Historic East Lothian farm to feature agricultural heritage museum, 'business destination' and community centre

A Scottish tech entrepreneur has set out ambitious plans to revive an historic “model farm” in East Lothian as the industry faces up to the challenges of a post-Brexit future.

George Mackintosh at Papple Steading and the surrounding area, near Haddington, East Lothian. Picture: Stewart Attwood
George Mackintosh at Papple Steading and the surrounding area, near Haddington, East Lothian. Picture: Stewart Attwood

Papple Steading originally sat within the Whittingehame Estate, whose laird at the time was Arthur Balfour, the British prime minister between 1902 and 1905.

Now, tech guru George Mackintosh is eyeing a redevelopment of Papple Steading – an example of the model farms of the agricultural improvement movement – to feature an agricultural heritage museum, business destination and community centre.

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Mackintosh bought Papple Steading in 2017 and has since acquired the farmhouse and adjoining Papple and Papana woods.

He said: “Scotland’s agricultural built heritage is being lost and as the son of a farmer, it’s always been a subject close to my heart. In fact, the ruins of my father’s first farm, Seafield of Raigmore in Inverness-shire, now sit at one corner of the Inverness Retail Park.

“I have a passion for conservation and restoration, and a vision to explain our agricultural heritage.”

Mackintosh, who is chairman of Papple Steading, added: “In a post-Brexit environment, we are also starting to see the UK and Scottish governments’ roadmaps for the farming industry, proposed changes that will be more swingeing than at any time over the last 50 years.

“Accordingly, farming now faces a major rethink around its future in areas like productivity, sustainability and husbandry, and we want Papple to become part of this narrative.

“We enter a period of radical change, perhaps not seen since the agricultural revolution of the 18th century.”

Papple Steading recently hired Verity Sinclair as director of operations and Sue Healy as curator for the planned agricultural heritage centre.

An initial phase of development is nearing completion and launch date has been set for the spring.

Mackintosh said: “Papple will be a place for groups of business people, families and wellbeing practitioners to retreat and build or reawaken relationships.

“Importantly, it will also be a place for local communities to meet and people of all ages to enjoy its buildings, woodland and open spaces.”

In June, Eggplant, the software testing business Mackintosh founded in 2009, was acquired by California-headquartered Keysight Technologies in a transaction value at some $330 million (£241m).

Edinburgh-based Mackintosh previously founded 3i-backed audio, video and web conferencing business Geoconference, in Glasgow in 1996, with the company being sold to Global Crossing – now CenturyLink – in 2000.

The entrepreneur is also the chairman of shellfish exporter Laeso Fish, vice-chairman of the CBI’s SME Council and an associate and former entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Edinburgh Business School.

Hilary Cochran, deputy lieutenant of East Lothian and a local farmer, said: “As we face post pandemic social and economic reconfiguration there is much to glean from a careful but refreshingly modern re-examination of farming.

“The great agricultural revolution lies at the foundation of East Lothian’s current boast to be ‘Scotland’s Food and Drink County’. Papple Steading’s heritage centre can make a great contribution to East Lothian’s future wellbeing and prosperity.”

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