The Humbie Hub is the central focus for the village of Humbie, which lies in arable and hill farming country about nine miles SW of the county town of Haddington. There had long been a small village shop and post office in Humbie. It was based in two rooms of a converted traditional house. The shop was barely viable commercially and depended on considerable contributions of time and financial support from local well-wishers. By the summer of 2013 the shop was badly run down and doing little business apart from newspapers and the sub Post Office. The premises were dingy and unattractive and the main house was in very poor structural and decorative condition. The garden grounds and outbuildings were in lamentable condition. The owners were keen to sell up and move on. At around this time Patrick Flockhart, with his wife Linda, decided to return to his boyhood home in Humbie. The Flockharts saw an opportunity to create a completely new sustainable, community focused enterprise with a green orientation. The shop would be expanded and completely revitalised, with an emphasis on selling local produce whenever possible. The Post Office would remain a core element. A new cafe/eatery would be created, taking maximum advantage of the location’s outstanding views to the Lammermuir Hills. There would be an upstairs flat for rental. In the former garden grounds office and work spaces would be created for local enterprises, replacing the dilapidated buildings. The grounds would be remodelled to facilitate access for all members of the community. In narrowly commercial terms this would be seen as a very risky venture. The Flockharts’ vision was that the Hub would become a new focus for enterprise and mutual support in the local community. It would attract new visitors and create employment. In contrast, the loss of the shop would have been a severe blow to the vitality of the local community – there are no other shops in the village and there is no public transport serving Humbie. In wanting to make a social investment broadly in the vitality and sustainability of the local community, the Flockharts were inspired by the example of Patrick’s late parents. Ross and Pamela were well known and admired both locally and widely in Scotland for their contribution to the community, the arts and civil society. The project took two years to finish from concept to last building warrant, required a total revamp and reengineering of the entire building and site, during which time the shop and post office services were maintained to the community. This was done by a flexible build programme using different spaces at different times; a challenge due to the Post Office’s stringent security requirements.
Build and design quality The old shop comprised a front room and a back room of a traditional nineteenth century stone and slate house fronting the main street. The remainder of the house was residential. The upstairs space had been enlarged by the insertion of an incongruous dormer window on the frontage and a roof extension to the rear. Internally the house had been subject to considerable adjustments and was structurally unsound in parts. It required complete renovation. Preservation and enhancement The aims of the new design were to: a) restore the frontage to traditional style and proportions in keeping with the original b) open up the premises internally to provide a new café, lounge area with associated kitchen and services, taking advantage of the excellent views, light and original features wherever possible. c) convert the upper storey to provide a two-bedroom flat for rental d) provide workshop/business starter space and an artist studio e) provide an attractive and accessible outdoor space f) use local and sustainable materials wherever possible g) maximise the use of renewable energy sources. The results of the project can be seen in the attached photos. The frontage of the original house has been re-created by removing the old dormer and inserting three new dormers of sympathetic style and proportion. An extension to the western gable end was required under Building Regulations to accommodate a stairway; this was clad in locally-sourced larch. Minor extensions to the rear for the services, and the replacement outbuildings, were similarly clad in larch and roofed in a grey material complementary to the existing slate. The entire premises are heated by a single wood burning plant, fed by local timber. The top and western facing roofs at the rear have been utilised for solar panels. Achievements of the project The project had to overcome considerable challenges. It was initially costed at £265k for the purchase and £240k for the build. Design enhancements raised this by £225k, while bureaucratic delays and compliance costs were estimated to add another £225k. Thus the entire project cost double what was originally projected. The Humbie Hub has met with resounding success. The shop and post office have been transformed beyond recognition. Beside the core newsagency and post office functions, the shop offers an attractive range of high quality goods, emphasising local and organic produce while also recognising that local tastes cover a wide spectrum. One of the replacement outbuildings now houses a business providing fast broadband to the local communities and the other outbuilding houses a studio, therapy room and the green heating system. Turnover is more than six times what it was as the old village shop and the business is on its way to viability. Community involvement The Hub is providing employment on a scale unprecedented in the old business. In a short time the Hub has become a favoured venue for outings for coffee or a light lunch, drawing visitors from all over the county. Local events include art exhibitions and music performances.