Bellsbank is a rural, former coal mining community that has suffered heavily from the loss of the local industry. It has consistently fallen into the category of the 0-5% most deprived communities in Scotland.
Despite a wonderful landscape setting at the head of the Doon Valley overlooking the Bogton Loch (SSSI), the physical appearance and condition of the housing stock had become dilapidated and forbidding. The original dry-dash cement render had blackened over time and the ad hoc patching of exposed brickwork had resulted in a mottled effect.
Bellsbank comprises around 600 homes. Of these some had already been re-rendered and insulated, and some had been sold under right-to-buy. A total of 211 council-owned houses were identified for refurbishment and we seized the opportunity to implement a more innovative and holistic approach to housing stock improvement.
The idea to bring colour to Bellsbank was conceived locally and received support from the Scottish Civic Trust initially via Mark Gibson of the Craigengillan Estate, which is connected to Bellsbank by a network of footpaths and is a great asset to the local community. We embraced the concept and saw that alongside the physical improvements to the quality and energy efficiency of our housing stock we might introduce other initiatives, which collectively we called our, “health and wellbeing programme.”
We were supported in the creation of the colour scheme by the architect Ed Taylor, also a Trustee of the Scottish Civic Trust, who investigated various render systems and colour palettes, working closely with our technical team and suppliers. Alongside the relatively limited dry-dash palette we introduced a silicone render system to broaden the colour spectrum, with some additional cost but with significant visual benefits. Scores of sample panels were produced and from these a range of twelve complementary colour finishes was arrived at by consensus.
The project wasn’t without risk. In a typical render programme residents may be invited to choose a single finish from two or three options to be applied across an entire phase to keep the process simple and streamlined. At Bellsbank a carefully considered colour plan was devised and illustrated on specially drawn street elevations as a basis for individual confirmation or modification. Around 15% of residents requested colour changes from the palette, which generated a strong sense of ownership whilst being administratively manageable and which had the added benefit of providing a talking point for a broader engagement with residents on an individual basis.
Housing Asset Services has successfully delivered housing improvements over recent years but recognised that a truly holistic approach could make real differences to the health and wellbeing of our citizens while regenerating communities. The unique, innovative and collaborative approach at Bellsbank, with residents engaged and empowered from the outset, has seen a transformational effect.
The improvements have not only been felt in the dramatic visual enhancement of the village but also in tackling social isolation and loneliness, fuel poverty, food insecurity, wellbeing and connectedness. Not a “fabric first” approach but “people first.”
Supporting StatementThe benefits of this project are many. Special assemblies were held with the local school to consider the power of colour and the children undertook a project to name the colours with local and natural associations.
An exceptionally strong partnership was built with the NHS to ensure that we could really support health and wellbeing for everyone in Bellsbank while delivering a wonderful regeneration project. Training was delivered to all staff and operatives to help them understand the issues and impacts. HAS ensured that caring conversations took place with every tenant and resident throughout the project, increasing connectedness within the community.
A confidential single point of contact was identified to ensure that every citizen could receive confidential support in a wide range of areas including: additional energy improvements; money worries, managing stress and anxiety; alcohol and drugs advice and help to stop smoking.
Opportunities arose on the project to provide members of a local recovery group with work experience and three members have secured permanent employment as a result.
HAS supported the local voluntary community group “CANI” to restart a youth club with first aid training, PVGs and funding to support activities. At present, over 50% of the children in Bellsbank are attending the youth club on a weekly basis!
The voluntary sector and HAS collaborated to include green spaces and gardens in the enhancement project. We have provided the local social enterprise with new lawnmowers, strimmers, hedge cutters and power washers, which are now made available to anyone within the community to allow them to keep Bellsbank looking fabulous.
The project directly led to a “dignified food” programme being developed. Nutritional freshly prepared meals are produced from surplus raw ingredients and CANI lead on distribution with the motto, “Take what you need and pay what you can;” tackling food insecurity at the very heart and already helping over 40 families who urgently needed assistance.
HAS also developed a hugely exciting partnership with our refurbishment contractor Engie, the local church and social enterprise Centrestage to deliver a fully funded summer programme of community activities around cooking on a budget, helping many citizens to enjoy a healthy and affordable diet while providing training/cooking skills.
Unanimous feedback from citizens is that they see levels of care, kindness and support that are unprecedented from a council and that they feel much more part of their community. Our staff feel an enormous sense of pride in serving communities in a way they would never have dreamed possible.
We will now look to roll out this initiative to other key areas of improvement works and promote the initiative to other services, councils and partners. We are grateful for the support of the Scottish Civic Trust in this project and it is our hope that Bellsbank can be showcased as an exemplar and model for the physical and social enhancement of other deprived communities across Scotland.