The best of Scottish regeneration, from Fife to Dumfries

norwegianoarsFrom an artist collective reviving a run-down town centre to a community-run hostel in the Cairngorms mountains, Derek Rankine reports on this year’s Scottish regeneration awards

Since 1998, the Surf awards for best practice in community regeneration has identified, promoted and celebrated some of the most effective work in reversing physical, social and economic decline in disadvantaged communities throughout Scotland.

Delivered by Surf – Scotland’s regeneration forum – in partnership with the Scottish Government, the 2016 iteration of the Surf awards features several themed categories designed to reflect the broad range of contemporary regeneration initiatives:

Responsibility for assessing 2016 Surf awards nominations lay with a panel of 18 independent experts, who in October and November travelled across Scotland, from Dumfries near the English border to the UK’s most northerly inhabited island of Unst in Shetland, to visit shortlisted projects.

You can find out more about these projects, which range from initiatives managed by community and arts groups to major town centre investments and employability programmes, on the following pages.


A new retail and housing development in Lochgelly, once named Britain’s worst town

2016 Surf Award Winner

Scotland’s most improved town

Lochgelly, Fife

The winning town of Lochgelly – a former mining town in Fife with a little under 7,000 residents – has a remarkable recent history. Its train station provides easy travel to Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline and Edinburgh, but despite a rich industrial heritage and a well-connected geography, the town has deep-rooted deprivation and perception problems.

In 2004, with its derelict housing and boarded-up shops, Lochgelly was named as the ‘worst place to live in Britain’, and was identified as having the lowest house prices in the UK. A Guardian article – For Misery Go To Lochgelly – reported that, with its boarded-up shops and derelict housing, the town had become a byword for gloom. In 2010 it featured on the infamous Carbuncle Awards’ ‘dismal town’ shortlist.

In the last six years, however, an altogether different story has taken shape as a series of collaborative projects have greatly improved the town’s urban fabric, pride of place, and external reputation. Since the early 2000s, Fife Council, Ore Valley Housing Association and local community groups have been working together on a Lochgelly Masterplan. A Lochgelly Community Development Forum was later established, and a 2010 Community Charrette provided further focus on developing practical solutions to the town’s problems.

A number of initiatives delivered in recent years are doing just that. Just some of the achievements are:

  • Community-led improvements, such as a town centre heritage trail and floral decorations.
  • The demolition of several dilapidated buildings, enabling new developments.
  • Town centre vacancy rates falling from 37% – 18% in April 2016
  • A refurbished Lochgelly Centre, with 415 seat theatre, local library and e-commerce suite.
  • New housing in former derelict buildings and a new affordable housing development on Main Street.
  • Development of a new Business Centre and refurbished Miners’ Institute, with a combined 51 business units which is more than 75% occupied.
  • New leisure opportunities, including a closed loop cycling circuit and an improved visitor centre at Lochore Meadows.

The SURF Awards judging panel were impressed by the scale and pace of recent change, and the local authority’s enabling approach, which encourages other partners to take action. Each play an important role in helping Lochgelly use its assets to create a town that offers a range of services and is able to support local businesses. The new Community Action Plan has helped increase community confidence and foster local pride. This is evident in the strong ‘I Love Lochgelly!’ branding that has been adopted locally, and helped maintain low retail vacancy rates and accessible public services within the town centre.

The judges also appreciated the strong emphasis on creating new and appropriate housing opportunities in the heart of the town. Far from being the ‘worst place to live in Britain’, Lochgelly is now a vibrant town that has lots to offer local residents and visitors.


Oar-making in Dumfries town centre as part of the Stove Network’s Our Norwegian Story programme

2016 Surf Award Winner

Creative regeneration

The Stove Network, Dumfries

The 2016 Creative Regeneration category winner – which faced tough competition from the successful Hippodrome Silent Cinema and Made in Easterhouse arts festivals – was The Stove Network in Dumfries.

An artist-led collective that engages with local people to deliver a range of culture-based regeneration initiatives, The Stove Network is based in Dumfries town centre.

Formed in 2011 after a group of Dumfries-based artists decided that creativity should play a more direct role in the town’s future, The Stove Network has grown into a major local regeneration player with 200 members. So far it has raised £400k of project funding and £160k of capital to deliver more than 30 projects. It is based in a three-storey former shop building in Dumfries town centre’s main square, which functions as a popular live music, film, theatre, dance and public art space, and a hub for project planning and delivery.

The Stove’s presence has helped to revive the fortunes of Dumfries town centre, which previously had more than 70 vacant shop units and a ‘ghost town’ atmosphere in the evenings. By working collaboratively to improve the town’s cultural offer to residents and visitors alike, the collective is effectively tackling these and other local challenges. Arts, culture and creativity are used to engage and empower people to lead on a number of physical, social and economic improvements.

Just some its many and diverse projects are:

  • Blueprint 100: a platform to support young artists under 30 to deliver public activities.
  • Charter14: in which local people produced a contemporary ‘People’s Charter’ for Dumfries.
  • Food Strand: a social enterprise ‘super-café’ with late night opening, live gigs, and training/education opportunities.
  • Nithraid: a ‘dangerous’ annual sailing race along the River Nith from the Solway Firth to Dumfries.
  • Our Norwegian Story: a programme of activities promoting Dumfries’ historical connections to Norway, including a themed food market and oar-making.
  • Submerge: a workshop series exploring the town’s relationship with water and climate.

