Rebuilding trust and revitalising communities

Alasdair Rankin

By Alasdair Rankin, MD, Aitken Turnbull Architects

RESTORING and refurbishing buildings that fall under the ownership of community trusts are becoming an increasingly important part of an architect’s portfolio. Community Right to Buy Legislation has enabled communities to regain control of their development.

Buildings, some of which have been integral to local neighbourhoods for well over 100 years, provide architects with opportunities to collaborate with these local groups who remain passionate to revive important and significant elements of their local heritage. Such projects empower the most important stakeholders: the local community

Our recent experience working with community groups across the Borders stands as a testament to this. Stow Community Trust revived Stow Station House which had been earmarked for demolition following the reinstatement of the Waverley Railway Line. The vision and commitment of Stow Community Trust has seen it saved and redeveloped and is now the recipient of two very important accolades – The Scottish Borders Design Award for Works to an Existing Building, and The Network Rail Community Building Award from the Railway Heritage Awards.

This is a genuine shift in the perceived value of providing local communities with more ownership of the design process and from the architects’ perspective, it reminds us of the importance of undertaking genuine engagement and developing not just human-centred but community-centred buildings and spaces that that breathe fresh life into their neighbourhoods.

There is a mini roll of honour of community projects across the South of Scotland. As well as Stow Station House, we’ve just completed a community trust project in Newcastleton, have a community arts project on site in Sanquhar near Dumfries, have started a new project with Jedburgh Legacy Group to reimagine Jedburgh Town Hall and are working with Futures Hawick – a local regeneration group working on a feasibility study to develop a fantastic outdoor community space involving horse eventing, camping and much more, at St Leonard’s Park, Hawick Moor.

The level of participation and input a community has will vary from project to project and whilst we, as architects, are design professionals with a wealth of specialist technical knowledge, our role in a community project is to never underestimate the passion, energy, and knowledge of the local community.

This combining of the architect’s skill set as an enabler and the community trust’s knowledge and drive, is an effective way to deliver the strongest outcome for the local community. Some of the buildings will have historical interest and local families may relate to the past generations that have lived or worked there, so it is important that all parties who wish to have a say in the re-development are given a voice. Architects, therefore, need to always consider the more human aspects of the engagement process

Of course, not all community trust projects are created by blending history with modernity, but adaptive re-use also allows us to retain and revitalise existing structures, providing not only vital community spaces, but assisting in the drive to reduce our impact on the natural world.   

They offer tremendous opportunity and fresh perspective by creating new environments from the architectural heritage of our forefathers. We can ensure that community trusts have a means to safeguard the future of any building worth preserving that may be faced with a demolition order or salvaged from decay and dereliction.

Alternatively, as in the case of the Future Hawick, this community led group has conducted an extensive feasibility study on improving the well-being, quality of life and opportunities of the people of Hawick. The plan is to enhance the town’s social, cultural, recreational, and educational facilities, its environment and economy by transforming St Leonard’s Park – 55 acres of parkland at nearby Hawick Moor into a fantastic facility and local tourist attraction used for a raft of outdoor and leisure pursuits.

We have all become more aware of the importance of healthy and vibrant communities over the last few years.  One of the ways to support these is to celebrate the great work of our community trusts.  They work tirelessly to uphold, preserve, and enhance, the local areas they serve for current and future generations.