The Swan has stood proudly at the Banton village crossroads for over 170 years, geographically and metaphorically at the heart of the village.
However, by 2016, the building had become dilapidated and a demolition proposal was issued. In a small, isolated, rural village (which had already lost its post office and only shop), the loss of our pub would have been devastating. The village rallied into action, and within 48 hours People United for Banton (P.U.B.) had formed.
An initial consultation, in which 73% of households participated, made it clear villagers not only wanted to save the The Swan as a pub, but to broaden its remit to become a village hub, offering a daytime gathering space, extending a welcome to the full cross-section of the community. This was the mandate for bringing The Swan into community ownership and transforming it in line with the needs and aspirations of the community.
In December 2017, after 15 months of intense community effort, The Scottish Land fund awarded PUB £180,000 to buy The Swan making it the first community-owned pub in Scotland. The remainder of the the purchase costs were raised through numerous village events and a crowdfunding campaign. By this stage, more than half of all villagers had donated their time, money and/or services to the project.
Additional funds were required for extensive renovations. These were secured through grants from Big Lottery Community Assets, Kelvin Valley LEADER and The Clothworkers’ Foundation, together with numerous fundraising events and a community share offer.
Our architects, Bruach Designs, supported extensive community consultation and engagement at each stage of the design. This included surveys, interactive presentations, village gatherings, online discussions and a half-day workshop with the children at Banton Primary School. The final proposal was presented back to the village at a public meeting and met with massive enthusiasm. The design was confirmed and the build went to tender.
At this stage a seemingly insurmountable obstacle emerged. Tenders returned at over 50% above projected costs. A third wave of fundraising ensued, together with an extensive cost-cutting exercise. This allowed us to move ahead with the renovation.
The community remained heavily involved in the construction process with regular updates from the contractors, Premier Construction, and organised visits around the site. Before the plasterboard was installed, Banton’s children were invited to write well wishes on to the walls.
The challenge of coronavirus took its toll on the project. Only weeks before the handover date the site had to close and plans for a week-long program of opening celebrations were put on hold.
When the The Swan finally reopened its doors in August 2020, there were gasps and (happy) tears at the transformation, with consistent 5 star reviews and high praise for both the quality of food, service and experience. Already The Swan has been a restaurant, a seated bar, café service, a take-away, a community kitchen and hosted a series of socially distanced Santa breakfasts!
Supporting StatementIt is hard to overstate the impact the transformation of The Swan has had on Banton.
In 2016 the building had become something of an eyesore and its anticipated closure was the latest in a series of blows for the village.
Now it is a source of immense pride and a constant reminder of the power of a united community.
The sensitive restoration is in keeping with its rural location. Externally, the original silhouette and traditional features were retained, with a white render finish and a new slate roof. The new logo, a swan, proudly adorns the gable wall, fittingly, its wings are raised like those of a Phoenix.
The interior is a contemporary twist on a traditional Scottish style. Wood, stone and slate have been used to introduce a natural vibe that reflects the area’s farming, mining and manufacturing history.
Care has been taken to retain original features and to use artwork to convey Banton’s story. The original bar top and bar tables have been carefully restored. The Victorian tiled fireplace is now surrounded with heritage photographs and the restaurant showcases beautiful shots of the village. A feature wall displays ‘Banton’ bricks produced in Banton’s former brickworks and the bar area displays quirky local curiosities, all captured by local photographers and framed in Banton.
Supporters of the project and local people were also able to become parts of the work with their names on engraved paviours forming the main access, another physical reminder of the strong community links.
The building is now fully accessible, inclusive design features include level entry, generous doorways and accessible toilets. A flexible arrangement of seating was chosen to accommodate a range of activities and audiences from morning through to evening.
The pandemic has brought home the benefits of having a village hub to meet community needs. The team behind the Swan has delivered hundreds of meals and care packs to vulnerable and isolating villagers and created and distributed a series of creative packs for the children of Banton.
In mind of the climate crisis, the building has also been fitted with solar panels and adopts environmentally aware practises including the use of vegware packaging, an extensive vegan menu and the promotion of local walking routes.
The number of villagers engaging with The Swan has never been higher. Alongside old regulars, people who had never used The Swan as a pub are now relishing using it as a café. Facebook memberships sits at 2209, not bad for a village of 500 people!
The project has restored faith in the village, reversed the pattern of decline and sparked additional investment. Banton is now home to a new village shop, an art gallery, holiday accommodation and a cluster of creative businesses which together increase local sustainability. It has also inspired a sense of possibility with subsequent community-led initiatives including the procurement of a new community-designed play park and a community defibrillator. Most importantly Banton is an exciting and attractive place to live again.