One of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s most iconic buildings has been rescued and restored to its original glory, to become a ‘living museum’ and social enterprise.
The Willow Tea Rooms Building on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street was a world-famous collaboration between designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his enlightened entrepreneurial client Catherine Cranston.
The A-listed property was bought by The Willow Tea Rooms Trust in 2014, along with the neighbouring building, and it has invested funding from The National Lottery to restore the historic space to its 1903 splendour, alongside creating a social enterprise to help local people and create a sustainable future for the building.
The trust worked with international experts to ensure the restoration was as faithful as possible, utilising the skills of Scottish artisans to recreate the furniture, leaded glass and chandeliers. The expansion meant that visitors can also access state-of-the-art creative learning and exhibition spaces, a shop and conference facilities.
Mackintosh at the Willow opened in June 2018 and even with closures due to the pandemic, it welcomed 500,000 visitors in its first two years, who enjoyed afternoon tea, visited the exhibition or took part in events. The exhibition spaces share the stories of Mackintosh, his artist wife Margaret and the inspiring life of Miss Cranston, a woman ahead of her time.
The project has also created employment, training and volunteering opportunities, with many of the young team coming from the Prince’s Trust hospitality programme. All the food served is sourced locally in Scotland. It has a schools and community education programme too, focusing on the role of the women - Margaret and Catherine - in the iconic building and their inspiring lives.
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