19th July 2004 – my first day working for West Kilbride Community Initiative Ltd. When I set out that first morning, I could not have imagined that I would be involved in the project for the next 13 years. It has been an enriching experience where I have seen first hand the power of the individual and the collective, where local people have worked with creative indivuduals and made lasting, postive change. Volunteers have underpinned every aspect of the project and I have been grateful for their day-to-day support and enthusiasm throughout.
Having had a brief introduction to what was expected of me, I was handed the keys and then shown to the small gallery space which would also be my office. The main focus of my new role as Craft Development Officer was to support the volunteer Board of Directors and other volunteers, develop West Kilbride as an accredited Visitor Attraction, attract makers to take on studios, offer business support and build a brand recognized for the quality and distinctiveness of its craft offering.
I ‘inherited’ a 2-drawer filing cabinet (with files), a small Rolodex (with contacts), a single page website, a small gift shop for local enthusiasts, a small gallery space with no exhibiton programme and four craft studios. Two of the studios had been purchased by the Moffat Charitable Trust on behalf of the community in 2000, the other two had been purchased as part of a funding support package from Scottish Enterprise Ayrshire. As I was starting my first day, the newest studio tenants, Virgil and Alison Bauzys, were just about to relocate with their two young children from Somerset to join the project – I had a huge amount of catching up to do very quickly!
It seemed daunting but one step at a time, gradually building local, regional and national networks whilst gaining much enouragement and support from local volunteers and the studio makers, great things were achieved. Funds raised in the first year helped develop a new visual brand, website and leaflets. Another studio was purchased and private sponsorship and Scottish Enterprise Ayrshire funding enabled the redevelopment of the former Clydesdale Bank as a light filled exhibiton gallery. In July 2006, a rebranded Craft Town Scotland was granted 3-star Visit Scotland Visitor Attraction status with the new gallery noted for the quality of its exhibitions of contemporary craft. By the end of 2006, the impact of the project was recognized by its winning the Department of Trade and Industry’s Enterprising Britain and a Scottish Urban Regeneration’s Annual Best Practice Award (Place). This was an incredible achievement for a locally-led project competing against those with major public and private investment.
Part of the success centred not only on what had been achieved to date but also on the ambitious plans to redevelop the old Barony Church. Purchased on behalf of the community in 2000 as a result of a local bequest, it hadn’t been used for services since 1978. Initially used to host a one-off fundraising event selling second-hand furniture, its success grew. The sales became a weekly occurrence, providing a much needed source of match-funding for the next 8 years. From 2006 onwards , major development plans focused on broadening community benefit whilst increasing the project’s reach beyond the village. By early 2007, my role was made full-time as I developed the strategic plan for the development of a creative hub and submitted funding bids whilst continuing to manage the expanded studio and gallery portfolio. What was achieved next is another story…for another post.