Sir Walter Scott anniversary helps Abbotsford

25th August 2021

The Abbotsford Trust,which manages the legacy of Sir Walter Scott and his 200-year-old estate in the Scottish Borders, has this week (Tuesday Aug 17th) announced its financial results for 2020.

It shows a year in which trading revenues were significantly depressed due to Covid-19 restrictions, but with the immediate future secured by substantial grant support to see the Trust into early 2021 and the 250th anniversary year of Sir Walter Scott.

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in wholesale disruption to Abbotsford’s operations and business model from 21st March 2020 when the first lockdown began. Visitor admissions to the House and Gardens totalled 8,475 in 2020, compared with 46,009 in 2019. Group bookings normally constitute 30% of total income, but these were entirely cancelled and have yet to resume in 2021.

Abbotsford’s community programme was similarly interrupted as volunteering and all educational and organised community visits were suspended in the week prior to the March 2020 lockdown. As and when restricted re-opening was allowed, a scaled back volunteer programme was re-introduced for those volunteers content to return to carefully risk-assessed roles.

With local outdoor exercise and socialising being the main activity allowed to most people throughout the year and into 2021, Abbotsford’s estate with its recently improved riverside and woodland walks became more popular than ever before. An automatic counter was installed on the main estate entrance path giving a count of some 190,000 visits in the 12 months from June 2020. This compares with an estimated 41,426 estate visits for the whole 12 months of 2019. A mobile catering unit was introduced to the entrance area in February 2021 to generate some revenue from these visitors.

Despite these challenges, plans to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Sir Walter Scott’s birth in 2021 and 2022 continued to be developed throughout the year. Some 60 organisations across the UK and into North America and Italy came together into an anniversary partnership led and facilitated by Abbotsford. brings together a wealth of online and live events, places to visit, books, coins and more, all celebrating 250 years of Scott. This work was made possible by grants from the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency, EventScotland and with help from VisitScotland.

In March 2020 in anticipation of long-term closure and depressed trading into 2021, the Trust made arrangements for short term borrowing sufficient to cover deficits of up to £350,000. Funds secured have been made available as required by interest free borrowing against funds held for restoration works, and against sums donated to the Endowment Fund. These funds were accessed only initially for a short period and have not been relied on extensively, however they remain available should they be required. In June 2020 the Third Sector Resilience Fund provided a £50,000 loan interest free for 12 months. A number of Covid relief grants were awarded throughout 2020 and early 2021, sufficient to cover forecast trading losses through to June 2021.

During 2020 the Trust made a surplus of £186,964 (2019: deficit of £16,634) on unrestricted funds. TheTrading Company made a loss of £97,108 (2019: profit of £16,879) due to periods of closure and restrictive trading caused by the pandemic. The Trust closed the yearwith a consolidated surplus of £89,856 (2019: surplus of £16,879) sufficient to cover ongoing losses until June 2021. To cover anticipated further losses until markets recover from 2022 onwards, the Trust continues to look towards fundraising, and if necessary to short term borrowing.

Giles Ingram, Chief Executive of The Abbotsford Trust, said:“We are immensely grateful to all our visitors in this challenging year, and to the numerous organisations and individuals who have given Abbotsford vital support. I wish to thank the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, Museums Galleries Scotland, the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency, Scottish Borders Council, VisitScotland, EventScotland and numerous individuals and charitable trusts for their essential support during 2020, without which the Trust would not have been able to cover its operating costs during 2020 and into the first half of 2021.”

He continued: “The summer holiday period and the gradual reduction in restrictions has led to paying visits to Abbotsford nearing 60% of usual numbers at August 2021. Our large self-catering wing has only just started to welcome guests for the first time in more than a year. Together with other attractions and industry bodies such as The Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) we anticipate recovery only from 2022 once international visits resume, and a fuller recovery in group visits from 2023 onwards.”

Giles Ingram added: “Although the whole Scottish tourism sector continues to face a very challenging year, we are fortunate in having plenty to look forward to. Nov 2 –7 sees the Borders Book Festival at Abbotsford, after which we will open our doors to visitors throughout December for special Christmas tours and activities, an initiative we began in 2020. As we head into 2022 and Scotland’s Year of Stories we look forward to celebrating the 250th anniversary of Scotland’s greatest storyteller, Sir Walter Scott.”