Upper Nithsdale shows urban projects the way forward for Scottish Land Fund applications

The Scottish Land Fund was relaunched in March 2016. Both urban and rural projects can now apply to the Fund – which has around £10 million a year committed by the Scottish. Here we take a look at one urban project which has benefitted from investment from the Fund – breathing new life into old buildings bringing benefit to the local community.

Upper Nithsdale Arts & Crafts Initiative (UNACCI) has a long history of involvement with the Scottish Land Fund. Based in the former mining village of Sanquar in Dumfries and Galloway it is a community which has suffered decline since the closure of all the deep mines in the area.

The organisation acquired the listed Toll Booth building in 2003 and an adjoining building in 2013.
The organisation acquired the listed Toll Booth building in 2003 and an adjoining building in 2013.

Back in 2003 the organisation acquired the almost derelict listed Toll Booth building, in a prominent town centre location, with a £28,712 grant from the first Scottish Land Fund.

Over the following seven years UNACCI secured almost £1 million of other grant funding to restore and develop the building into a vibrant centre incorporating a cafe, art and crafts retail area, craft rooms, exhibition space and a 50-seat auditorium.

The A’ the Airts Centre is now established as a significant venue for craft workshops and the performing arts. The workshops, which are often oversubscribed, have been highlighted as helping to reduce social isolation in the community.

In 2013 it became clear that there was not enough space in the Centre to meet the growing demand, and UNACCI made a successful application to the Scottish Land Fund for a grant of £62,442 to purchase an adjoining 3-storey building which had been unused for two years.

The distinctive 2-colour geometric Sanquar knitting pattern.
The famous and distinctive 2-colour geometric Sanquar knitting pattern.

The initial plans were to expand existing activities, but then an opportunity arose centred on the famous Sanquar Knitting Pattern. This distinctive 2- colour geometric knitting pattern became prominent in the 1700s when there was an important cottage industry in the area producing socks and gloves which were exported across the world.

The industry died out in the 1800s but the tradition continued within some families in the village.   But recently this was on the verge of dying out as there were only three women left that still possessed the knowledge and skills required.

UNACCI undertook a pilot training scheme where one of these women passed on her skills to a number of younger people to try and preserve this important piece of local heritage.

Such was the popularity of the scheme – and for the goods produced – that the Initiative decided to reconsider their original plan and instead use the adjoining building to house and grow the knitting enterprise.

The organisation secured a grant to purchase knitting machines and have created a small enterprise involving seven self-employed knitters to produce items in the Sanquhar Pattern to be sold in the shop. The ground floor of the adjoining building has been made into a viewing area where visitors can see the good being produced.  Demand for the goods now exceeds the current production level and UNACCI is currently examining the feasibility of wider marketing and increasing the work force to meet the expected demand.

Upper Nithsdale - A' the Airts Centre logoAnne Foley, Executive Manager at UNACCI, said: “Being able to buy the building next door to our arts centre and starting to draw up plans for its future development has created a real buzz in the community. The building – on a prominent high street site in Sanquar – had lain empty and disused for many years.

“Local people seem genuinely glad to see that it is now being developed into a facility which will enhance the townscape and provide further opportunities for the community to benefit from participating in arts and crafts.

“Launching our Sanquar Pattern project has also inspired people to become part of the initiative, with local people very proud of its heritage.”

The Scottish Land Fund said the UNACCI was a good example of a community buyout as it indicates the timescale that may be involved when undertaking the acquisition and renovation of a building. It also demonstrates that both parties were able to respond quickly when the opportunity to buy the adjoining building arose. And finally it is a good example of an organisation being open to new opportunities and not being limited or restricted by their original plans.

For more information: www.all-the-airts.com

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