Tucked away between housing estates in southern Edinburgh, and next to a thriving community allotment, Bridgend Farmhouse languished derelict for many years. Now local volunteers have given it a new lease of life through collaborative grassroots action to achieve the first ever asset transfer for nil cost, from Edinburgh City Council.
In 2010 a group of people formed Bridgend Inspiring Growth (BIG), tapping into local passion and initiative to encourage the regeneration of the Bridgend Farmhouse. This re-imagined community building would be a community-led local hub for learning, eating and exercise, acting as a beacon of sustainable and inclusive practice to support social and environmental resilience.
Building on several community days and activities, BIG invited The Glass-House in 2011 to devise and deliver a workshop to explore ideas for the building and to learn about design to support the development of the Farmhouse. Through hands-on learning and sharing of local knowledge and history, the workshop inspired adiverse group of people to see what they might do together.
Participants in the Glass-House workshop explore a visual appraoch to creating a vision for the Farmhouse
“Having the design workshop day at the beginning gave us a focus and brought us together. We had to have something that articulated our vision – and the workshop was the beginning of it.”
– Will Golding, Chair Bridgend Inspiring Growth
At further community engagement events the group used Glass-House workshop materials and design ideas as a starting point for conversation and to talk about what the future Farmhouse might include and look like.
A few years later an Edinburgh University student led a project with BIG to engage the community widely and creatively in the design process, and helped build local support, understanding and connection to the project. The Glass-House was invited to advise on the planned community engagement activities, and supported with general insight into community engagement, as well as helped to develop specific ideas and recommendations. Her student placement included a series of workshops in schools and a mental health project, all of which was filmed and edited into a film: Past, present and future.
Creative design ideas from a participant in community activities to imagine what the Farmhouse might be
BIG’s ethos of community leadership runs throughout the project. None of the original members of BIG knew about “all the things you need to do” around community engagement and design: “We’ve relied on expertise we’ve been able to get from others like The Glass-House and from other training and visits. It has meant that not one person holds the knowledge, which is part of our ethos: a more horizontal, consensus and informal decision making,“ says Will.
The community celebrate a Summer Solstice Party at the Farmhouse
The Farmhouse went on sale in 2013, and was put for sale on the open market by owners, Edinburgh City Council. After careful consideration, BIG submitted a bid for £0, but demonstrated the value their community work would add to the area. Up against a high bidder of £210k, BIG was awarded a one-year lease by the council and a small grant from the Big Lottery to develop a full Big Lottery application for funds to refurbish the building.
BIG’s intense and hard work over the next year included writing a 900-page funding application, and lobbying, campaigning and rallying the community, politicians and funders to support the cause. Sunday drop-ins were a key part of their work, with volunteers working on the building alongside others. “It creates an instant human link between the committee, architect, volunteers and community. It is practical on-site and people can see designs on the walls and work in the space, come up with new ideas, and they feed back to the architects. It creates an ownership of the space; you can give out keys to local people. It democratises the process.” Will Golding
On the strength of their work and application the group was awarded £1 million from the Big Lottery, which encouraged Edinburgh City Council to make Bridgend Farmhouse the council’s first community asset transfer.
Success! A banner announces to the world that the Farmhouse refurbishment project will go ahead
The community still needs to raise £60k to meet their costs, and are exploring a share issue and grant funding to close the gap. They continue to develop community activities, and are working with Scottish Environmental Design Association (SEDA) to design and build a bothy (a small hut or cottage) on site in the summer of 2016 as part of the Festival of Architecture.
The Farmhouse itself is undergoing refurbishment by contractors until Spring 2017, when the community will have the opportunity to contribute to the timber-cladding and make other final touches.
Designs for Bridgend Farmhouse
“The Glass-House workshop got us thinking about the dynamics of space. A lot of stuff that’s in the final design now was discussed at the workshop, including the decking area around the Farmhouse, the dry stone walling and environmental art. [The Glass-House] training helped in ways we didn’t realise, probably! There is always more to learn.”
– Will Golding, Chair, Bridgend Inspiring Growth
From small beginnings this community has grown enormously towards a creating a more socially sustainable place through positive and inclusive joint action. The Glass-House is privileged to have been part of this journey and we look forward to seeing what the community around Bridgend Farmhouse do, learn, and share next.
You can also read BIG’s Think Piece on The Glass-House blog, posted in the run-up to our Debate in Glasgow in 2014 as part of our annual Debate Series.
A big thank you to Will Golding, Chairperson of Bridgend Inspiring Growth for taking the time to share the community’s journey since our involvement.