Flax Mill: Rare piece of Fife's industrial heritage handed to charity for free

A rare piece of Scotland’s industrial heritage is to be handed to a charity for nothing by Fife Council.

By Craig Smith, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 12:26 pm

Councillors have approved plans to dispose of Silverburn Park’s 19th Century Flax Mill by giving it to the Fife Environment Access Trust (FEAT), which has been developing activities to regenerate the Leven park, for free.

FEAT is looking to breathe new life into the B-listed brick building by creating a backpacker’s hostel, a cafe and restaurant, arts and crafts studios for local makers and enterprises, a gift shop, meeting rooms, event and exhibition spaces and offices.

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An artist's impression of how the mill could look after it is restored

Around 135 jobs could be generated over a two-year period of redevelopment, and 26 jobs are likely to be directly created once the renovated Silverburn Flax Mill is up and running, although councillors on the region’s assets and corporate services sub committee were told another 17 will be supported in other parts of Fife, Scotland and the UK by activities generated by the investment in Silverburn.

Estimates put the value of the refurbished building at around £950,000, but surveyors say it is only worth - in its current dilapidated condition - just £1.

Indeed, the price tag for the entire project is anticipated to be in the region of £8 million, so Fife Council has decided to relieve itself of ongoing maintenance costs whilst retaining ownership of the park land around the flax mill itself.

The former Flax Mill that is hoped to be renovated

Council co-leader Councillor David Alexander, who represents the Leven, Kennoway and Largo ward, said: “We’re going to get a building which will have £8 million invested in it and it’s got historical value as well.

“For me, this is a hugely positive project.”

FEAT has spent the last few years regenerating Silverburn Park with the assistance of a Friends of Silverburn Park group made up of community members.

Two significant pieces of investment are already generating economic activity, namely the Cottage Window Café and a campsite development at the lower paddock which has become recognised as one of the best small campsites in Scotland.

The next stage will be to bring the Flax Mill up to modern standards while preserving elements of architectural significance, and creating facilities within the building which attract visitors and create sources of income.

Almost £3.5m is coming from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and £2m from Fife Council capital funding has also been allocated, with other sources being sought for the remainder of the cash.

Councillor David MacDiarmid said he was particularly excited about the project, but questioned why the building had been allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair that it has been on Scotland’s at risk register since 2002.

“It appears to me that Fife Council has a habit of leaving buildings to deteriorate,” he noted.

“But this looks great on paper and I hope it’s a great success.”

That concern was echoed by Councillor Bill Porteous, who added: “Fife Council does seem to be very cavalier with its assets.

“I’m hoping that in the future we get to grips with this because we can’t allow assets to waste. That means we’re not taking proper charge of our assets.”

In response, community manager David Paterson said work had been done over the years to “keep the building going” but stressed stretched resources had hindered those efforts.

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