Tom Laurie OBE – Surveyor, arts champion
Born November 11, 1938; died December 23, 2020
Tom Laurie, who has died aged 82, was a quantity surveyor, who helped transform Scotland’s cultural landscape both physically and creatively. He played an integral part in the founding of Cumbernauld Theatre, and was key to the setting up of WASPS Studios at a time when affordable studio provision for artists was hard to find. He was Chair of the Traverse Theatre during one of Edinburgh’s new writing theatre’s golden periods, and brought artistic life to every project he was involved in.
One of Laurie’s finest achievements was in the development and subsequent transformation of Glasgow’s Merchant City. Setting up office in the city’s old fish market that would soon become the Briggait Centre, and sharing a space with trade union founded arts festival, Mayfest, he would map out plans that would transform a once derelict inner city area into a vibrant hive of activity.
A particular focus came with Babbity Bowster, the Blackfriars Street howf founded by Laurie and his brother Fraser in 1985 after the eighteenth century Robert Adam designed building was saved from demolition two years earlier. The pub became a hub of traditional music and political debate.
Laurie’s own unaccompanied singing during Saturday afternoon sessions at Babbity’s was the stuff of legend. Similarly, as a European, he found great joy in leading the singing at the September Scottish Traditional Music School in Barga, Tuscany.
Laurie’s visionary development work came as Glasgow was in the throes of reinventing itself beyond its spit and sawdust image en route to becoming European Capital of Culture in 1990. The city he was helping reimagine may have been getting bigger in every sense, but Laurie understood that, as with buildings, all cultural activity is built from the ground up.
Tom Laurie was born in Wishaw, Lanarkshire, the eldest of four children to John and Lena. He went to Hamilton Academy, where he sang in Gilbert and Sullivan productions. He studied surveying at what was then Glasgow College of Technology, now Strathclyde University. During this period, he worked with Robert C Brown surveyors in Hamilton, and was elected as an Associate of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in 1961.
The same year, he married Jenny, his lifelong accomplice in assorted adventures. By this time, Laurie was working with Cumbernauld New Town Development Corporation, and the couple were instrumental in setting up Cumbernauld Theatre Group in 1961.
While he joined Robert H. Soper in 1962, Cumbernauld’s old Cottage Theatre became a central part of Tomand Jenny’s life. He directed and performed in numerous plays, notably in productions of The Threepenny Opera and Oh! What a Lovely War. He also directed plays by Cumbernauld writer Brian Miller.
Laurie chaired the theatre’s board, and was instrumental in securing visits from the likes of Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, 7:84 Theatre Company’s original production of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, and the company’s offshoot, Wildcat.
From 1972-1976, Laurie was a board member and Chair of the Traverse Theatre. Between 1973 and 1982, he was a member of the Drama Panel of the country’s then arts funding body, the Scottish Arts Council, and became a trustee and Chair of WASPs – Workshop and Artists’ Studio Provision Scotland. The latter has played a vital role in putting Glasgow on the artistic map, and today has more than twenty centres serving almost 1,000 artists. Laurie was instrumental as well in the transformation of The Briggait, now another home for WASPS following a period as a shopping centre.
In 1977, Laurie set up Thomas Laurie Associates. He opened a Glasgow office in 1983, and in 1991, the firm became The Keillor Laurie Martin Partnership. Barely a building in Glasgow was untouched by Laurie. He was key to the early development of the Tron Theatre, while the Piping Centre and developments on Ingram Street were all driven by his vision.
He became a trustee of the Scottish Civic Trust, and in 1984 became a Fellow of the Royal institute of Chartered Surveyors. In 1988, he was awarded an OBE for services to the arts.
Laurie continued to work as a consultant on urban and rural renewal, with a focus on finding new uses for existing buildings, usually in a community focused way. This was the case with the redevelopment of Adelaide Place Baptist Church in Bath Street, Glasgow, during the 1990s. More recently, Laurie worked on a successful feasibility study for the regeneration of Millport Town Hall.
When Covid-19 restrictions allowed, Laurie would work on the regeneration of the dry docks on the River Clyde, and a new music festival in the Borders. He was also Chair of the Clutha Trust, the arts charity set up in 2013 following the tragic helicopter crash at the Stockwell Street pub.
Laurie’s passion for cooking became the driving force behind the establishment of Glasgow restaurants Cafe Source, in St Andrews Square, and Cafe Source Too in the West End, both with his son Paul.
Throughout all such ventures, Laurie’s mixture of professional expertise and private passion saw him change Scotland’s cultural landscape forever.
He is survived by his wife, Jenny, and their three children, Kirsten, Jill and Paul.
The Herald, February 1st, 2021