Anster sets sights on the ‘flash pack’

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PLANS for a £1million upgrade of Anstruther’s Murray Library were unveiled to the public for the first time last week and the term ‘flashpacking’ was on everyone’s lips.

The Murray Library trustees have ambitious plans to appeal to a new range of tourists by turning the listed building on Shore Street into accommodation offering visitors somewhere to stay that is of a standard higher than an ordinary backpackers’ hostel but without the full costs of staying in a hotel.

The craze, which has been called flashpacking, has taken off in recent years with people wanting to go on holiday and stay in comfortable surroundings but preferring to keep the bulk of their money to spend in their chosen destination.

The Murray Library trustees are proposing to renovate the disused building to turn it into shared accommodation for up to 36 people over three floors, including a family room for four, with extra disabled accommodation at ground level.

As well as creating facilities such as a kitchen/dining room, lounge, laundry, storage and separate male and female bathrooms the trustees also want to renovate the old snooker hall area of the building and transform it into five creative industry rooms, where local people could display or sell their wares.

Councillor Elizabeth Riches, who is the chair of the Murray Library Trust, said although only around 30 people came to view the plans, feedback was positive.

She continued: “We were encouraged that those who came were very concerned for the future of the building which has been in the balance for too many years and they were pleased to see that a very positive plan had been worked up.

“The overriding impression was they were impressed for what is being imposed, we don’t have anything like a backpackers’ hostel and some of the people who came were local businesses and they could see immediately the spin-off benefits to them if we have a full hostel.

“People would need to buy food, they would go to the pubs, the cafes and the restaurants.

“It’s in such a prominent position in the town and I think people hold it with quite some affection and if they can see it’s alive again it would be a boost to the whole town.”

The trust has been looking at uses for the building for a number of years but has only recently secured funding to take plans further.

The Mail revealed at the beginning of the month Anstruther had been awarded £950,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and £350,000 of this is being made available to the Murray Library project.

It has also secured £125,000 of funding from a £500,000 pot awarded to the town by Historic Scotland and is considering selling a flat it owns to raise a further £125,000.

The trustees are now in the process of trying to secure another £200,000 from Fife Council and other funders.

If it can do so it will then be guaranteed £150,000 from the European Regional Development Fund, taking the total up to £1million.

Cllr Riches added that even if the full amount could not be raised a lesser version of the plans could still go ahead with the downstairs snooker hall, whose roof is in need of repair, being demolished and the hostel being built without the creative industry rooms.

Any development would be reliant on planning permission but, if this can be gained, Cllr Riches said she hoped Fife Historic Buildings Trust, which would carry out the work, could start in October of this year with the ‘flashpackers’ hostel opened by summer 2013.

Meanwhile plans were also unveiled for a separate project at a number of other buildings in the town, including the Hew Scott Hall, St Nicholas Tower and Wester Anstruther Town Hall complex of buildings.

Although a stand-alone project to the Murray Library the schemes will share funding from the HLF, Historic Scotland and Fife Council.

Those proposals showed plans to turn the Hew Scott Hall into a venue that could be used in a range of ways, including hosting concerts, as well as repairs being carried out to the other buildings in its proposal. Money would also be available for public realm improvements to boost the look of the town.

It’s expected Fife Historic Trust would buy the Hew Scott Hall and associated buildings, whilst renovations were carried out, before transferring them to the Anstruther Improvements Association to manage once completed.