Case study: Dunbar Battery

What is the history of the building, monument or area?

The Dunbar Battery has had a varied history over its 150 year period. Initially built as a defence for the town against sea-bound privateers, it “never fired a gun in anger”. It then became an infectious disease hospital due to its location, and was a convalescence hospital during WWI before finally becoming a site for social housing in the 1920s. It laid empty for decades until it was turned into a new public space in 2018 by the Dunbar Harbour Trust (DHT).

How did the project begin and what community need(s) was it seeking to address?

DHT acknowledged that the Dunbar Battery was an underdeveloped landmark in the town and sought consultation from the community on what they would like to see as part of a redevelopment. They indicated that they wanted to protect the structure, but not fully restore it, and also wanted to improve access to the facility without creating a new building/amenity within. At the heart of feedback was that the space had to remain an open and accessible space for the community.

How did you source funding and support for the project?

Funding was sought from various sources, including DHT’s own capital investment. The main funder was Viridor Credits who provided over £705K to the Dunbar Battery as 1 of 3 projects supported by its Legacy Scotland Fund in 2014. We also received funding from Historic Environment Scotland for repairs to the existing fabric, as well as money from East Lothian Council. The project was managed by DHT Directors and employed rankinfraser landscape architecture as the lead consultants.

How did the project progress from inception to delivery? What obstacles did you overcome and what were the major milestones?

From the initial commitment of funding from Viridor, there was still a significant shortfall to fund. This took many applications and at least 12 months – and we still had a value engineering exercise to go through! The other main challenge was East Lothian Council Planning, who were slow in addressing the management of the application process and were reluctant to let any exploratory work inform the final design (The Battery was under a foot of soil – and we only discovered original flagstones once we stripped off the soil. This then allowed us to complete the design and complete the Planning application). During all these delays the clock was ticking on the Viridor funding.

How did you involve the community in your project?

Initial community consultation was undertaken through events at the Battery and online/paper surveys. During the fundraising period, we held a series of talks on the proposals, including talks from the artist, Donald Urquhart, who was commissioned to undertake the community artwork. This tied in to an exhibition of his work based on the coastline around Dunbar.

Now that the project is complete, we have local volunteers tending to the coastal garden space, undertaking general maintenance and organising events, including hosting music festivals. The Battery Theatre Company was also established to put on performances in the space. 

What has been the impact of the project on the community? 

Footfall to the Dunbar Battery and harbour area in general has significantly increased since the completion of the project. Visitors also stay longer in the area – as part of the funding, we commissioned information boards around the harbour and there is a trail to follow.  This not only creates a busy, vibrant environment, but has encouraged us to consider the further opportunities and challenges provided by an increase in visitors. We now have a number of small businesses and local food and beverage offerings in the harbour area.

What’s next for your project? 

Due to the increase in boats in the harbour, we sourced funding through Fisheries Local Action Group (FLAG) to provide additional Fishermen’s Stores and working area for the industry.

The main challenge we now have is the requirement for toilets to service visitors. This is a requirement for the working fishermen as well, but it is a controversial facility to include in a residential area. We have Planning in place and we are currently looking at funding.

To learn more about the project, check out the Dunbar Harbour Trust website and Dunbar Battery website.