Wigtown and Bladnoch Community Initiative (WBCI) partnered with South of Scotland Community Housing to redevelop an empty Bank of Scotland property on the High Street as two affordable homes, a community-run bunkhouse and community garden/growing space.
When Wigtown & Bladnoch Community Initiative first engaged with SOSCH, the group had been established a year prior as a response to housing concerns within the rural town and a perceived shortfall in affordable housing for rent across the Machars area. The announcement of branch closure by Bank of Scotland was identified by WBCI as an opportunity for the community to react positively to a negative event for the Town.
SOSCH undertook Housing Needs and Demand Assessment for the Wigtown and Bladnoch area, which engaged with the wider community and indicated demand for family-sized housing for affordable rent and housing tailored to the needs of older residents, particularly those with accessibility requirements. Housing demand work also substantiated a requirement to address affordability relative to running costs, particularly around fuel poverty.
The project team – working with Community Enterprise – also engaged with the community to consider uses for the bank space to address specific needs and create local employment. This indicated significant demand for affordable visitor accommodation for the Book Town aimed, particularly, at those cycling and walking. These needs are addressed via the creation of a small bunkhouse at street level.
One of the key challenges of the project was to engage with Lloyds Banking Group. In order to do so, the community required – with the support of the team – to enact Community Right to Buy, working towards a Land Fund award for acquisition. CRTB required partnership collaboration between community and the Scottish Government’s Community Land Team. Key stakeholder collaboration included D&G Council, Scottish Government More Homes, Scottish Power (Kilgallioch windfarm) and – local contractor – Luce Bay Construction.
The upper floors of the property had, until the 1980’s, been a three-bedroom apartment for the local Bank Manager – since used as informal office space, with the top floor disconnected. The reinstatement of this home provided the opportunity to address demand for family housing situated adjacent to many local services. Innovative approaches to design were then applied to the rear section of the bank – formerly the vault and storage – to create a new, one bedroom, fully accessible home for an older resident.
Project outcomes provide practical responses to identified demand within the community – housing for a family, accessible housing for an older resident and affordable visitor accommodation for the Book Town, creating two local jobs. The homes are bright and affordable, both in terms of rent and running costs. They are secure, safe and – on Main Street – adjacent to many local services. The bunk house is complemented by a new-build facility to the rear which includes bike storage. The garden – already used by the local community – provides a number of allotments.
SOSCH commissioned a short film about the project which tells more about WBCI, the former bank building, and the residents: https://youtu.be/TxerN-JitsU
Supporting StatementCommunity engagement took place on a number of levels throughout project development and delivery. For the housing elements, SOSCH engaged with the community around Housing Needs and produced a localised Housing Allocations Policy. The community also identified energy efficient homes as a priority to combat fuel poverty. The project team were challenged to enact a low-energy retrofit on the listed building, providing enhanced levels of insulation and sustainable heating via a heat-pump.
WBCI and the wider team engaged extensively with the community relative to design and use and undertook two full days of open community engagement. This included practicalities of project outcomes and the non-housing uses for the bank and local job creation.
For the overall project, community involvement led towards the successful submission of capital grant application to both the Scottish Land Fund and Rural Housing Fund, demonstrating community support and local need. However, perhaps the most acute focus of community engagement was the requirement through enactment of Community Right to Buy to ballot for community support. The outcome of this ballot – preceded by a campaign of wider community engagement – was overwhelmingly positive.
At the tail end of the project, the group held open events for the community to see the completed housing and bunk house, with the bunk house event coinciding with the launch of recruitment for the community-led jobs.
A community ownership approach—underpinned by Community Right to Buy—ensured redevelopment was best aligned to meeting local need and secured a permanent future for a high-profile Town Centre property. A Business Plan without commercial borrowing allowed the group to immediately create employment and consider a programme of cyclical maintenance and management.
The delivery of much-needed affordable homes within the centre of Wigtown delivers a range of local benefits. One clear and highly satisfactory outcome is the extent to which the initial tenants of the two homes have moved from a position of extreme housing need relative to their prior living conditions and are benefitting from the community-led homes. This is particularly relevant to the children living in the larger apartment. This housing has secured permanent homes for people living and working in the town, as well as children in the rural school.
In terms of physical regeneration of a key High Street property, securing community ownership from Lloyds Banking Group provides a permanent future for the building. The redevelopment has prevented the creation of an empty building in the Town Centre that was already starting to decay following vacation. Its restoration has been planned in a painstaking manner, led by the community, to ensure a high standard of delivery that is complementary to the aesthetic of the Town and the listed status of the building.
In addition, the creation of the Book Town Bunk House reacted to an identifiable shortfall of visitor accommodation and provides (i) two new community-led jobs, and (ii) opportunities for additional visitors to the Town who will bring economic activity to local services including restaurants and shops that are currently struggling in difficult conditions.