“Things are good. I’m feeling positive. It’s been five years since we drew up our action plan and it’s fair to say that things have moved a lot slower than we anticipated; I’d describe it as ‘glacial speed’! But we’re now past the half-way point.”
That’s Ailsa Campbell, chair of Crieff Community Trust (CCT), giving an update on the progress of the organisation’s ambitious plans to breathe new life into the town’s redundant and derelict buildings.
When CCT was set up in 2011, their own research suggested that the restoration of the former Drummond Arms Hotel – a huge, derelict eyesore dominating the centre of the town – “held the ticket” to the regeneration of Crieff as a whole.
And while Trust members, all of whom are volunteers, have encountered huge obstacles (see their website for full details – https://www.crieffcommunitytrust.org.uk/ ) in their efforts to bring the Drummond into community ownership, a new feasibility study carried out for them by social enterprise consultants, Community Enterprise, has confirmed most of their original findings.
CCT’s initial vision for the Drummond included function rooms for weddings and other social events. But the new research has shown that there is adequate provision for that already; and that a real need in the town is for affordable housing and tourist accommodation. Now provisional plans for the Drummond have been changed to create those two elements on the first two floors of the building.
The new research also showed that there is still a need for a local co-working facility and the Trust hopes to make an announcement soon that, until the new Drummond is up and running, it will be available in a space they have recently leased.
“The Drummond Arms is a really big project” Ailsa agrees “and our story symbolises what is happening all over the country – people wanting to do things with prominent buildings that have been left to rot by their owners who, in the process, are blocking Scotland’s local economy from thriving.
“But, as I said, I’m feeling positive. We have really good people on our board, some with expert experience which is a real bonus.
“And there are other good things happening in the town. The former Edinburgh Woollen Mill property is re-opening soon with a cafe and other attractions and the old primary school is being redeveloped for housing.
“I must also say that Can Do Places has been invaluable in helping the Trust highlight to the Scottish Government our continued struggles with getting the Drummond and the blockages we face in our attempts to bring enterprise into Crieff’s town centre.”
Any tips for other community groups in the process of, or thinking about, taking control of a redundant building in their town? “Yes” Ailsa replies “get an Options Appraisal done first. It would have saved us time if we had. And also bear in mind: not all politicians and consultants are trustworthy!”
She added: “And I’d like to point out to journalists and others who insist on writing unhelpful stories about “The Death of the High Street”: our High Streets are not ‘dead’ – they’re changing!”