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11 Jan 2024

Mackintosh at the Willow joins the Trust

Introducing Mackintosh at the Willow


4 speakers: Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE, Founder of The Willow Tea Rooms Trust; Philip Long OBE, Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland; Jean Sinclair, CEO of The Willow Tea Rooms Trust; Ian Dickson BEM DL, Chair of The Willow Tea Rooms Trust.

We're losing so much heritage in Scotland already.
I think we owe it to our children and grandchildren, and the citizens of the country, to maintain that and show them what their history is.

We're here at Mackintosh at the Willow because we're absolutely delighted to announce that the National Trust for Scotland is going to be taking on responsibility for this wonderful place on Sauchiehall Street.
Like many organisations, it's had some challenges over the last few years because of very difficult trading conditions.
With great foresight, the Trustees of this place began a conversation with the National Trust for Scotland, and the result of that is fantastic news because it will now come into the responsibility of the National Trust for Scotland, safeguarding its future and all of its staff.

We can put all our previous difficulties behind us, and we now have a real chance to run this amazing building to its full potential.
We're very proud to be part of such a prestigious organisation, and we're delighted that this building is now in safe hands for the future.

The Trust, having painstakingly restored the Willow Tea Rooms to its former glory, it was important to us that we found the right partner to do that, who would respect the heritage.

Since the 1930s, the National Trust for Scotland has been safeguarding Scotland's heritage at its very finest, so I believe that we're a fantastic fit, an organisation that can really take responsibility for Mackintosh at the Willow, make sure it's safe and secure for the future.
And we really must do this because Mackintosh's work, and especially here at Mackintosh at the Willow, I think is one of the great jewels in our heritage in Scotland.

They'll be surprised at all the colours and thinking: this was 1903.
Imagine walking in from fog and soot and dirt into this place, with all the mirrors and lights and so forth.
And they'll ask themselves the question, I think, how did Mackintosh design all that?

We have so much experience here that we can share with National Trust for Scotland and take Mackintosh at the Willow to its next level.

Our dealings with them, our negotiations and discussions with them over the last number of months made it clear to us that we had chosen not just a safe haven for Mackintosh at the Willow, but the ideal safe haven.

I think there'll be excitement about it.

We are delighted that the famous Mackintosh-designed tea rooms on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow have joined the portfolio of special places in our care.

Mackintosh at the Willow dates to 1903 and is the last remaining original of the several tea rooms designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald for Glasgow entrepreneur Miss Catherine (Kate) Cranston. Early patrons of the tea rooms had never seen anything like these designs before – they quickly became a popular setting in which to socialise, particularly for women. The tea rooms are one of Glasgow’s most important contributions towards modernism and, alongside Mackintosh and Macdonald’s other works, they were highly influential in Europe from the moment of their opening.

Mackintosh at the Willow was purchased, saved and restored by Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE and The Willow Tea Rooms Trust between 2014 and 2018, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and others, including Scottish Enterprise and Glasgow City Heritage Trust. The restoration resulted in one of the most spectacular heritage attractions in the city, restoring and re-creating the jewel-like interior designs and a frontage that pays testament to the unique vision of Mackintosh and Macdonald.

Although the tea rooms have, in the last year, attracted over 230,000 visitors, the cumulative impacts of the disruption caused to Sauchiehall Street by the second fire at the Glasgow School of Art and the COVID pandemic had an adverse effect. As a consequence, given the importance of the site to Scotland’s national heritage, the National Trust for Scotland was approached last year to consider options that would ensure the tea rooms’ long-term security and sustainability.

Enabled by support from our members and donors, we have been able to secure the property, with vital additional help given by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF), Glasgow City Council, Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE and her husband Rolf Thornqvist. As a result, the property will continue trading as normal with many jobs preserved.

A view from the first floor balcony of the tea rooms, showing Mackintosh chairs arranged around a wooden floor. Long pendant ceiling lights hang down through the balcony space.
Inside the restored Mackintosh at the Willow

Phil Long OBE, the National Trust for Scotland’s Chief Executive, said: ‘Mackintosh is one of the greatest architects of the 20th century, respected internationally for his breathtaking and innovative design. People from around the world travel to Scotland to see his and his wife Margaret Macdonald’s brilliant work together. As the custodians of one of Mackintosh’s other rare masterpieces, the Hill House (on which Macdonald also collaborated), we see the acquisition of Mackintosh at the Willow as a perfect fit.

