THE WAY I SEE IT #16 : By Darren Murphy

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THE recent news concerning Guardian Care Homes’ purchase of the former cottage hospital is a subject I’m particularly interested in and somewhat pleased about this week. Just over a year has passed since I decided to take a walk around the site where the iconic building stands, and I must admit that I was appalled at its wretched state.

Here stands a building of huge historic importance to Hawick, having been part of the fabric of the town for more than 120 years, yet it was being left to decay. I soon learned through some local sources that the B-Listed building had unfortunately managed to find its way onto the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland. The report I was given cited that the insides of the hospital had been decimated by dry rot and the roof was leaking in several places, mainly due to vandalism and the theft of lead flashings.

The once glorious building now cuts a desolate presence overlooking Wilton Lodge Park. At the time I visited, I remember finding the situation quite depressing and the more I learned about the history of the cottage hospital, the more it saddened me.

To me the cottage hospital is much more than just a building. It’s an emblem, an embodiment of how strong the community is in a town like Hawick. From its very inception until the day of its closure, people worked tirelessly raising funds, initially to build the hospital and then to ensure it could survive financially. It’s a touch clichéd, I know, but if the walls of the building could talk we would bear witness to some splendid stories, of that I’m sure.

After all, the building has stood through the decades silently watching the world go by, witnessing moments such as the arrival of the Roentgen-ray machine in 1903 (an early version of today’s X-ray machines). Two world wars have passed and many troops stationed at Stobs Camp were treated there during the First World War. The hospital even survived the depression of the thirties, again thanks to a huge community fund-raising effort, and was part of the National Health Service shake-up with the hospital eventually coming under the NHS umbrella in the July of 1948.

The building really is steeped in history, and as such I have to admit to being surprised that the people of Hawick have not shown that much concern for it, especially when one considers how hard Teries have worked in days gone by to keep the hospital afloat. I also found it quite disappointing that Borders College hadn’t made more of an effort to maintain the site since purchasing it in 2007. Quite possibly all its resources have gone on the state-of-the-art campus which sits at ground level below the site of th former hospital.

With Guardian Care Homes planning to refurbish the building and turn it into 16 residential units for mixed use, including accommodation for the elderly, the old building will at least be receiving some much-needed attention. And the old walls shouldn’t take any time adapting to their new owner’s needs, as let’s face it, providing a place for people to be looked after has been the object of the building since it was built. In fact it will be like old friends being reunited.