A campaign has been launched to safeguard the future of one of the town’s most treasured buildings.
Forres Community Council (FCC) is looking for support for a feasibility study into options for alternative uses of Leanchoil Hospital, following an ongoing public review by Moray Integration Joint Board (IJB).
FCC chairman Graham Hilditch revealed the group’s plans at its monthly meeting in the Tolbooth.
He said: “I was born there, as were lots of locals, and we all have a connection and affinity to the iconic building. After speaking to the IJB and the NHS, then visiting Leanchoil, we have decided to take the initiative. “Should any change of use be mooted, we would want to see it remain for the benefit of the community in some capacity rather than be sold to a developer or bulldozed. We would hate to see Leanchoil lost but we need the community’s help to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Contrary to popular local belief, Leanchoil is owned by the NHS and not part of the Forres Common Good.
The hospital was built in 1892 with funds donated from Lord Strathcona to serve the population of Forres and the surrounding area. It was named after the farm where his mother had grown up. On his death in 1914, Strathcona left a further bequest of £10,000 to the hospital administrators.
Leanchoil’s responsibilities have diminished over the years, most noticeably since the maternity unit was closed in the mid-eighties, and more recently following the opening of Forres Health and Care Centre, and Varis Court. There are now just four beds in use, down from nine last year. Post-hospital treatment is being more focused on supported home care.
However, NHS Grampian is yet to make a decision about its long-term future.
A number of ongoing public meetings have taken place at Forres Academy and Forres Town hall over the last 12 months to discuss the future of local health care. Community councillors Graham Hilditch and Graham Murdoch attended and have also been provided with historic reports giving costings for repair and maintenance work at Leanchoil. It revealed that the facility presently costs around £1 million per year to maintain and run.
As a result, FCC has decided to try and raise funds to commission a feasibility study, independently assessing the condition of the building, looking at its current use and suggesting potential uses which could benefit the local community. A key part of the document would be public opinion and input to gauge how the community itself sees Leanchoil’s future.
Mr Hilditch said: “There seems to be less and less medical use for Leanchoil as new medical facilities are developed in the town. It is fairly obvious to me, with the current number of patients who use the facilities, the building could be used more effectively. A Community Asset Transfer could be a long term solution. Future uses could be sheltered housing, complimentary health care facilities or even student accommodation and facilities for the Glasgow School of Art and all of the benefits they would bring to the town.”
He added: “This is where we need the help of the people of Forres. Should the NHS not require Leanchoil in the future, we should be prepared as a community to try and acquire the facility and develop it as a local resource.
“We need folk’s input and professional help to assess the condition of the building, as well as innovative and viable ideas for its future usage.”
Email FORRESCC@GMAIL.COM if you have suggestions or want to get involved in the campaign. The public is also welcome to have an input at Forres Community Council’s next meeting on Thursday, May 17 at 7.15pm in the Tolbooth.