Diversifying community income

Mar Estate undeniably has had an influence on the economic past and future of its local Braemar community. A platform to economic opportunity and diversification of income, historically, presently, and with a view to the future, Mar Estate facilitates a host of opportunities throughout the local area. Mark Nicolson, a proprietor of Mar Estate, confirms ‘we work closely in co-operation with the community’.

Tripling the size of the village shop, when the tenant threatened to vacate on expiry of its lease, has seen inherent benefits to the local community which can be directly attributed to Mar Estates’ investment. The expansion of chain supermarkets and popularity of home delivery shopping threatens small local village stores, so the growth in size of Braemar’s only remaining grocery and general store is strongly reflective of the demographic promise of the Highland village and reiterates the sustainable intentions of a supporting landowner.

With the uncertainty surrounding the economic future of agriculture amid Brexit debates, Mr Nicolson is also passionate that young farmers are sufficiently supported. A young lady has been taken on as a gamekeeper, and has also benefitted from the estate as a platform to step into Scotland’s agricultural economy. With an initial flock of 50 ewes, she has been given the use of land and farm buildings on the estate to kickstart her career.

Recent construction of the Braemar Highland Games Centre hopes to spread the influx of tourists and the economic yield from the Games throughout the year, drawing more visitors to the village and encouraging them to stay for longer with more attractions on offer.

In 1906, the Duke of Fife, then owner of Mar Estate, gifted land for the Games Park to the Braemar Royal Highland Society, and the Estate now fully supports this ambitious project, while further support has been provided from the neighbouring Invercauld House tenant and Fife Arms Hotel owners, Ivan and Manuela Wirth, in the form of a £500,000 donation, with financial help and building advice also from HRH The Duke of Rothesay’s Dumfries House Trust. With the Wirths’ substantial investment in rebuilding the Fife Arms Hotel, and restoring it to its former glory last seen in the late 19th century, this development is integral to the sustainability of the village: the range of attractions confirm Braemar as a global destination, rather than the Highland rural settlement as it was recently described in a local authority consultation document.

The new centre proposes a cafe, gallery, and exhibition centre with over 200 years of history. The spot is set to become a major tourist attraction, with car, coach, and caravan parking with hookup available on site, and will be available for corporate and social events. David Geddes, President of the Society, remarked that ‘formerly, the two neighbouring estates owned and managed everything within and around the village, but now diversification has encouraged greater ownership and management by the community’.

While cultural sustainability is undoubtedly inherent within the community estate projects, ecological sustainability is equally a priority. Mr Nicolson had long envisaged rebuilding the 19th century Mar Lodge hydro scheme which had become defunct many years ago. When approached by the community, he had no reservations in transferring his personal goal to a joint project with the community. The Corriemulzie Hydro Scheme is now up and generating electricity, funded by Braemar Community Limited raising the staggering sum of £800,000 through crowd funding from local investors. The hydro generates rent for the Estate, a return for the investors, and funds community benefits. Over the life of the project £500,000 is projected to be channelled into the sustainability of the village.

Braemar is happening, and the Mar Estate is committed to play its part.