Five Scottish community groups making a difference to our urban heritage

This blog post by Hetty Lancaster looks at some inspirational community groups who save, protect and promote their local urban heritage.

Submitted by Hetty L on 07-10-2015 15:47:45

1-6 Canonmills Bridge, Edinburgh

A photograph of 1 - 6 Canonmills, Edinburgh"1 - 6 Canomills" by Hetty Lancaster is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

In Edinburgh last month there was joy in the Canonmills community as the council rejected a bid to demolish a 150 year-old building on a bridge over the Water of Leith.

Located in the Inverleith Conservation Area, the demolition application drew concern from the Inverleith Society and the Cockburn Association, as well as local councillors but it was perhaps local community activists that brought the story out on to the street through the ‘Save 1 – 6 Canonmills Bridge’ campaign.

The campaign swiftly gained over 1,500 followers on its Facebook page, showing the impact of social media in spreading the word, and over 4,800 signatures on its online petition. Working to raise awareness of the proposed demolition, local campaigners also organised a public meeting and attended the City Chambers for the Planning Committee hearing.


While the developers still have the option to appeal the decision, the ‘Save 1 – 6 Canonmills Bridge’ campaign shows how communities can make their voices heard and make a real difference – something which should be even easier in the future as June saw the Scottish Parliament pass the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill. The bill addresses the main themes of increased accountability of how public bodies engage with local communities and giving those communities greater input in areas such as community planning, delivery of public services, community ownership and the right-to-buy land and under-used assets.

A photograph of the 'Save 1 - 6 Canonmills Bridge' campaigners.'Save 1 - 6 Canonmills' campaigners before the hearing © Kelman Greig

Burgh Hall, Dunoon

A photograph of Burgh Hall, DunoonBurgh Hall, Dunoon © Historic Environment Scotland

Founded by public subscription and opened in 1874, the Burgh Hall was the most important civic building in Dunoon and included a 500 seat theatre. However, after almost a century of hosting dinner dances, political hustings, flower shows, Masonic evenings, and more, its use had declined by the 1980s.

By 2000, it belonged to a social housing developer but the community did not support their proposals for residential housing and started a campaign group ‘The Friends of Burgh Hall’ to raise awareness and see if the building could be brought into community ownership. With the help of the John McAslan Family Trust the building was bought, developed, and given to the Dunoon Burgh Hall Trust for the use of the local community.

On the 2 May 2009, the Dunoon Burgh Hall officially opened and has gone from strength to strength, hosting a wide variety of events and activities including the first Dunoon Film Festival. Such is its success that it is currently closed for a major refurbishment and will re-open in summer 2016. 


Govanhill Baths, Glasgow

A photograph of Govanhill Baths, GlasgowGovanhill Baths, Glasgow © Historic Environment Scotland

Built of red sandstone in 1914 in an Edwardian baroque style, the Govanhill Baths provided bathing and laundry facilities to those in the local community who did not have such things at home.

It was still being used as a public swimming baths in 2001 when its closure was announced by the council and almost immediately a local ‘Save Our Pool’ campaign group was started. Angry at the lack of council consultation, the campaign group took direct action and occupied the baths in protest for 6 months and, after they were forcibly evicted, kept up a picket line outside for almost a year funded by public donations.

For years, campaigners kept up the pressure to secure the baths' future, resulting in the creation of the Govanhill Baths Charitable Trust in 2005. More community groups evolved to support the dream of re-opening the baths as a Wellbeing Centre for the community which was realised in February 2012 with its official opening by actor Peter Mullen and then Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Today, the Govanhill Baths are a thriving leisure and arts facility and further developments are planned, the recent award of £1.2million by the Heritage Lottery Fund will help fund the next phase of works. The hard-work and dogged perseverance of individuals and groups involved in the Govanhill Baths are a great example of the positive impact communities can have in their own neighbourhoods.


Nelson’s Tower, Forres

A photograph of Nelson's Tower, Forres Nelson's Tower, Forres © Historic Environment Scotland

Nelson's Tower was built as a memorial to Admiral Lord Nelson, the British Naval Officer made famous for his victories (most notably the Battle of Trafalgar) during the Napoleonic Wars. The foundation stone was laid in 1806, a year after his death, and the Tower opened in 1812, funded by public subscription. The Tower housed various gifts dedicated to Lord Nelson including a handsome sculpted bust which can still be seen there today. However, the Tower’s greatest feature is the stunning 360 degree rooftop views which allow one to see over the Moray Firth and onto the Caithness hills beyond.

In 2009, the Tower, which had been the property of the local authority, had to be closed due to budget cuts but following a public meeting in 2010 a group of local volunteers established the Forres Heritage Trust. As well as saving Nelson’s Tower for the community, and keeping it open to the public (it was after all originally funded by the public), the Forres Heritage Trust also saved the town's historic Tolbooth which had fallen into disrepair.

For their hard-work the Forres Heritage Trust volunteers won a Scottish Heritage Angel Award for Caring and Protecting in 2015. These awards acknowledge and celebrate remarkable individuals and their efforts in helping to better understand, appreciate and protect Scotland’s heritage and history, for both present and future generations alike.

This short video from the Scottish Heritage Angel Awards reveals more of the community behind the Forres Heritage Trust and the work they do.

Wick Heritage Museum, Wick

Wick Heritage Museum, Wick © Undiscovered Scotland

The Wick Heritage Museum is the culmination of many years work by a dedicated group of local volunteers.

The first Wick Society was started in the 1970s by just three locals concerned about the effect on the town’s heritage by the demolition of old buildings. To preserve Wick’s past, the Society opened a small museum in one room of the local library. This was so successful that by the 1980s the Council had offered them a permanent home in some disused buildings.

The Wick Heritage Centre, as it was then called, was an unusual collaboration between the local Council who had responsibility for the building exterior and the Society who took responsibility for the interior. While the Council and the Society sometimes disagreed about the best way forward for the Heritage Centre, they continued to work together, ensuring that it developed both as an important heritage collection and in its influence as part of the local community.

In 2002, the Society was able to purchase further land allowing for expansion and, in 2004, it became a Company Limited by Guarantee. This, along with a name change to the Wick Heritage Museum, allowed the Society to be eligible for a wider range of funding streams for current and future developments.

The hard work and dedication of the Museum's volunteers was officially recognised in 2009 when the Wick Society was awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Today, the Wick Heritage Museum includes period reconstructions of domestic and work interiors, a working lighthouse, an art gallery and a terraced garden. It also includes a Lifeboat Shed, a Pilot House and a Herring Mart as part of its larger estate, and holds the unique Johnston Collection which consists of almost 50,000 photographs covering over 100 years of life when Wick was the herring capital of Europe.

It might have started with only three people and a single room but over 40 years later the Wick Heritage Museum is a great example of people power. It shows not only the power of local communities to take control of their heritage but also how much be achieved when local people and local councils work together.

If you've been inspired to make a difference to your urban heritage but don't know where to start, Historic Environment Scotland's Pauline Megson is available to offer advice. Contact her at


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