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Erskine forces charity to make the Victoria Hotel and Leanchoil Hospital respites for veterans

By Garry McCartney

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The Victoria Hotel on Tytler Street is to be converted into a respite centre for the armed forces community.
The Victoria Hotel on Tytler Street is to be converted into a respite centre for the armed forces community.

A GRAND old hotel in the centre of Forres is to be converted into a respite centre for the armed forces community.

Veterans charity Erskine - headquartered in Bishopton, Renfrewshire - has agreed a conditional offer with owner Alex Ross to buy the Victoria Hotel on Tytler Street.

Erskine chief executive and former Officer Commanding of No 51 Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth, Ian Cumming, has confirmed the charity’s intention to transform the building into a veterans activity centre, similar to the Erskine Veterans Village in the Central Belt.

He said: “Here, veterans of all ages can benefit from learning new skills and hobbies while building new support networks and staying active. Hot meals, tea, coffee and friendly banter are readily available!

“Erskine veterans activity centres deliver life-changing and life-saving services - we want to replicate this across Scotland.”

Erskine provides a range of services to British Armed Forces veterans and their families who live in Scotland. These include the Reid Macewen Activities Centre at Bishopton which opened five years ago and now has 200 members. It enhances wellbeing, providing the opportunity to engage with people who have shared experiences and history, learn new skills, explore interests and access support services. Attendees enjoy sports and recreation, music, films, lunch and relaxation. Help is available in computing, woodwork, arts and health. There are also drop-in sessions delivered by partner organisations providing information and advice.

Erskine hopes to replicate this success in Forres at the Victoria Hotel and at the former Leanchoil Hospital on St Leonard’s Road.

Mr Cumming explained: “We are partnering with the Leanchoil Trust in their plans to transform Leanchoil into a community hub, veterans centre and affordable housing project, in 2027.

“However, our analysis and community engagement work has confirmed that there are many within Moray’s large ex-armed forces community who could benefit from our support now.

“We want to have three or more centres operating in Scotland by 2027. To that end, subject to our securing affordable and practicable planning consent, we hope to be delivering health supporting and life affirming services at the Victoria Hotel before the end of 2024.”

The Victoria Hotel has been a landmark at the west end of Forres since 1864. Its sandstone presence has been a welcome feature for more than 150 years.

It is laid out over three floors with a cellar and attic. The ground floor currently has two bars, a function hall and bar, offices, kitchens and storage.

The first and second floors accommodate seven letting rooms and a three bedroom flat.

An Erskine spokesperson added: “Expenditure on this project is commercially sensitive but deemed to be affordable - providing planning consent is not overly complicated and does not attract high costs.

“More details will follow as we build up a better picture of veterans’ needs.”

Leanchoil Trust development officer Jo Lenihan.
Leanchoil Trust development officer Jo Lenihan.

Meanwhile, the Leanchoil Trust aims to refurbish and re-purpose the Victorian era hospital building and grounds once a community asset transfer from NHS Grampian has been finalised.

A feasibility study estimated that the cost of the plans will be in the region of £4million.

Trust development officer Jo Lenihan confirmed transfer of ownership will take place once planning permission is granted towards the end of the year.

She said: “We are establishing good relationships with local partners to develop plans for a wellbeing centre and cafe in the main hospital building. Updates will be discussed with the community at open day events later this year.

“Key partners Erskine, Hanover Scotland and Scottish Ambulance Service are on board for development of their aspects of the project, namely the Erskine Veterans’ Activity Centre and Hanover Scotland ‘s 40 units of supported living accommodation on site.

“We congratulate Erskine on their purchase of the former Victoria Hotel. Their commitment to the area and plans for an activity centre for local veterans will complement what will be available with the unique facilities and open site that Leanchoil provides.

“Our partnership with Erskine continues and their enthusiasm to occupy part of the Leanchoil site is undiminished.”

The original chairman of the Leanchoil Trust, Graham Hilditch, has stepped down after six years of hard work establishing the project.

“He has worked tirelessly, and we are grateful for his huge input,” finished Mrs Lenihan. “We look forward to building on what Graham has helped to achieve."

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