‘The brilliant restoration by The Willow Tea Rooms Trust, with the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund and many others, gifted back to the nation an exceptional example of architectural heritage that we are proud to bring into our care.

‘Despite difficulties that were outwith the control of The Willow Tea Rooms Trustees and the management team, the work they have done with their staff in welcoming visitors, running community learning and outreach and in providing an exceptional heritage experience is exemplary – and we are certain we can build on their achievements to ensure the long-term sustainability and survival of this wonderful place.’

“I’m sure members of the National Trust for Scotland, especially those living in Glasgow and the west of Scotland, will welcome this addition to our portfolio and the opportunity it gives them to enjoy the excellent tours and exhibition on offer, not to mention the mouth-watering offers within the tea rooms.”
Phil Long OBE
Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland

Phil continued: ‘I want to pay tribute to the foresight of our own Board members for their support of our partnership with The Willow Tea Rooms Trustees, which has averted the risk of potential closure and safeguarded this vitally important place for the future, and also to our members and supporters whose generosity over the years has given us the financial means to acquire, secure and protect Mackintosh at the Willow alongside all of the other historic and natural treasures we care for on behalf of the people of Scotland.

‘The prospects for Mackintosh at the Willow, and for the City of Glasgow, are genuinely exciting: through the work of Glasgow City Council and the Lottery-funded Heritage Places scheme, redevelopment is underway, with ambitions to return Sauchiehall Street to a cultural corridor that better links together the surrounding world-class institutions and venues such as The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and the Theatre Royal. We are looking forward to the National Trust for Scotland playing a part in this transformation through our new responsibility for Mackintosh at the Willow.

‘We’re welcoming the existing workforce into the National Trust for Scotland family: the insight and expertise they have will be a great benefit to us and will be instrumental in ensuring that Mackintosh at the Willow continues to welcome visitors.

‘I particularly want to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Trustees of The Willow Tea Rooms Trust, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Architectural Heritage Fund, and Glasgow City Council, as well as many other individuals and supporters, for their very welcome encouragement and help in bringing about this announcement.’

A man and a woman sit at a linen-covered table in a tea room, each holding a blue Willow tea cup and saucer. They are smiling at the photographer.
Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE with National Trust for Scotland Chief Executive Phil Long OBE at Mackintosh at the Willow

Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE (founder, past Chair and Trustee of The Willow Tea Rooms Trust) said: ‘From the beginning, it was our aim to restore and conserve this last remaining and most beautiful example of Mackintosh’s masterful designs for tea rooms to the highest possible standards. Through this new partnership, I am delighted and relieved that a way has been found to sustain this global icon in Glasgow and Scotland, so that it can continue to be protected and shared.

‘Together with the other Trustees, I sought a safe haven to protect the integrity of the building, its decoration, the services provided and, last but not least, the dedicated staff responsible for those services. We wanted to ensure that Mackintosh at the Willow would be in the hands of people who shared our ethos and passion for the heritage this place represents – and that is why we are so glad that we have been able to come to this arrangement with the National Trust for Scotland.’

Eilish McGuinness, The National Lottery Heritage Fund Chief Executive, said: ‘Since 2017, we have supported The Willow Tea Rooms Trust with £4.9 million as they oversaw the brilliant restoration and interpretation of the tea rooms. Operating under challenging circumstances, they have continued to care for this heritage of national and international importance, ensuring access to visitors from the city and beyond. The National Trust for Scotland will build on this positive foundation, and we applaud their ambition and commitment in recognising the heritage importance of Mackintosh at the Willow for Glasgow, Scotland and their members.’

“We are delighted that the Mackintosh Tea Rooms will become a permanent part of the National Trust for Scotland collection, ensuring that this unique part of Scotland’s heritage is protected and cared for into the future”
Eilish McGuinness
Chief Executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund

Mackintosh at the Willow will formally become one of the National Trust for Scotland’s properties with effect from Friday 19 January 2024. However, members of the Trust will be able to enjoy access to the property’s excellent exhibition for free from Friday 12 January.

Mackintosh at the Willow is at 217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.

The tea rooms are within walking distance of the Tenement House, which offers a contrasting but complementary experience of Glaswegian life in the early 20th century.

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