An Cridhe – at the heart of life on Coll

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In Cridhe, Isle of Coll, recently picked up the top prize at the 2013�Scottish Civic Trust My Place Awards.An Cridhe – designed by Anderson Bell Christie – means “the heart”, and the building is intended to be at the heart of life on Coll. The multi-purpose building caters for the many different needs of islanders and visitors. An Cridhe represents Development Coll’s first significant social enterprise and is a flagship facility for use by the local community and visitors alike. The £2.5m project was funded from a range of sources, including Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Big Lottery, European Regional Development Funding and sportscotland. Coll residents and visitors raised almost £60k themselves in the last five years to get the community centre from an aspiration to a reality.

In this article Nic Smith, Chair of the An Cridhe & Coll Bunkhouse Management Committee describes how An Cridhe came to be.
It is hard to say when the An Cridhe project started. There was a move to replace Coll’s village hall in the 90s but the impetus came after Coll was awarded Initiative at the Edge status in 2006. A new hall became Development Coll’s flagship project.

I was not part of the project at this point and rather naively thought (in hindsight) that to build a new hall you made the decision, and then built it. Wrong. Because public money is involved everything has to be done just right; open, transparent, (expensive) feasibility studies, consultations etc and most of the early work was not noticed by the community.

The architect selection process was probably the first time we really believed in the project. Four architects presented their ideas and these were voted on by the community, including the under 18s. The directors of Development Coll had ‘weighted’ the votes so issues such as costs would be taken into consideration, although it was obvious many of the features in all the proposals would be unaffordable.

Once the architect was chosen everyone expected more action. Wrong. The fundraising started in earnest; although most of the money would come from grants the island was expected to contribute too. Coll became a pirate island digging deep to fill the An Cridhe treasure chest.

Like any development this project did not enjoy 100% support and I was ‘persuaded’ to join the project board at a time when new blood was needed. Coll discovered it had an incredibly able Project Manager – Emma Grant – who led the board through a variety of decisions and lots of meetings, many dull, and on through the tendering process to choose the builders. The builders made a brief trip to Coll, dug some holes and finally there seemed to be some real action at last.

Then there was lots of action, the ‘glue-lam’ beams that were the architects pride and joy arrived and were put in place. Suddenly the proposed building went from a muddy field to a cross between an upturned boat and a cathedral. Walls, roof, windows followed and there was a public celebration at the topping out stage. The project board was still having meetings, now we were discussing lights, snagging lists, the issue register and deciding shelving, furniture and staff.

I don’t think the Project manager slept at all in June as she organised everything and everyone to make sure An Cridhe would be ready for the opening in July. This was not a small party, this was a three-day extravaganza with music, sport, local food, entertainment and a chance to poke about and really explore and use all the parts of the building.

Since then the island and the building have got to know each other. We made a few mistakes; it is much busier with evening sport than we thought, so it can be difficult to make a single booking. It is larger and much smarter than the old hall so needs more cleaning, and warmer so more people spend time there. The gym, which was a late addition, has proved incredibly popular and we are glad there was the flexibility in the design to fit it in.

Although only open for ten months it has become an indispensable part of the social fabric and is building up a bank of memories to complement the ones many islanders have from the old hall; a ‘Brave’ themed fundraiser, a Skyfall showing with martinis and food and the resurrection of the Coll pantomime and Easter concert have convinced many of the sceptics.
The project board tried to anticipate problems and how we would use the building, but its great strength is its open structure which makes it very amenable to whatever we need it to do and the beautiful features we insisted remained whenever ‘budgeting’ tried to interject.
Find out more about the Civic Trust Awards here.

Images by Andrew Lee.

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