Celia Sinclair Thornquist at the Mackintosh at the Willow with Philip Long (Image: Gibson Digital / National Trust for Scotland 2023)
Following negotiations and the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, it is confirmed that The Willow Tea Rooms Trust will transfer Mackintosh at the Willow to the National Trust for Scotland’s portfolio, which consists of Scotland’s most important built, cultural and natural heritage.
Mackintosh at the Willow is the original and last remaining of Miss Cranston’s famous tea rooms, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh alongside his wife Margaret Macdonald in 1903. The tea rooms are a vital part of Glasgow’s social history and cited worldwide in architectural histories as one of the City’s most important contributions towards architecture and the arts and they were, alongside Mackintosh and Macdonald’s other works, highly influential in Europe and elsewhere. The tea rooms were purchased, saved and restored by Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE and The Willow Tea Rooms Trust between 2014 and 2018.
Although Mackintosh at the Willow has been trading successfully, especially over the last year in which it welcomed over 230,000 visitors, the cumulative effects of the Covid pandemic, alongside difficulties caused by the street closures arising from the second Glasgow School of Art fire in 2018, badly affected turnover and led to an unsustainable financial position, leading to the potential and imminent closure of the property and a consequent loss of jobs.
The National Trust for Scotland, with the vital support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Architectural Heritage Fund, Glasgow City Council and Celia Sinclair Thornqvist and her husband, Rolf Thornqvist, has intervened to acquire the property for the nation. That we were able to use charitable funds to do this was possible thanks to the longstanding commitment and generosity of our members and donors. We are confident that Mackintosh at the Willow’s existing business plan can be run profitably.
Existing staff at Mackintosh at the Willow will transfer to the National Trust for Scotland on their current terms and conditions. It is also foreseen that existing contractual arrangements with suppliers will continue as is for the time being.
The National Trust for Scotland will operate Mackintosh at the Willow on a ‘business as usual’ basis, with existing operations, the website and other elements continuing. The effective date of transfer will be 19 January 2024, although Trust members will be able to enjoy free access to the excellent exhibition from 12 January.
The National Trust for Scotland is proud to add this property to its portfolio, alongside Mackintosh’s other masterpiece, The Hill House, which is currently undergoing a major restoration programme.
The possibilities for future partnership are many, especially given the exciting investments now underway in Sauchiehall Street to create a new ‘cultural corridor’ as well as the promised re-build of the Glasgow School of Art.
Philip Long OBE FRSE
National Trust for Scotland