Sail Loft, Portsoy, Aberdeenshire

Image (c) Colin Maclean Photography

Image (c) Colin Maclean Photography

What’s So Special About This Place?

Project: Sail Loft, Back Green, Portsoy, Aberdeenshire
Client: North East Scotland Preservation Trust

Category B Listed
On Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland since 1997

New Use: Bunkhouse accommodation for up to 25 people

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Professional team
Architect: LDN Architects
Quantity Surveyor: The Torrance Partnership
Structural Engineer: AF Cruden Associates
Valuation Surveyor: Graham & Sibbald
Project co-ordinator: Paul Higson, NESPT

Other project funders
Heritage Lottery Fund £873,500
Coastal Communities Fund £601,148
Historic Environment Scotland (Portsoy CARS) £360,200
Portsoy Community Enterprise £74,800
North East Scotland PT £17,243Total £1,926,891

Portsoy harbour developed as a busy trading port in the 17th and early 18th centuries. These buildings date from the 18th Century and comprise a former Sail Making Loft, a finely detailed Georgian House and two associated cottages.

The open area at Back Green was once an industrial site used for the manufacture of thread for flax. The area of “green” was utilised for the bleaching of flax, the reliable water supply from the nearby burn providing ideal conditions for bleaching. The name “Back Green” probably derives from bleaching green. The finished thread was exported to Nottingham and Leicester.

By the early 19th Century, the site contained two groups of buildings – the one to the seaward side operated as a rope making business, while the manufacture of sails took place within the eastern range, adjacent to the house and cottages.

Why Was The Building Under Threat?


The ropeworks fell into decline and have since been lost to the sea; the former sail making factory, house and cottages survived, albeit in increasingly derelict and dangerous state. The buildings were abandoned in the 1970s and have been empty and decaying ever since. They were first added to the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland in 1997. Early plans for conversion to housing were stopped because of the risk of flooding from the nearby burn.

How Was It Saved?

North East Scotland Preservation Trust acquired the buildings from the Seafield Estate in 2006 and has been working to find a viable project to bring them back into productive use ever since. It acquired the freehold of the site for £1, and, with the help of further AHF support, was eventually able to develop a viable proposal which attracted nearly £2 million in grant funding. The Sail Loft has created new jobs, supported local businesses and brought additional economic benefit to the area. In particular, this is the first completed project in Scotland to have benefited from the HLF’s new Heritage Enterprise programme.

How Is The Building Used Now?

The building is now high-quality self-catering accommodation for up to 25 visitors and includes a fully accessible bedroom and bathroom, with a communal kitchen and lounge areas. It will be operated as a community business by the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival. A walled garden is being developed alongside. This new development will encourage visitors to further explore the local area on foot and by bike, with a new cycle storage hub included in the basement of the building.

How Did The AHF Help?

The AHF’s involvement with the project goes back to 2000, when it first offered funding towards a feasibilty study but this did not initially lead to a scheme being developed. It took the development of the Heritage Enterprise approach to be able support the development of a revenue generating long term sustainable use for these important buildings, with further input from an AHF project development grant to firm up the revised plans. Once capital funds had been confirmed, an AHF working capital loan was required to underwrite the project costs while on site to help deliver the completed project in late 2016.

Images courtesy of Paul Higson / NESPT.