THE volunteer group working to secure the future of one of Helensburgh and Lomond’s two National Trust for Scotland (NTS) properties says it “could not endorse” a bid by a rival organisation to purchase the site.

The Friends of Geilston (FoG) revealed last week that an offer had been made by the Kilmahew Education Trust (KET) to take over the Cardross visitor attraction.

Established recently by Stuart and Ally Cotton, KET gained control of the village’s long-abandoned St Peter’s Seminary in July and the charity plans to develop the much vaunted building as an asset for the local community.

However, the co-founders have been met with resistance in their attempts to utilise Geilston house and garden as an operating base for their larger project, with FoG members stating their firm objection to a takeover.

READ MORE: New owners for former St Peter's Seminary in Cardross as church hands over site

Allison Hillis, chair of the Friends of Geilston, said in a newsletter to members: “Having looked closely at their proposals and their past experience in running similar projects, we had considerable reservations and came to the conclusion that we could not endorse their bid.

“We are not able at this stage to go into too much detail, however, we can outline our broader concerns. The attraction of Geilston for KET is that it would make a good base from which to operate while developing their plans for Kilmahew. Their main focus will be Kilmahew and it is an ambitious project which will require substantial funding.

“We don’t think it is a good idea to link up the two estates. The success of one would be dependent on the other and if one failed, the outcome for the other would not be good.

“Whilst we wish KET every success at Kilmahew, we have always advocated that the NTS are the best custodians of Geilston, and would strongly urge the NTS not to go ahead with this sale.

“Ultimately the decision of whether or not to accept the bid from KET is in the hands of the board of trustees and of course due diligence will apply.”

The Friends added that they “remain committed to the garden remaining under the NTS umbrella” and to working with the NTS.

READ MORE: Friends voice 'cautious optimism' for Geilston Garden's future

Earlier this year, the group expressed a “degree of cautious optimism” over the future of the attraction following news that it would stay open in 2020 while the NTS considered its long-term future.

In a letter to Sir Mark Jones, chairman to the NTS board of trustees, FoG members revealed their considerable reservations about the KET bid and again stated that, as far as Geilston is concerned, there is “room for optimism despite the difficult times we are in”.

It said: “Since Geilston re-opened at the beginning of July, visitor numbers and new NTS memberships have been buoyant. The Friends’ membership numbers also continue to increase and are now standing at 375 active members.

“We are in the process of becoming a SCIO and would like to work in closer partnership, helping to promote the garden and running events.

“We are aware that the heritage sector has been badly affected and with that in mind, would also like to explore the possibility of establishing a Geilston Trust which would be separate from the FoG.

“This was mooted in some of our previous discussions and now that there is a better working relationship between FoG and NTS, a Geilston Trust becomes a possibility.

“It could begin to fund-raise for a project which would attract more visitors and show a tangible improvement to the garden.”

Stuart Cotton, Kilmahew Education Trust co-founder and CEO, said: “The ethos of the trust is completely aligned with that of the NTS and the objectives of the Friends of Geilston according to their published constitution.

“The only sticking point is that FoG remain committed to continuing ownership and stewardship by NTS. However it is a matter of public knowledge that NTS prefer to sell the estate.

READ MORE: Hill House 'Box' architects join bid to restore St Peter's Seminary

“At Kilmahew we have assembled a team of internationally renowned experts including Dan Pearson studio landscape, and Carmody Groarke architects. We have initiated archaeological surveys of the castle, walled gardens and Georgian farmstead. We are talking to a professor of biodiversity and an expert in micro energy production so that we can be completely self sufficient.

“We are introducing a vast array of educational elements to the wider estate and developing better forms of accessibility as part of a ten-year plan to make the Kilmahew estate a highly valued contributor to the Cardross economy.

“We have limited facilities on site at present and we are actively looking for sites that can provide support to those objectives.

“We were directed to Geilston and the NTS by local contacts and immediately found distinct synergies between our two sites.

“We would like to bring our extensive team to Geilston to restore the magnificent house and open it up to the public. We think that the gardens are wonderful and wonder whether we could find places within the Geilston landscape to extend the gardens to complement what is already there.

“We also see huge potential in transferring knowledge from Geilston’s existing gardening staff to our new recruits at Kilmahew, so there is a potentially symbiotic relationship to explore. Geilston strengthens Kilmahew and Kilmahew supports Geilston.

“We are still at a very tentative stage of early discussions with NTS which required a formal bid to be made; however, there are other options in the Cardross area that we have identified should this process fail for any reason.

“We look forward to continuing dialogue with NTS, FoG and other local stakeholders to bring about an outcome that is best for Geilston and independent, for the most part, from our work at the Kilmahew estate.”

A spokesperson for the NTS told the Advertiser: “As we informed the Friends of Geilston, we have received an approach from the Kilmahew Education Trust which has recently taken over St Peter’s Seminary.

“Discussions are at a very early stage. We would expect any potential outcome to be subject to consultation with community interests.”

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