For the judging panel, The Stove Network demonstrated that a strong and uncompromising creative vision stimulates debate, giving the local community a greater voice in issues affecting Dumfries, from frequent flooding to high street regeneration. Plans for the town centre and a new focus on the disadvantaged Lincluden and Lochside areas demonstrate a long-term commitment to community engagement, sustainable partnership working, and practical, inspirational change.

Street league Promotion filming and stills... Pic by Paul Chappells 13/07/16

Street League – programme participants in Scotland. Photo by Paul Chappells

2016 Surf Award Winner

Youth Employability

Street League

Street League is a combined sport and employability programme that supports out-of-work young people into sustainable employment, education and training.

The UK-wide charity now has 21 delivery locations across Scotland, including Bathgate, Kilmarnock and Paisley.

Street League offers open football and dance fitness taster sessions as a ‘hook’ to engage 16-24 year olds that are not in work, education or training. Participants that subsequently join the programme take part in Football/Dance Fit Academies, which run from Mondays to Thursdays for up to 12 weeks.

Academy programmes north of the border are commissioned by range of organisations including Skills Development Scotland, the Department for Work and Pensions, colleges, and local authorities.

Street League Academies combine sport and employability sessions. The sport aspect helps participants to make friends, get fit, and maintain motivation levels, while developing life skills such as communication and teamwork. The employability part encompasses how to search and apply for jobs, create a CV, and prepare for interviews, with training delivered via both one-to-one and group sessions. A further aim is for all Academy participants to graduate with an SQA qualification.

In the year to 31 July 2016, Street League supported 1050 young people across Scotland, 59% of which live in the 20% most deprived areas, into positive destinations. Street League is currently the second biggest employability provider in Scotland, and a study showed that the programme has delivered a £14.5m gross welfare saving to Scottish taxpayers.

Academy participants are also tasked with organising and delivering a voluntary event in the local community. Past projects have included the arrangement of sports days for local primary schools, and football tournaments for homeless people. These activities encourage Street League participants to become active and contributing members of their communities.

There were a number of areas of Street League’s operation that impressed the Surf Awards judges. Firstly, they have excellent relationships with some of the major employers in Scotland, which has played a significant part in the very impressive outcomes being delivered. It was also inspiring to see how Street League has evolved over the years to become a major training provider, and embraced the idea of delivering Scottish Qualifications Authority qualifications and Employability Fund contracts at stages two and three of the Strategic Skills Pipeline. It is now comfortable operating within an output-related funding model.


A reconstructed smithy in community-owned Tomintoul Museum

2016 Surf Award Winner

Community-led Regeneration

Tomintoul & Glenlivet Regeneration Project

The Surf Award for Community Led Regeneration went to an initiative that became a driving force for a rural area’s socio-economic recovery by establishing a dedicated community organisation to identify and deliver appropriate regeneration responses.

Tomintoul is a village in Moray, located on the northern slopes of the Cairngorms Mountains in the surrounding valley of Glenlivet. The initiative began in 2010, following the closure of a number of key economic assets in the area such as the two main hotels in the village. A series of local consultations, driven by local community and business leaders, led the formation of a wide-reaching local regeneration strategy and the formation of Tomintoul and Glenlivet Development Trust in 2012 and a Landscape Partnership in 2013.

The Development Trust has six directors and 320 members, and project partners include Cairngorms National Park Authority, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Moray Council, and the Crown Estate. Just some of the many activities delivered under the project umbrella are:

  • Developing a viable business plan to enable the reopening of a Visitor Information Centre and Museum in the village;
  • Saving the local youth hostel – The Smugglers Hostel – from closure by taking it into community management;
  • Supporting major improvements in signage and footpath quality to improve the visitor experience;
  • Providing a programme of festivals and gatherings to attract whisky, natural heritage, motorcycle, music and history enthusiasts;
  • Establishing Glenlivet Mountain Bike Trails, which brought 12k visitors to the area in its first year of operation;
  • Rolling out a successful community led broadband scheme.

This has all contributed to a greatly enhanced level of local tourism, embodied by the reopening of the two Tomintoul hotels that led to the project’s genesis.

The judging panel was particularly impressed with the ambition and vision of the Development Trust, which has provided a strong foundation for success in reversing economic decline by simultaneously attracting more visitors to the area and creating local employment and volunteering opportunities. Over the years, the Trust has developed a well-earned reputation for managing resources, creating opportunities, and generally getting things done.

The panel were delighted to see that the Trust has found an ideal approach between community engagement and active agency support, with the 300+ community members clearly ‘in charge’ of strategy and drawing effectively on agency expertise and resources when needed. Many of the events and facilities developed will draw additional visitors to the area for many years to come, which will further help to build the skills and confidence of local people and continue the financial and social regeneration of the area.

  • Surf looks forward to working with all winning projects in our 2017 activities programme, including through a series of free transferable lessons Surf Awards workshops in May with events scheduled in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
  • For more on the Surf Awards, please visit:


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