The history of Woodend Barn as an arts centre.

The transformation of the farm steading at Woodend into an arts centre was prompted by a community play which was performed in the grounds of Crathes Castle in July 1992.

James Burnett of Leys wanted to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Crathes Castle and he approached Alastair Macdonald, a young theatre director who was an enthusiast for the style of community theatre pioneered by Joan Littlewood and Gerry Mulgrew. Alastair welcomed the idea, but insisted that the play should celebrate not just the lives of successive Burnett lairds, but the history of the whole local community. James Burnett, initially surprised by this enlargement of his idea, nevertheless endorsed it.

A group of volunteers formed the CRATHES 92 Committee and worked through 1991 to gain community support for the idea and raise funds for the production.

John Hargreaves, a retired historian from Aberdeen University, was commissioned to prepare a script, and he assembled a small group of Banchory people interested in researching local history, and in writing dialogue in both Doric and English. Their intention was to identify episodes which might dramatically illustrate changing relationships between the Burnett family and neighbouring communities.

In June 1992 the Stage Director set up headquarters at Woodend which became the centre for rehearsals and set-building. Woodend Barn was an invaluable base for the production team although the light was dim, cold winds swept the building, and there was earth underfoot.

The actual performances took place in a large marquee, with seats for four hundred, in front of Crathes Castle on 28th July – 1st August- four sold-out performances. In one way or another more than two hundred local people had contributed to the evening: fifty as actors, sixty as musicians or singers, over sixty-five as workers back-stage or off-stage.

Woodend Arts Association was formed in 1994 with the purpose of turning the Barn into a community arts centre. A volunteer committee was led by Sheila Hargreaves and once major building improvements were completed in 1998, several additional voluntary groups were set up to promote different art forms: in 1998, Sideline Multi Arts (SMA) was set up to encourage community involvement in the arts and Woodend Music Society to promote classical music. In 2000, the Lang Byre Gallery, to promote visual art exhibitions. Third Stage, 2003, to provide art and craft workshops for older people. Woodend Publishing, 2004, to publish books and pamphlets relating to art or the Barn. Woodend Allotments, 2007, to develop allotment gardens at the Barn and Woodend Wild Garden, 2008, to reclaim part of the original mill pond and promote biodiversity. Most recently, Woodend Wood Engravers, 2011, promoting the practice of wood engraving.

The above is a very brief summary. A more detailed account of the early years is contained in From Cattle Court to Community Arts, An Historical Memoir of the early years of Woodend Arts Association by John Hargreaves and others, which can be downloaded here.

We plan to document the most recent ten years over 2013/4. If you would like to help, please let us know!