Small towns across Scotland are having to meet a variety of different challenges, notably climate change, health and social inequalities, and an ageing population. Alva, a town of nearly five thousand, sitting in the stunning foothills of the Ochils, is no exception.
Architecture and Design Scotland was invited to work with the local authority and community to explore the ways in which investment in the town could be maximised. Having identified a specific need to create more housing for a growing elderly population, the scope of the project expanded. Could we use this opportunity as a catalyst for the improvement of Alva over time? To identify opportunities, we needed a whole-place collaborative approach.
This project in Alva demonstrates the interconnected nature of a place, the community and the services which support it. It demonstrates that by thinking beyond solving a singular issue, we can have far wider impacts.
What this page covers:
What is this project about?
Alva is a town in the local authority area of Clackmannanshire which used to have a thriving textile industry, however today it serves as a local service centre in the area.
Initial conversations between Architecture and Design Scotland and Clackmannanshire Council focussed on developing a pilot housing scheme for older people in Alva. Further discussion was invited with other partners in the Council – including planning and housing – alongside Architecture and Design Scotland and Scottish Futures Trust. The dialogue expanded to look beyond solving this one issue.
Some key, wide ranging possibilities emerged. Could there be the potential to free up housing for families? To create a town centre which could best serve the residents? Provide streetscape enhancements? To improve healthcare services? Create recreational space for exercise? And improve opportunities for young people and education?
Image credit: 3D Reid
Creating a vision for Alva
A shared vision was needed which would establish the needs of the community, map the issues of the town, and set priorities. These three stages involved working closely with Clackmannanshire Council, Scottish Futures Trust and the Alva Community.
A common positive for many is the quality of natural, green spaces in and around the town.
However, the analysis of the feedback indicated that there are many important dimensions in need of improvement, including Public Transport, Traffic and Parking, Streets and Spaces, Work and Local Economy, Social Interaction, Identity and Belonging, Feeling Safe, Care and Maintenance, Influence and Sense of Control.
Taking the feedback from the initial Place Standard consultation, a workshop was held (online) to test these findings, and then to identify and map existing assets and priorities for the improvement of the town centre. A range of people were involved, including council officers, health professionals, teachers, members of the community and school pupils. Here are some of the challenges identified:
- cars dominate the town centre with few pedestrian crossings, making walking and cycling difficult
- young people face an uncertain future with few economic opportunities
- local healthcare facilities are under pressure
- getting around is difficult and unsafe for vulnerable groups
- local bus services are unaffordable and inconvenient
- there is a lack of new, good quality, energy-efficient, affordable housing
- old and derelict buildings give locals and visitors a negative impression of Alva
- high business rates discourage a vibrant local economy
A series of priorities were pulled together, and actions identified for the improvement of the town. They are intended to guide planned investment in the town centre by the council and other agencies. The potential of fulfilling these actions would be that the people of Alva can;
- get around safely and easily, with walking and cycling routes through the town, sustainable transport, and better access for the mobility impaired
- make the most of the town’s green spaces, with attractive outdoor areas for children to play, community allotments, and easy routes into surrounding nature
- lead healthy, enriched lives with better housing and enhanced community, enterprise and health facilities
- feel a sense of belonging with the preservation of local heritage and natural history, including repurposing of old buildings
- ensure public spaces are sustainable and resilient by working closely with local service providers to maintain them
The report from this project forms the basis from which informed decisions can be made, and provides the tools and actions for a range of stakeholders to proceed with investment based on rigorous analysis.
Looking at the work in its broadest perspective, it has tested the role of collaboration in providing a brief for a ‘whole place’ (for example, a site, place or development), and can be viewed as a pilot project for local authorities and communities across Scotland.
We have additional resources available from the Alva Pathfinder project. This includes a toolkit and the Place Standard survey results.
To read a blog on our reflections from the project one year on, click here.