Greenlaw Town Hall is poised to become the European base for one of China’s most important porcelain manufacturers, the Shanghai-based Hanguan Company.
Six years after £1.9m was spent on renovating the town hall, the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust put the grade-A listed building on the market for £125,000.
Coldingham Investments, operated by the Coldingham Gallery’s Paul Harris and his Chinese wife Sulee, has now bought the town hall, and equity in the building will be secured by the Far East firm, with Paul and Sulee retaining a shareholding in the new operation.
Paul, who used to live and work in Shanghai with his wife, explained: “We have a large network of contacts in China, and we are delighted to be able to bring an important Chinese company to the Scottish Borders.
“We shared images of Greenlaw Town Hall when it came available for sale with Li Youyu, a principal figure in the Hanguan Company.
“He is primarily an artist with vision – not just a businessman – and even from far away in China, he was immediately struck by the amazing beauty of the building.
“The building won’t just be a collection of offices. The vast public hall will house an exhibition and museum area telling the story of Chinese porcelain, a product which was entirely the invention of the Chinese.
“The building will be open to the public, and Mr Youyu aims to promote direct personal relations between Chinese and Scottish ceramicists through practical sessions, conferences and social events.
“There will be practical displays showing the creation of porcelain.
“We are hopeful that the proposed use of Greenlaw Town Hall will help to build the local economy and bring tourists to the area, including many Chinese.
Sulee Harris, listed at Companies House by her Chinese name Sun Yumei as a director of Coldingham Investments along with Huang Ping, added: “The development may also encourage other Chinese businesses we are in touch with to come to the Scottish Borders.”
The Hanguan Company is run by Mr Youyu, a master ceramicist and professor of ceramics at Shanghai’s Fudan University. It produces some of the finest ceramics in the country and is used by the government of China to create official gifts given to foreign dignitaries. Many world leaders, including those of the UK and US, have received wares crafted by Hanguan.
“We plan to invite artists from China and make the place interesting. That’s our plan,” said Sulee.
Greenlaw and Hume Community Council has been concerned about the hall’s future for some time because of how little it has been used since being reopened by Prince Charles in 2011.
Former community council chairman Gerry McCann said: “It will be a major investment in Greenlaw.
“When added to the investment made in the Blackadder Hotel, and the possibility of the poultry farm development, the prospects for Greenlaw look much healthier.
Coldingham Investments is in discussions with architectural advisers and planners about changes needed to the building.