Rothesay Pavilion work brings back happy memories

Jean Muir.
Jean Muir.

Every resident of Bute will be watching the progress of the £14 million refurbishment of Rothesay Pavilion with great interest – but few have the famous building as close to their heart as Jean Muir.

Much of Jean’s childhood revolved around the Pavilion, as she lived in the house to the rear of the building.

Dugald with Pavillion staff.

Dugald with Pavillion staff.

This house was where the Pavilion manager lived, and Jean’s late father Dugald held the post for more than 30 years from around 1950 to the early 1980s.

When Dugald retired, the family moved to a home nearby and Jean still lives there to this day. As she watches the continuing work on the refurbishment of the Grade A-listed Pavilion, Jean cannot help but remember the great times she and her sister Moira enjoyed during its heyday.

Jean said: “It was our playground. We spent so much time there that my mum May, my sister Moira and I were almost like unpaid employees! I remember the BBC would often use one of the rooms in our house to film interviews with the performers or dignitaries who were at the Pavilion, so we’d have cameras and microphones trooping through the house.”

The Pavilion played host to a string of top entertainers. Andy Stewart, local girl Lena Zavaroni, an up-and-coming Billy Connolly and, latterly, Scots rock band Mogwai have performed at the Pavilion, showing the diversity of the acts it attracted.

Wrestling was always a major attraction whenever it came to Rothesay and Jean also fondly remembers the Miss Rothesay contest.

Away from the glitz and glamour, the venue was popular for conferences and there was rarely the chance for her father to rest up before the next event rolled into town.

Conferences held there included everything from the STUC, the Miners’ Union, and the Transport and the General Workers’ Union…to the Ice Cream Alliance annual conference – a particular favourite of Jean and Moira’s as they got to sample the goods.

Dugald often had to think on his feet, and Jean recalls one such occasion more than any other.

She said: “The Clyde Regatta was on some time in the early 1960s and the Pavilion was being used as part of the festivities. All of a sudden my father was told that there was royalty downstairs waiting to come inside. He had to work fast to get a room in order!”

Jean cannot recall exactly which royal turned up unannounced, although Moira thinks it could have been King Olav of Norway. The king certainly visited Edinburgh and Glasgow in 1962, and arrived on Scotland’s east shore onboard a yacht.

Jean says reacting so quickly to this visit was typical of the hard work and dedication shown by all of the Pavilion’s employees over the years.

The refurbishment project will see the Pavilion able to host a year-round programme of changing exhibitions in a purpose designed exhibition area. A shop selling local products and a café will also be incorporated. The revamped main hall which will accommodate a range of events including music, theatre, dance, weddings and various community uses and children’s activities from yoga classes to flower shows.

A second venue which will be a more intimate space for smaller performances of music and comedy, while a new top floor will provide a meeting or function room with fantastic views over Rothesay Bay, as well as three new offices and a home for 45RPM – a multi-media space for young people to use, develop new skills and help run. Accessibility at the Pavilion will also be greatly improved.

The Caretaker’s House, Jean’s former family home, is also being redeveloped as part of the project. On completion of the redevelopment work in 2019, the Pavilion will be leased by the council to the new Rothesay Pavilion Charity who will take over running the facility.

Funding for the project has come from the council, along with funding partners the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund; European Regional Development Fund; Historic Environment Scotland; Highlands and Islands Enterprise; the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund; Coastal Communities Fund; Robertson Trust; Garfield Weston Foundation; Foyle Foundation; Wolfson Foundation; Scottish Communities Landfill Fund and the Barcapel Foundation.

Councillor Gary Mulvaney, Depute Leader of Argyll and Bute Council and Policy Lead for Strategic Finance and Capital Regeneration Programme, said: “I’m grateful to Jean for sharing her memories of the Pavilion and I’m sure she will be impressed with the building once the renovation is complete. The projects represents a significant council investment in Bute and indicates our commitment to the community.”

Provost Len Scoullar, a Bute councilor, added: “It’s fantastic to hear Jean’s account of life at the Pavilion. She certainly enjoyed a much closer relationship with the building than most and she got to see life behind the scenes, as well as enjoy the excitement of the countless events that were held there. This project will ensure that Rothesay Pavilion will once again be a major asset for Bute.”

Although she loved the atmosphere created by the arrival of star performers and big events at the Pavilion, Jean says its widespread use by the local community was what meant most to her. And she looks forward to it becoming a place where all sorts of local people gather.

She said: “It will be great if the Pavilion hosts lots of weddings and parties, and I really think that community use is what will be the most important part of making it a success. There was always a sense of community about the Pavilion and that needs to be the case again once it opens back up.”

The renovation is due to be completed next year. The work includes a revamped main hall, exhibition space and a new multi-media space for young people. Updates on the project can be found at www.rothesaypavilion.co.uk.