Issue 208
May/June 2019


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May 23, 2019

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'Work, place, folk' – a former farm is growing the ideas of Patrick Geddes

STANDING PROUDLY in a corner of South Edinburgh is an old farmhouse. And proud it should be, having survived being demolished to become a beacon of hope for both the local community and the future.

Situated on the edge of Craigmillar Castle Park, on the Old Dalkeith Road, Bridgend farmhouse was a working farm until the 1970s and inhabited till the year 2000, before falling into disrepair.

Seven years ago a small group of folk comprising students, youth workers, allotment holders and local residents met to talk about their dream of restoring the crumbling and derelict 19th century farmhouse known as Bridgend, into a unique community hub.

After a long and arduous journey their dream became a reality. The charity 'Bridgend Inspiring Growth' (BIG) was set up by the group in 2010 with the aim of turning the farmhouse and its grounds into a community centre focusing on the environment and outdoors and which would offer opportunities for learning, training and community development.

New workshops, a café and garden space have all blossomed in Craigmillar’s restored Bridgend Farm on the outskirts of Edinburgh

Planning took inspiration from the Edinburgh social reformer and town planner Sir Patrick Geddes, adopting his ethos of 'work, place, folk'.

Local Will Golding who used to attend the gardening project next door took a lead in bringing the once derelict farmhouse back to life. He went to architect Malcolm Fraser, who had been looking at applying the community empowerment lessons from the Scottish Islands to urban environments, particularly through his government-sponsored National Review of Town Centres.

The farmhouse was put on the market and the community had to bid for it, for an eventual transfer price of a nominal £1. Golding describes Fraser's support, through the community consultation, struggles over the transfer of ownership from the council and funding, as "quite unique and fundamental to the development of the whole thing."

Now restored and transformed, Bridgend is a bustling hub of activity and enterprise serving some of Scotland's largest and most deprived and isolated post war housing estates, where issues such as loneliness, rehabilitation and displacement are rife.

Now a thriving community meeting place, there is a café, garden and workshops, alongside facilities for performances, gatherings, talks, entertainment and small conferences. Training, cooking, healthy living and exercise are central to the project, while gardening, wood and metal work, arts and crafts, bicycle-repairing, stone-walling, foraging in the woods and exploring the area's local heritage are among the activities and workshops.

While there has been some rebuilding and some additions made to the farmhouse, it retains a sense of history, with shutters and old alcoves reused, and the remnants of some of the 37 layers of wallpaper discovered, still visible on the walls.

Activities and projects also include 'Place, Work, Folk' a local history project, which includes creating a collection of oral history recordings from local residents. The café kitchen provides training courses which can lead to qualifications, and there have been courses in crafts, such as lime mortar pointing and gardening, and making natural cosmetics.

The project's Acorn Fund supports local people and groups with their own projects on site, which have included 'Building a wormery' and 'A seed library'.

The project aims to be a central hub for people in the surrounding struggling estates to train for work, try a new hobby, volunteer, find support for disability and drop in for coffee, a chat and friendship.

Donna McArdle, Bridgend's Development Manager became involved several years ago when she was commissioned to write the funding application for the BIG lottery funding application. Not only did she project manage the completion of the building, but her expertise in designing and setting up teaching/community cafés has proved invaluable to the project.

"Bridgend Farmhouse is a great location with access to a fabulous garden and veranda, as well as a great community cafe," says Donna.

"We hope to provide more workshops, and a summer programme for families. We're working towards regular occupancy of our workshops and are a great venue to hire to run any wood based, outdoors/arts and crafts workshops with only £30.00 for a half day and £45.00 for a whole day. It's an ideal place for training, as well as arts weekends.

"We haven't stopped since we opened and have welcomed thousands of folks through the doors in the last year."

Eric Fernandez-Baca worked as a chef for many years but then began volunteering at Bridgend Farmhouse. He says, "Volunteering here gave me the extra skills in community work I needed to be able to work in the most rewarding job I have ever had. I now work as a food support worker at Bridgend and this enables me to put my cookery skills to the service of the community through creating a safe and nurturing kitchen environment where everyone is welcome and valued".

It's also one of Scotland's newest examples of community ownership in an urban setting. Given charitable status under the title Bridgend Inspiring Growth, in 2018 it became the first organisation in Scotland to transfer from a 'Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation' (SCIO) to a 'Community Benefit Society' with charitable status.

Under this model members buy shares to become part-owners of the land and project and each member has one vote. The project has been supported by the Big Lottery, the Robertson Trust, Historic Environment Scotland and by Edinburgh City Council, as well as receiving grants from The People's Health Trust and Heritage Lottery. A Co-operative Community Benefit Society is being formed to own and run the farmhouse in the future, and anyone can buy a share.

Bridgend Farmhouse was chosen for the launch of the Scottish Government's strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness.

"Nurturing is really important when people are at transition points or have a disability… and the world shrinks. Places like this can make the world bigger again," says Christina McKelvie, the Scottish minister for older people and equalities.

When I visited, the hustle and bustle atmosphere was evident, as well as welcoming and warm, with the café full and groups of people arriving in mini buses.

In January 2019 the project was commended for an RIBA MacEwan Award in architecture for 'the common good'. The MacEwen judges approved of the simple means by which the farmhouse and its garden had been brought back into use, a forward looking piece of history at the heart of a community where it is already being well used.

"This area of Edinburgh would get an enormous benefit from an intervention like this, it has re-energised this place," said judge Kathy MacEwen.

Providing both a window into the past and a platform for the future, this old farmhouse is without doubt going from strength to strength and bringing hope and purpose back to local communities.

FRANCES ANDERSON

Bridgend Farmhouse, 41 Old Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh EH16 4TE www.bridgendfarmhouse.org.uk. Facebook: Bridgend Farmhouse

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