Stirling estate carves out future thanks to lockdown craft boom

A Stirling country house and estate has diversified its business model and positioned itself for growth, thanks to a £200,000 funding package.

Gartmore House, built in the mid-18th century, is a 23-bedroom mansion house and activity centre offering group residential packages, conferences for up to 500 people, and craft activity workshops including quilting, upcycling furniture, dressmaking, knitting, and lace making. 

In March, the business was forced to close its doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic and cancel 2,250 group bookings and overnight stays scheduled throughout 2020.

When it was announced that large indoor public gatherings would not continue this year, the business decided to focus on increasing the number of activity workshops it could offer and launch a new programme with 20 sessions each month from the new year. Its diverse programme includes upcycling furniture, watercolour painting and hill walking. 

The way ahead for 2021

To pay for overheads and position itself for its new 2021 strategy, Gartmore House approached Bank of Scotland, securing a £200,000 package of support via the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). 

Gartmore House has already seen a 100% increase on bookings for the workshops compared to last year, with customers choosing from a mix of two, four and six-day packages. In total, there are 200 workshops available compared to 70 last year.

The increased demand means Gartmore House is hiring 30 new tutors to run courses from 2021, with 10 people per class to allow for social distancing. 

Peter Sunderland, joint director at Gartmore House, said: “When lockdown hit, it hit us hard. All our summer bookings from local groups were cancelled, and soon after we realised welcoming back big groups might not happen again until 2021. 

“We began hearing about more people taking up crafting during lockdown so knew there was appetite out there for our workshops once restrictions lifted. We decided to change our current business plan and focus solely on the activity groups we had to offer.

“Since bookings for the workshops went live, we’ve received hundreds of enquiries and have had to recruit new staff to cope with demand. Thanks to the support of Bank of Scotland, despite our conference facilities stopping, we’ve been able to introduce a new way of securing income during these challenging times, and begin preparing for a positive start to 2021.”

Helping to inspire artists

Moira Robertson, relationship manager at Bank of Scotland, said: “Businesses across Scotland are learning to adjust to the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has created over the past six months.

“During lockdown, some craft companies reported online sales tripling due to demand from people looking to spend time learning more about arts and crafts while at home. Gartmore House is a great example of a company thinking on its feet to tap into this demand and secure cash flow while it prepares for the launch of the new workshops".

“Adapting and using our support has allowed the business to position itself for growth, and now has the tools in place to concentrate on its new business model.”

Moira Robertson, relationship manager

All lending is subject to status.