Throughout March we will be looking at a number of community based projects. Here Kay Hall from the West Kilbride Community Initiative (Ltd) talks about the second phase of the development of Craft Town Scotland in West Kilbride.
Please describe Craft Town Scotland – what are you trying to achieve?
We are into part two of our project.
In part one we set out to regenerate our main shopping street which is also the heart of our community. We developed and now manage nine studios and one of the loveliest galleries in the West of Scotland, The Barony Centre, where we hold exhibitions, events and educational workshops.
And now in part two, the pressing challenge is to become immediately viable and build long term sustainability. We must increase all our income streams; identify new sources of income; set up new projects; broaden our interest groups; develop a business culture and acumen whilst fiercely guarding our original commitment to craft in our ‘unique cultural venue’.
We must also focus on increasing footfall by improving our village as a visitor destination and by improving our visitor experience.
How did you get started?
By the mid 80s vandalism and disrepair was evident throughout the village and the community felt demoralised. Over half the shops were either derelict or empty and the green spaces were neglected and uncared for.
An open meeting was called in 1998 to discuss the future of the village and a working group was agreed and established.
Who was involved in making the project happen and how was the community involved?
Following the meeting the West Kilbride Community Initiative Limited (WKCIL) was launched by a group of community activists and elected representatives. They sought a purpose for the empty properties and after a scoping study was carried out it was agreed to develop studios and use crafts in the social, economic, cultural and environmental regeneration of the community.
Since then the project continued to develop with a valiant Board of Directors, a Creative Director, 2 part time employees. a range of talented makers and many, many loyal volunteers.
A recent community engagement flagged up many community led projects which are currently being developed by the wealth of talented people in our community.
How have you been able to raise funds?
Over the years our project has been supported by a patchwork of significant funding from a range of Trusts such as the Moffatt Trust and organisations such as the Big Lottery.
Our different applications were supported by appropriate documentation in the form of Feasibility Studies, Scoping Research, Community Consultations, Financial Projections and Development Plans.
What were the biggest lessons that you have learned so far?
Don’t take your eyes away from balancing the books. If you can’t cover your financial outgoings you are not going to succeed.
Build a team, encourage and value all contributions and keep everyone involved and informed. Respect and encourage initiative and recognise we’re all in it together. Because of this we are now facing adversity together with determination.
Also realise you can’t solve all the problems by yourselves and share the challenges with other parts of your community. It’s amazing what may be achieved if you work together openly and transparently.
What advice would you give people who wished to become active in their communities?
It’s a simple story. Go along to a project that sounds interesting and find out what’s happening. Offer to do something for them. Our mantra is: Come along and say ‘I will’ not ‘you should’.
And quite honestly so many projects need doing in communities that why not start one yourself? Contact community support in your Local Authority and meet one of their workers for a coffee. After all, developing community projects is what they do for a living, and we still find them very supportive and helpful.
What are your next steps?
A huge focus on engaging our community and making it accessible to all.
Our shop now stocks something for everybody. Our arts activities have been broadened to include visual and performing arts as well as artisan work alongside graduate makers. Our recent ‘Roots and Shoots’ exhibition included first class local photography alongside grass roots makers. In June we will be welcoming Kenny Allan (a photographer who has a national profile) and in September the Scottish Potter’s exhibition ‘More Clay, Less Plastic’ will run for a month.
Our exhibition programme for the first time ever is full for the next 14 months and our studios, shop and cafe are making a much improved income.
We are working on increasing visitor numbers and a tip from a speaker at the Scotland’s Towns Partnership is – when you engage young people often their parents follow! Over the last two months 150 young people have attended workshops in our Barony Centre.
We are also working closely with the West Kilbride Business Group, to upgrade certain parts of our well worn main street to improve our look as a visitor destination, and we are exploring ways of promoting the village together.