Glentrool community action revitalises village hub

South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) is helping a remote rural village to build a more sustainable future for the community, by developing local property. The Glentrool and Bargrennan Community Trust (GBCT) projects include a new community hub, The Hive, and ‘The Coorie’ accommodation for visitors to the Dark Skies Park and Galloway Forest.

The regeneration project has been developed in close partnership between SOSE, GBCT and Dumfries & Galloway Council. It includes £280,000 in SOSE funding, as well as expert advice aimed at developing community sustainability and resilience in the long term.

Kickstarting regeneration

As GBCT chairman Meta Maltman explains, the survival of the village in this beautiful part of southwest Scotland was at stake. “Doing nothing was not an option. Glentrool was built in the 1950s for forestry workers and their families, but the need declined, and the main purpose of the village has gone. The only public space we were left with was the school, and in 2010, it closed. We couldn’t let it rot.”

In 2010, the community set up their trust, and bought the old school building from Dumfries & Galloway Council for £1. They also spotted an opportunity to retain affordable rented housing in the village, explains Meta. “The local registered social landlord wanted to sell off three surplus properties. We wanted to keep them as affordable rented housing, and not let them become holiday homes.”

Initially, the trust applied for funding for consultants to help them carry out a community consultation. This led to a business plan for the two developments: housing renovation and a community hub. Concerted work by the community trust over several years, in partnership with South of Scotland Community Housing, resulted in successful project funding from several sources.

SOSE support for sustainability

The business plan included repurposing the school as The Hive to serve the 100-strong village community, as well as visiting groups. The Hive includes a craft gallery and retail space, as well as fully accessible self-catering facilities for school and youth groups. The surplus homes were also to be renovated and modernised.

But as Meta says, “it became obvious that due to costings going up, that we couldn’t do everything to the school that we had planned." The Trust then saw SOSE’s message: "If you think we can help, come to us", and got in touch with SOSE’s Community Development Advisor, Sharon Ogilvie.

Strategic thinking and Net Zero targets

A meeting with SOSE gave the trust an opportunity to discuss their plans and unlock more potential. Meta says: “Through us talking through our plans with Sharon, she discovered that we were all geared up to start the housing renovation work with grant funds and a loan. She saw what SOSE could do to help. If we hadn’t had that help, our building costs would have increased.”

Sharon was able to help the community trust achieve its ambitions, in part by understanding how they fitted with South of Scotland’s transition to Net Zero carbon, the target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. SOSE’s input resulted in advice, support and funding for energy-efficient cladding for The Hive, as well as air source heat pumps and solar panels for the housing renovations. SOSE’s funding also didn’t need matched from other sources – a big advantage over other funders the community trust had looked at.

By amplifying the trust’s aspirations, SOSE has been able to help complete work on the energy-efficiency features of The Hive, and avoid a second disruptive phase of construction. The Hive can now start generating income for the benefit of the Glentrool and Bargrennan community, while heat pumps for the renovated homes puts them at the forefront of climate-friendly actions in the South of Scotland, as well as reducing fuel poverty.

Community action and administration support

Although Meta has a background in community development, she admits that it has been challenging for volunteers to work on such a big project, and the trust paid for book-keeping and accountancy services. “Our SOSE advisor recognised the complexities that small groups are expected to deal with,” she says. “We have some skills in the community, but just overseeing the finance is difficult. It’s a factor that probably puts a lot of people off from volunteering.”

“Nowadays, you can’t be a footering wee committee – you have to meet the same criteria as much bigger organisations. Our SOSE advisor, Sharon, has identified that as an issue. If SOSE sees a role for itself in that kind of non-financial admin support and advice, then it will be very useful.”

Self-help, courage and welcoming volunteers

“We have a self-help attitude. We have been very lucky – there have always been people willing to give their time and energy.” Meta’s advice to small rural communities which find themselves in similar situations and are inspired by Glentrool’s story is to talk to other groups, and organisations like SOSE. “People have never turned us away. Have the courage to think that you can do it! People in our village who didn’t want to become trustees have been very good at volunteering. Any sign of a volunteer – welcome them with open arms!”

Team SOSE says

SOSE Community Development Advisor Sharon Ogilvie said: “I’ve been incredibly impressed with the thoroughness, professionalism and dedication that Glentrool and Bargrennan Trust has demonstrated in making these ambitious projects work, and in developing a legacy for their community.”
SOSE chair Professor Russel Griggs said: “We are very pleased that we have been able to support the trust with their plans to make the village more vibrant, sustainable and self-sufficient.”

“This is a great example of projects which show how working together can deliver a range of positive outcomes for communities, which in turn supports the economy, as well as the transition to Net Zero. This aligns well with the intentions of the Scottish Government’s anticipated 10-year National Strategy for Economic Transformation.”

“We are always looking for new ways to promote the South of Scotland as a great place to live, work and visit. Both projects will be crucial to encouraging locals to stay in the area, as well as attracting new people to Glentrool and the Cree valley.”

Looking to a sustainable future

The regeneration projects are well-placed to take advantage of the growing tourism market in the Galloway Forest and Dark Skies Park, part of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere. The old school will once again be the heart of the community and a focus for future growth, says Meta. “We now have an eye-catching centrepiece for Glentrool village, and a springboard for future community regeneration and income. Visiting organisations say what a beautiful facility it is for the region - perfect for meetings and training events.

We are also delighted that the new tenants will be moving into their energy-efficient homes in the next couple of weeks. One of them is the Project Manager for the Hive, while the other two are employed by the House o’Hill Hotel at Bargrennan. For our housing project, we have managed to achieve our agreed aim of finding tenants who have close family and/or employment links with the Glentrool/Bargrennan area.

The Glentrool community look forward to welcoming visitor to their beautiful part of the Galloway Forest.

Find out more:

Glentrool Community Trust 

Glentrool Hive