THE Girl Guide movement in Scotland has been left “heartbroken” after it was announced this week that its Borders-based activity centre would shut for good.
The closure of Netherurd House near Blyth Bridge is said to be due to financial difficulty, with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic being the final nail in the coffin.
Staff will be made redundant, with the exception of the groundskeeper who will be retained until the estate is sold.
Margot Swanston, who has visited Netherurd for 50 years as a guide and leader, described herself as “devastated”.
The stunning Georgian mansion and its extensive grounds have served thousands of guides and brownies for more than 70 years.
After finances plummeted five years ago, a review was carried out which resulted in significant investment to improve facilities and make it more attractive for users.
There was an initial increase in bookings, but over the last three years numbers dropped, resulting in fewer users and financial woes.
Girlguiding Scotland’s chief commissioner Moira McKenna said: “In the past, we regularly used to fill the house with adults for county and other training weekends, but this has been declining for at least the last decade.
“Fewer counties book for training, more of them come for only one night and the numbers from each county are lower than in previous times.
“There is now much more training available online and this has increased dramatically this year with COVID-19.
“Even before the pandemic came along, Girlguiding was planning to set up a digital hub to provide training online, and whilst we know the value of being together, volunteers across Scotland are finding the online or local training options more convenient in terms of both time and money.
“We had hoped to build external business for mid-week, especially schools, but we were unable to build a wide enough business base to rely on this.
“Each year we have tried other avenues including holidays for Trefoil groups, retreats for local churches, private family gatherings and occasional weddings, but overall we could not generate enough routine business to help us improve the finances.
“This was the situation before we were forced to close Netherurd in March due to COVID-19, and since then the centre has had no income.”
A spokesperson for Netherurd House added: “We want to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all the staff and volunteers who have made Netherurd a place of adventure and provided ever-lasting memories for so many girls and young people.
“This is a significant loss to Girlguiding Scotland and we know many will be upset by this news.
“Our priority remains our members and we’re committed to ensuring that girls and young women can keep having adventure and benefit from all that the outdoors has to offer.”
Former visitors to Netherurd House took to social media calling the closure a “sad day” for Girlguiding Scotland.
One woman wrote: “Dreadful news. Broken-hearted doesn’t begin to describe the way I’m feeling. Netherurd has always been a home away from home to me.”
Joyce Sundstrem added: “Such sad news, an integral part of our Guiding over the years. Happy memories of training weekends and pack holidays there.
“It’s a shame to think the future rainbows, brownies and guides won’t have the same chance to visit as we had.”
Many leaders and former users have described the news as a “devastating tragedy” for guiding and have even called for a rescue mission.
Ms Swanston, the guides’ assistant commissioner for Peebles, said: “We all hope it can be saved. I, as a guider, am devastated.
“I was 10 years old on my first guide camp and since then have stayed in the old Brownie house, the new Brownie house, and the big house itself.
“It is not only a huge asset to Peeblesshire and the Borders, but to the whole of Scotland as it is the only residential venue owned by Girlguiding in Scotland.”
Ms Swanston and her family have strong ties in the Guiding movement and she says they have many happy memories of their time spent at Netherurd House.
One cherished memory was formed only last October, when Ms Swanston renewed her Guide Promise after 40 years in Guiding.
She added: “My granddaughter Megan took her Guide Promise for the first time and we were honoured by being enrolled by the Scottish Chief Guide.”