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The Scottish Beacon collaborative: What’s happening to Scotland’s community spaces?

Community halls and buildings are the heart of any community. They provide a space to bring people together, whether that’s for joy, connection or to talk about the things that matter. So when these assets are lost to private hands, it leaves a huge hole in any community. Our partners across Scotland have shared stories of hope, resilience and loss, as communities work to take back ownership of these spaces. 

Some of Scotland's community spaces

“The guy who started it all off had seen the state of the Millburn Church in Renton, which was an A-listed building, the state of disrepair it had gotten into because nobody had done anything with it and didn’t want Kilmaronock to go the same way.”

Mary Sweetland, is part of a group who saved the historic Kilmaronock Church, nestled along the historic route connecting Balloch and Stirling. She’s just one of many community members across Scotland fighting to hold onto a valued community space.

At the Scottish Beacon, we have been working on a collaborative investigation into the changing landscape of community space across Scotland. To highlight these changes, our partners have told the story of one specific building in their area. Each story contributes to a broader narrative, revealing the spaces lost – or gained – within our communities.

Public ownership emerged as a desirable response to the range of economic and social problems that arise from lacking community spaces. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 paved the way, granting communities the right to request ownership, lease, or management of land and buildings from local authorities and public bodies.

Asset transfer legislation enables community organisations to take ownership or control of public buildings and land. It places new responsibilities on public authorities to deal with requests in set timescales, and it includes new rights for community organisations, including the right of appeal to challenge decisions. Local authorities receive the most requests and more than 225 asset transfers have been approved using the legislation, helping keep community assets in the hands of the communities who use them. 

According to data released in autumn of last year by the Scottish Government, only 2.7 percent of the total land area of Scotland is owned by communities or groups representing their community. The other 98 percent of property or land owned is under private ownership, which has led to huge disparities in wealth and power in our communities. 

Even the government funded Scottish Land Commision, established in 2017, asserts that large-scale and concentrated land ownership often concentrates income, power, and wealth in the hands of a few landowners, which can exacerbate inequalities, leaving local residents and other stakeholders at a disadvantage.

Angus Hardie, founder of the Scottish Community Alliance (SCA), shared how groundbreaking the Community Empowerment Action Plan (2009) legislation was at the time as it allowed for asset transfers:

“I remember one civil servant I knew was so empowered and excited when talking to us about this asset transfer he won because it was unheard of at the time. I then remember talking to a property manager around that time about it, and he was looking at me like ‘What? Why would anyone do that?’ It was unfathomable to him that communities could do something like that, take over a building or a property.

“Where I’m sitting right now – Out of the Blue [in Edinburgh] – is a good example of a successful community-led buyout of a property under the legislation. It was a former drill hall for the army and the military were going to sell off the building and turn it into housing. But someone complained and argued against this, declaring it a war memorial. The drill was a historical site that once held the bodies of deceased soldiers during the war, and in this case the historical considerations are what saved it. Out of the Blue just celebrated its 30th anniversary this year with the community.”

Despite the success stories to come from communities across Scotland, there is still lots of debate surrounding the potential of community ownership in protecting Scottish communities’ declining community spaces. Community ownership and asset transfers do present some challenges and there are limitations to what community groups can do without the proper funding.

Angus Hardie shared his concerns:

“There seems to be an issue of councils not putting assets but liabilities up for sale in communities that won’t be able to maintain or repair them. You have to question what the motivation behind councils selling off these assets are – is it done in the right spirit? Because, ethically, I think governments shouldn’t be able to pass along properties that communities themselves realistically can’t maintain. That’s been a bit of an issue with the community assets transfer, getting that balance – ask yourself if they are being fair to communities with the properties they choose to sell off.”

We asked the Scottish Government what the impact of the loss of community buildings on community cohesion is, and what is being done to keep community assets for community use. A spokesperson said:

“Scottish Ministers are committed to reducing social isolation and loneliness. The strategy, A Connected Scotland, outlines how the Scottish Government is tackling loneliness and is underpinned by a £3.8 million fund providing support to 53 community organisations that provide opportunities for people to connect.” They added that: “Local authorities are independent bodies and it is for them to decide how to manage their assets, based on local needs and circumstances.”

But one thing is certain and that is that community spaces play a crucial role in fostering social connections, individual well-being and community resilience. As we navigate the data, let’s remember that context matters – local involvement and community pride shape the impact of these spaces on positive outcomes for our communities.

The story of Scotland’s community spaces, told through eight of its buildings

Click through to read these stories in full

St Ninian's Church Deerness| Photo by OrkneyNewsLtd
St Ninian’s Church Deerness| Photo by OrkneyNewsLtd
Orkney News – The Friends of St Ninian’s: preserving Deerness’ local heritage

It would be only too easy for the historic St Ninian’s church to have fallen into disrepair and be lost, a common fate for older buildings across Scotland. The Friends of St Ninian’s have not only managed to preserve this fascinating building and its history, but are continuing to use it for the benefit of the community. Here’s how they did it.

Fios – The White Elephant on the Hill?

The Murdo Macaulay Memorial Hall: Nestled in Druim Fraoich, North Dell, is an unassuming community building, but with a rich history. From its 1964 opening to hosting music bands and training sessions, the hall has left a positive impact. Now, as its 60th anniversary approaches, discussions about its future range from artist studios to potential housing replacement.

The Clydesider – Village Church saved by its community

The historic Kilmaronock Church faced closure in 2017. The local community rallied to prevent this from happening. Now, their successful bid to buy the church ensures its preservation and transformation into a community venue. This is how they did it.

The Lochside Press – “Empty buildings owned by the Ministry of Defence should be reused in response to the housing emergency” says MSP.

This week MSP Jackie Baillie, whose Dumbarton constituency includes Faslane, said: “It is frustrating to see any property, which could be brought back into use to provide a home, lying empty” challenging the MoD’s right to gatekeep the property amidst a housing crisis as it falls into disrepair.

Glenkens Gazette – From schoolhouse to community hub: The Glenkens Community Centre’s remarkable journey

Built in the late 19th century as a school, the Glenkens Community Centre in St John’s Town of Dalry has weathered challenges, closures, and transformations. Discover its rich history, dedicated volunteers, and pivotal role in the heart of Dumfries and Galloway.

Doon Valley Gazette – Where the heavens meet the stars: A visionary project for Doon Valley’s future

Local councillor Drew Filson is leading an inspiring community initiative in the Doon Valley. The ‘Where the Heavens Meet the Stars’ project aims to rescue the historic Kirk o’ the Covenant, establish a community observatory, create a local history museum, open a charming tearoom, and revive a much-needed florist shop. With match funding applications underway, this multifaceted venture promises to reinvigorate the community.

Broughton Spurtle – No. 154 McDonald Road – 10 years on

In 1896, Broughton Primary and Higher Grade School opened its doors to acclaim and excitement. Despite controversy over lavish spending in the rustic setting, the school thrived. The golden age saw working-class Broughton alumni achieve distinction at Scottish universities. The legacy of pride persists, even as the school moved to new premises. But the former building’s sale sparked suspicion. This article looks at the property ten years on from its last refurbishment?

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Previous: No. 154 McDonald Road – 10 years on

by Alan McIntosh, Broughton Spurtle