Saint Ninian’s Hall Development, Isle of Whithorn. 2014 was a momentous year for the Isle of Whithorn community, culminating in the completion of a journey that began nearly 10 years ago when the community first had the idea of owning and running their own village hall. The future of the village hall, dating from the late 1920s, had in recent years looked uncertain due to local authority financial cut backs. In 2005,on behalf of the community, Isle Futures a community regeneration charity embarked on a long and somewhat protracted process of taking over the management of the building. In 2013 this developed further to taking full community ownership of the village hall, public toilets and the village green. During this period the efforts of the community were recognised with many awards as the facilities were improved including the establishment of a licensed public cinema, the most southerly in Scotland. Isle Futures contention was the Isle community and surrounding communities needed a place, open at their convenience, where they could meet socially. In 2012 Isle Futures raised a project to redevelop the village hall and incorporate a new annexe. It was based on extensive research undertaken within the community with the objective of bringing together differing generations in a safe, social environment, and engender a strong sense of local pride and self-worth. The village has long been a popular tourist attraction, with many visitors coming back year in, year out to enjoy the picturesque scenery and relaxing lifestyle of this part of Scotland. One aspect of the village life which had been missing for many years has been a ‘tearoom’. From observing tourist traffic over recent years, more and more visitors had been coming into the area, but without the facilities, leave without adding to the local economy. A retail aspect of the plan was considered equally important, as a proactive step to ensure the continuity of a village shop and post office. Providing local businesses with an outlet for arts, crafts and gifts was also a major consideration. In addition, much-needed employment opportunities would be created from this new development. On 1st October 2014, the new development opened to the public. Finally the community had a wonderful range of facilities – the refurbished, ‘fit-for-purpose’ original hall, an upgraded kitchenette and conference room, and the new annexe incorporating a reception area, tearoom with a catering kitchen, shop and display area and new conveniences with a 24-hour public toilet. The success of the project has been down to team working, encompassing proposals and details of the tearoom and kitchen provision, the audio visual and IT requirements, decoration finishes, job descriptions and employment of 9 staff and seeking to ‘future proof’ the building. It has been challenging and involved a substantial number of people within the community, in addition to members the Isle Futures Board. We are proud to have brought to fruition this whole project known as Saint Ninian’s.
The Galloway Preservation Society is nominating St Ninian’s, Isle of Whithorn for the “My Place Award” 2015. Isle Futures is an extremely successful charity who have renovated an old village hall and developed it with the addition of an exciting new annexe, incorporating a tearoom and shop. It is a community led project which has regenerated the most isolated area in Galloway. The project involved the construction of a new annexe to the existing St Ninian’s Hall, creating a new social space for the community of the Isle of Whithorn and visitors to the area. Difficulties such as overpriced tenders and engagement with the local authority were faced and overcome. The annexe is within the Isle of Whithorn Conservation Area and has been designed as a contemporary vernacular building incorporating modern methods of construction and materials. From the start there was an emphasis on the needs of the local community, local manpower, and materials, and an energy efficient building. The building has a well-insulated timber frame with an external rain screen of rendered block work and locally sourced stonework, matching the dry stone walls. The slate roof provides a natural long lasting material in keeping with other buildings within the Conservation Area. It benefits from the installation of PV solar panels, hot water panels and air source heat pumps for domestic hot water and under floor heating. Light fittings have been selected to be low maintenance and efficient. The existing dry stone wall on the site has been altered and realigned, providing protective walls to the external ramps and steps and tying the building into the landscape, with easy access to the building. As the land falls away towards the sea, this slight elevation ensures the dramatic views across the harbour are fully exploited. Large sliding glass doors across the full width of the tearoom access a paved external area leading down to the village green by low gradient ramps and easy going steps. A modern efficient design wood burning stove is a focal point of the tearoom area which also allows a sustainable back up heat source. The building is most attractive with stunning views over the harbour where visitors and locals enjoy the tearoom and shop offering traditional crafts. Everyone enjoys activities provided during the week in the hall and regular entertainment brings the community together. There is now employment for 11 people and courses being offered to help young employees. Already the project is proving an asset to the area and addressing the needs of the community. There is interest and advice being sought by organisations away from the area. The refurbished hall continues to provide emergency community facilities in cases of power failure and severe / cold weather. Emergency provisions, cylinder gas cooking facilities and a large backup generator allows volunteers to provide hot food and basic facilities during these not infrequent times. The charity is to be commended for their innovations and forward thinking for the needs of the local community.