they’ve been very helpful, giving us lists of suitably trained traditional craftsmen and advice on specialist techniques. We love that the scheme requires us to use sympathetic materials, we know it will produce the best possible outcome for the Buck’s Head and we’re looking forward to seeing what’s done with the other properties around here once those projects start too.

David prides himself on employing local tradesmen and subcontractors as much as possible. “It’s a great feature of the scheme that it helps create and sustain local jobs. And it’s also got an educational spin off too. We were lucky enough to have the design for a new metal hanging sign chosen as the winner in the competition run by Loudoun Academy. It’s great that the youngsters involved got to learn so much about the tradition of sign making, the art of the blacksmith and the importance of imagery to a business. And we’ll be very proud to have the sign hanging outside our pub once it’s finished in around four or five months.”

As for the regulars, some of whom remember when part of the current pub was Dunns the bakers, the barrels were rolled down into the cellar from a grill in the street, and the front door was in its original location where there’s now a stage – they’re just looking forward to seeing their favourite hostelry and the town looking smart again.

The Buck’s Head is the first of several buildings in and around Galston which will shortly be undergoing regeneration. These include: 33-35 Bridge Street, 19-23 Bridge Street, 5-9 Bridge Street, 1-7 Brewland Street, 2-4 Cross Street and Barr Castle.