The Colinton Tunnel Mural Project was established to transform a dark, dirty, graffiti-ridden Victorian railway into Scotland’s largest public heritage artwork.
Following the closure of local banks and the subsequent loss of retail businesses, it was clear that the economic revival of our small community could only be achieved by attracting more visitors to the area, so that shops, restaurants, pubs and other businesses could survive; and also to make the village attractive to new businesses.
We also hoped that the transformation would enhance community safety and the public perception of being secure. International evidence demonstrated that undertaking a project of this type, creating high quality public artwork, would help to prevent the recurrence of antisocial graffiti. Our experience demonstrates the efficacy of that approach, as our artwork has been respected. Finally, we set out to make people smile and enjoy the new environment – which is working.
Following wide-ranging public consultation through exhibitions and articles in local publications it was clear that the community supported our concept. A professional art team was appointed and fundraising began. Over one third of the total £100,000 project cost was donated by local residents.
Community engagement and involvement was a key principle. Over 600 local schoolchildren participated in the project, as did Army personnel and families, local charities and voluntary organisations; and the Pentlands Art Club. The age range of participants was from 3 to 93 years.
Our community engagement was acknowledged by the Association for Heritage Interpretation (AHI), where we won the Community Engagement category of their 2021 Engaging People Awards. The AHI judges stated that “The Colinton Tunnel Mural is an excellent example of a public art project that transforms a historic site into a vibrant place that makes people want to visit it. The obvious looking-ahead and thinking about how to maintain and continue the work is exemplary. It would have been easy to sit back and delight in what had been achieved, but they have recognised the need to keep the community engaged and use the momentum”.
Our objectives have been achieved. Visitor numbers more than trebled in two years, with more than 2,200 recorded on a single wet Saturday in October 2021. Benefits have reached the local community, where businesses are thriving and retail units are now almost fully occupied. Comments across social media confirm the international awareness of the project and the enjoyment that visitors derive from it.
The success of the project has resulted in us being asked to advise other groups across Scotland and the UK about how best to create good public artwork in challenging spaces. We are pleased to advise, whilst emphasising to them that local project need to be owned and taken forward by local people if they are to be successful.
In summary, this project is genuinely “owned” by our community, who will continue to be involved and engaged as we keep the mural bright, alive and vibrant into the future.
Supporting StatementWe have entered our project for the My Place Awards because we believe that we are genuinely a community-led project, having collectively transformed a neglected and scary part of our local environment into a safe, immersive visual delight.
Our community was involved and engaged from the outset. The concept was first presented to, and supported by, Colinton Community Council. Neighbouring Community Councils also supported it, as have elected members (CEC Councillors, MSPs and MP).
Community consultation was key. We exhibited the initial designs at a week-long exhibition in Colinton Library then, as a detailed design concept developed, held a further week-long exhibition at Colinton Parish Church. Further public consultation took place at local events, including Tea in the Park and Art in the Park. Community groups, voluntary organisations, schools, clubs, the RLS Society and individuals all engaged with us and were keen to be involved. Not a single negative response has been received.
In parallel, we wrote articles that were published in a variety of print media (Colinton Magazine, Colinton News, Currie & Balerno News, Dell Directory, etc.). Those articles continued during and beyond the duration of the project, keeping our community informed and engaged.
As stated in the preceding section, the former railway tunnel was dark, poorly lit, covered in racist and offensive graffiti. Many local people were scared to walk through it. We had an opportunity to address those issues and also to address the urgent need to increase footfall so that local businesses could survive and thrive.
We set out to celebrate our community's rich cultural, transport, industrial, literary, military and artistic heritage by creating Scotland's largest heritage mural. The design concept uses as its "spine" a short poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, a frequent visitor to Colinton whose grandfather was the Parish Minister for some 30 years. Each of the 16 lines of poetry, written in street art style, links across the tunnel's ceiling to illustrations of local history. Illustrations range from a celebration of Colinton's 100 year history as the home of the Army in Scotland to major pieces created by four local schools and the children and families of the Army Welfare service. A crowd of passengers awaits the railway train at the Edinburgh end of the tunnel - all real local people.
We have been active in the media. Our website (www.colintontunnel.org.uk) has links to many videos produced by individuals and organisations. We featured on BBC Scotland, BBC Alba, STV News (twice) and ITV UK-wide - some of those reports are linked through our website. Social media has also been significant. We have just under 5,000 Facebook followers, 1,600 Instragram followers and 1,100 Twitter followers. Those numbers continue to grow. Given that this is a visual project, photographs are routinely uploaded and posted by visitors.
Although the mural is largely complete it remains a live project. In coming years schools and other groups will be invited to re-imagine and re-paint their contributions, keeping the community engaged and maintaining local ownership.