Celebrations at St Abbs

St Abbs Community Trust Comitee members who have secured funding to convert the old school to a community centre.
St Abbs Community Trust Comitee members who have secured funding to convert the old school to a community centre.

Three years ago the old school at St Abbs was little more than a shell and if it hadn’t been for the efforts of members of the Community Council and the village’s Community Trust it would have stayed that way.

But fast forward three years and the dilapidated building is now a well-used community centre and all involved toasted their efforts with a special celebration recently.

Plans for the development of St Abbs Community Centre now the trust has secured funding

Plans for the development of St Abbs Community Centre now the trust has secured funding

The village school was closed by the old Borders Regional Council in 1992, which meant many years had passed before the community council and community trust got their hands dirty trying to breath some new life into it.

No improvements had been made to the building since the 1970s meaning that the flooring, electrics and other fixtures and fittings had definitely seen better days.

But never a community to shy away from a challenge, a dedicated St Abbs task force got on their hands and knees to smarten the place up before considering its long term future.

They got it looking better than it had in decades, and pleased with their efforts the volunteers decided that the old school should be transformed into a facility for the whole village to make use of.

But as is the case with so many local projects, money proved to be a major stumbling block, particularly when none of the people involved had any experience of making funding applications.

Secretary of both St Abbs community Council and the Community Trust, Helen Crowe, explained: “The school was hit by a flood which completely ruined the building. We decided that something had to be done so a group of volunteers came together to do it up.

“The first step was to raise some money ourselves which we did by selling off the old village hall.

“This together with donations gave us a £100,000 head start of our own money and then came the next important step- buying the school from Scottish Borders Council last year for just a £1.

“The building has been open to the public since 2009 but we wanted to make a lot of improvements and we knew the £100,000 wouldn’t be enough so we started to look at funding possibilities.

“If it hadn’t been for Philipa at BAVs, Shiela Fraser at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and Maria McKenzie at Scottish Borders Council, I wouldn’t have had a clue, they helped get the ball rolling.

“It was the first time I’d ever applied for funding for something and there was a lot of paperwork involved. If it hadn’t been for those three I wouldn’t have known where to start or where to go for help.”

After receiving advice from professionals, Helen and her fellow volunteers set to work on a funding application which had the desired outcome- £198,000 worth of LEADER funding.

This allowed the committee to appoint an architect- Duns’ based Richard Amos- to start work on the renovations which are now taking shape.

As well as liasing with Richard and his team, Helen said the local community have been kept abreast of developments every step of the way and are really pleased with how the new centre is looking.

“They love it, we all do,” she continued.

“I’m really proud at how far we’ve come in the last few years and that was the idea behind last week’s event, to celebrate what we’ve done.

“So far the community centre has been used for everything from weddings to ballet classes, to whist drives and community council meetings.

“We’re going to shut the place down in October so that further building work can be done and then I’m hoping we’ll be up and running again by Easter.

“The centre will be the home of a new cafe to replace Springbank Cafe which closed after the owners retired. This meant that the other cafe in the village- Ebb Carrs have been extremely busy so we’re hoping to take some of the load off them.

“There were nine staff at Springbank so we should have a number of vacancies available; we’re going to start with two full time members of staff and we’re going to look into funding to help with wages for everyone that works in the centre.

“There are also plans to link up with the new Marine Station which is being built at the bottom of the harbour.”