Annual Report 1999-2000

Below is the last annual report before the YMCA took the decision to close Bonskeid House, after which it was bought by a private purchaser.




It has been a year of consolidation for Bonskeid House, there have been no major building or decoration projects in the house, and the grounds reclamation project has continued steadily.
Whilst remaining busy well into the autumn, overall numbers were down considerably, especially in April, May and June. This was partially due to the ongoing decline in school groups. Schools have been particularly hit by funding constraints which prevent them taking on Supply teachers to cover classes for those taking children away. (In school it can be 1 teacher for 30 children, on a residential it tends to be 1 - 10, which results in a significant shortage of teachers in school if a large group is involved.) Most of the school groups we now have tend to be in June and July when staff are released from senior students sitting external exams.
Over the past four years we have been aware that our major markets: schools and colleges, have been declining rapidly due to financial cutbacks. During this time we have been working very hard to diversify our market and publicise Bonskeid House more widely. I am pleased to be able to report that after 4 - 5 years I think we have "turned the tanker round". Our bookings diary for 2000-1, is bulging and already in the first two months of this financial year we have taken more than in the first three months last year. I am pleased to able to report that youth group and YMCA usage of Bonskeid is higher now than any time in the last six years. There has also been an increase in groups coming for training courses involving environmental or land use studies, a result of the opening up´ of the grounds by rhododendron clearance.
Our major challenge during the year, was the problem common to many Pitlochry businesses, staffing. Following Trudy´s retirement two years ago we have employed 5 cooks I chefs with little success. Fortunately we retained Christopher and he managed the lion's share of the cooking last year. For our seven day week operation we need two cooks, the void was filled by the Director and her Assistant. To add to our problems, Alison, the House Supervisor, who was responsible for menus and food ordering, left on maternity leave in July. The difficulties we had been experiencing with the catering operation for over four years led us to seriously look at alternative options. I am pleased to be able to announce that after lengthy negotiations Sodexho were appointed as our contract caterers. They have been in post now for three months, and, after initial teething problems (inability to find suitable staff!), it is now working very well, with favourable feed back from guests.
We have recently purchased new bed linen for all the bed rooms, making the accommodation look bright and cheerful, and we are in the process of securing sound insulation for the dining room ceiling — a very noisy room at the best of times. Our next fund raising project for the house will be for new lounge chairs; our problem is that we are so large, to keep everything matching we have to buy furnishings in one go. For one hundred lounge chairs we are looking at about £15,000!
During the year we have been very fortunate to gain the services of Adrian Worsfold, who initially came to Bonskeid as a guest, volunteered to construct a website for us, and subsequently has been involved in staff training, so that we can update our own website. The website is extremely comprehensive, with details of the house, grounds, activities on offer, and an online booking facility. There are educational pages so that schools can do preparatory work before they arrive, and photo galleries to enable people to get a 'feel' of the place. We are receiving very favourable responses from visitors concerning the site, especially those from overseas. Our next project is to translate parts of the site into German, French and Swedish.
The grounds project has progressed steadily throughout the year, the annual SOP volunteers weekend was hetd in October, when about 70 volunteers undertook a variety of tasks, including rhododendron clearance, tree regeneration protection, and building new footpath steps. We also had a group of five volunteers on a week long SOP Action Break;, and a group of six National Trust for Scotland volunteers for a weekend to build a 'hide'; by the nature reserve pond. Scottish Wildlife Trust continue to provide us with a group of workers to undertake skilled work within the grounds when required, undertaking drainage and fencing tasks. We have at present two lads from Sweden working in the grounds as volunteers for a month, and an electronics engineer from Germany who has given up his seven week summer holiday to volunteer in the grounds. Work is continuing apace, with Victorian footpaths being opened up (following years of concealment by rhododendrons), and existing ones being upgraded.
The Scottish Branch of the Arboricultural Association undertook their annual 'charity' day at Bonskeid House in March. We had over forty tree surgeons working free of charge for a weekend, in excess of twenty trees were high pruned and dead wooded, and nine large diseased or dangerous trees were dismantled and felled. Additionally 200+ small Scots pine, birch and ash trees were planted, and 15 specimen exotic conifers. The weekend coincided with the YMCA National Assembly at Bonskeid House, and a ceremonial tree planting took place when the General Secretary of the YMCA European Alliance, Johann Etvik from Norway, planted a weeping cedar.
Following the Arbor Day we had a full Tree Survey, as required for our Woodland Grant. We have 29 different varieties of conifer, and at least a further 10 species of broadleaf trees, making a total of 39 which is very impressive, especially as we have a number of quite rare trees. We have produced an information sheet for guests listing the trees and their dimensions, as well as their location in the grounds. This 'Tree Trail' is proving very popular, and we have recently been advised that we have been successful with our grant application for £3000 (50% from The Green Tourism Initiative, and 50% from The Forestry Commission) to label the trees with individual signs, and to produce an information guide. We are hoping eventually to be able to open the grounds as a stand alone visitor attraction and educational resource, with local schools visiting us for day fieldwork trips.
Bonskeid House is currently undertaking a YMCA Quality Assurance Review, if we reach the required standards we will qualify for a Working Towards Excellence Award´, this alongside our Scottish Tourist Board One Star Award, and our Outdoor Activities License will enable people to book accommodation and training confident that we meet all the required standards for comfortable and safe residentials.


Centre Director
19 June 2000


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful