The Estate has been in family ownership of the Burnetts of Leys since 1323. The principal property, the neighbouring Crathes Castle, Gardens and surrounding land was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1952. Since then, Leys Estate has been directly investing in residential, leisure and commercial developments throughout the area and of which many complement the Trust property. Crathes Castle is still considered the family home and the Estate retains an excellent relationship with the Trust.
The transformation of the farm steading at Woodend on the Leys Estate into an arts centre was prompted by a community play which was performed in the grounds of Crathes Castle in July 1992. The play celebrated the history of both the Burnett family and the local community as part of celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of Crathes Castle. Woodend Barn was the venue for rehearsals for the play and, at the request of the community; the Leys Estate offered it for conversion to a Community Arts Centre. Woodend Arts Association was formed as a registered Scottish charity in 1994.
Woodend Barn has become one of the most successful community art centres in Scotland. It is a focus for a large number of local community and volunteer groups but also takes a realistic approach to funding. It has to ensure that its programme both diverse and accessible to all, many sources of funding are necessary. In addition to funding from Creative Scotland, the Barn raises income via private events such as private functions, weddings and seminars all of which are important to the local economy.
Alexander Burnett, principal owner of the Leys Estate, has also made substantial investments in the Woodend site through pitches to establish an important Rugby Centre for Deeside, (Alexander himself being an ex-international player), and by the construction of Buchanans Bistro in 2010, reaffirming his confidence that Woodend can provide an increasingly wide range of benefits for all members of the local community.
Buchanans Bistro is owned and managed by Val and Calum Buchanan and the restaurant has previously won the 2015 Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards for the Best Informal Eating Experience Award. Fresh bread is baked daily on the premises, and they cure and smoke pheasants, fish, scallops, oil, and vegetables, keeping up old Scottish traditions.
Their meat is sourced locally, from Sheridan’s Butchers in Ballater, Hugh Grierson Organics in Perthshire for chickens and pork, pheasant and roe come from Leys Estate, grouse from Finzean, festive birds from Maryfield and charcuterie from Great Glen Game.
Many members of the local community have contributed towards the success of Woodend, most of them volunteers and too numerous to mention here.