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Wigtown: Former bank site remains key part of community

Addressing a recognised need among residents led to the conversion of a former bank building in Wigtown, Dumfries and Galloway, into community-owned homes.

South of Scotland Community Housing (SOSCH) collaborated with local Community Development Trust, Wigtown and Bladnoch Community Initiative to deliver the project.

When the Bank of Scotland announced closure in 2017, the group wanted to ensure a positive outcome from the community relative to the empty property to be vacated.

SOSCH undertook a localised Housing Needs and Demand Assessment, identifying a need for family homes and housing for older residents.  Collaboration pulled together stakeholder (D&G Council), Scottish Government) and project teams (Hazel Smith Architects, McGowan Miller, Community Enterprise).  

The team worked together to support enactment of successful Community Right to Buy in support of community acquisition and also considered non-housing uses (bunkhouse).

Prioritising a community-led approach, the team were able to ensure that a high-profile town centre property was secured in perpetuity for community use – and redevelopmed in a manner that would meet local needs.  Community Right to Buy ensured that the bank (Lloyds banking group) were drawn to the negotiating table and acquisition took place at market value.  

Extensive community engagement identified a need for affordable homes and business to support affordable accommodation for visitors to Scotland’s Book Town, creating three local community-led jobs.  The inclusion of two homes (redeveloped three-bed apartment on upper floors and accessible ground floor unit) met two distinct local needs and a community-growing space to the rear has complemented this mix to create a rounded regeneration offer.

This building presented a challenge around repurposing and retrofit.  Whilst originally a large home on the upper floors, this had been reconfigured to provide bank offices with access limited and a requirement to reinstate a new staircase.  The bunkhouse was created in the bank itself and the vaults to the rear, the accessible apartment.  All of which required significant repurposing.  A strong design team was vital to ensuring this project worked, but the stripped-back nature of the property allowed for improved insulation throughout.  

 

Barriers – and opportunities

A key barrier exists around existing ownership profiles.  Whilst, in this case, ownership was understood, it was difficult for the community to engage once the bank closed and the property was taken into a London-based asset department.  However, enactment of Community Right to Buy – as well as supporting funding structures such as Scottish Land Fund – provided an opportunity that could only be prioritised via community ownership. 

The funding package available to the community – supported by the enabling work of SOSCH – allowed a comprehensive low-energy retrofit to take place on a building that was challenging in terms of efficiency.

While there are a range of relevant funding sources than can support a community-led approach to town centre living, a dedicated fund around empty homes can be the substantive difference around securing viability in a funding package.  This was the case with the former bank whereby the Town Centre Living Fund was awarded.  This fund is representative of D&G income from Council Tax on Second Homes, ringfenced to promote town centre living and reuse of empty homes. 

Funding came via Scottish Land Fund (acquisition), Rural Housing Fund (Scot Govt), Town Centre Living Fund (Dumfries & Galloway Council), Town Centre Capital Fund, Community Windfarm Benefits (Kilgalllioch), Architectural Heritage Fund. 

Community benefits

This small ringfenced regeneration project has created multiple positive impacts upon the community.  The affordable homes have offered secure and energy-efficient accommodation for a local family and older resident with specific needs.

The creation of the “Book Town Bunkhouse” has created three local jobs and also provides the community development trust with a source of income for reinvestment in other community priorities.

The greenspace to the rear provides a local growing project and/or space for allotments, offering fresh and health food to the local community. 

For more information, go to www.sosch.org