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Community / New owners settle into Belmont House

Martin and Kerry Wilson.

THE NEW owners of Belmont House in Unst say they hope to make the historic building into a “resource” for the island.

Martin and Kerry Wilson have moved up from England to take on the classical Georgian house, which went on the market last year.

They are now settling into life in Unst and are honouring existing self-catering bookings at the building for this season and beyond.

The Belmont Trust was the previous owner, running it as a holiday and events venue on behalf of the community.

The property had been renovated over many years at a cost of around £1.2 million, thanks to plenty of grant funding.

It has three reception rooms, four bedrooms and three bathrooms.

Built in 1775 by Thomas Mouat, the A-listed building was close to collapse when it was bought by the trust for just £5 from its Edinburgh owner in 1996.

Belmont House

The new owners plan to make it their family home, as well as continue to run it is a holiday and event venue, with bed and breakfast for instance in the thinking.

Martin, who worked as a sergeant for the British Transport Police in London before retiring a few years ago, said one idea is to also invite people like chefs or artists to use the space.

This could take the form of a pop-up restaurant, for example, or an exhibition or workshops.

“What we’re hoping to do is be a resource for the island, to bring in revenue, to bring in footfall, tourism – or at least to help,” the 50-year-old told Shetland News.

“We’re not interested in being a focus point necessarily, but definitely a springboard to the rest of the island. If we can attract visitors not just for overnight stays or week stays, if we can attract them for exhibitions, for pop-up restaurants.”

Martin added that the “trick is to listen to local people, hear what they want”.

“It’s about trying to offer what the island needs, not what we think the island needs.”

The Belmont Trust put the building up for sale for offers over £395,000 last year as its members felt they were getting too old to carry on.

Photo: Harper Macleod

Martin said the couple had no intention of moving at the time, but after spotting the listing on a property website their plans swiftly changed.

“It was November of last year,” he explained. “I sent it to my wife on WhatsApp, just as a sort of ‘this would be cool, have a look at this’. To my surprise she said yeah, let’s go and have a look at it.”

The couple then took a road trip up to Unst, and “fell in love” with the house and the grounds.

“The island is just magnificent in itself. You can experience all weathers of all seasons in a day, and I find that quite exciting.

“I don’t think there’s any other word than magical. And I think community-wise, it’s a beautiful area of the world.”

The ex-police officer said the couple have no experience in catering or tourism, but are empathetic to others – which should put them in good stead.

“I think we’ve both got a need to be with people, to nurture people, to host,” he said. “I think that’s the difference, and to be honest I think we’ll fall into the role relatively easily and quickly.”