Boost for Coldinghamvisitor centre plans

AMBITIOUS plans to build a new £242,000 visitor centre to help rejuvenate Coldingham Village have been revealed.

Thursday, 18th November 2010, 8:18 am

Villagers are celebrating this week after hearing that the first of their grant applications has been successful and it is hoped that the rest of the money will be granted by the New Year.

If the building - which may be called the Luckenbooth - goes ahead it will combine an interpretation centre with the community post office, public toilet and coffee hub.

Getting to this stage has taken over 10 years of perseverance by members of the community who first identified a need for a vistor centre back in 1997.

“Every time we drew up a feasibility study it fell apart because although we could get plenty of volunteers to run it we could not find any income to pay for the insurances and other costs,” explained David Jones of the Coldingham Sands Community Company (CSCC), the organisation behind the project.

However, the recent development work at historic Coldingham Priory has made the need for a visitor centre even more pressing and when the village post office was threatened it threw up an opportunity to combine the two.

It was realised that if the post office was combined with the visitor centre the project would be viable as rental income would offset any running costs.

A location had already been identified at the old public toilet block in the car park and approaches were made to Scottish Borders Council to see if the toilet block site could be gifted to the community.

The council agreed on Tuesday to give the toilet building and land to the CSCC for a nominal sum.

Permission was granted after councillors were told that the creation of an interpretation centre and community post office would make a major contribution to the sustainable development of Coldingham and its surrounding area.

The centre will complete an essential second stage of the project to rejuvenate the heart of Coldingham village which has already seen the successful completion of the adjacent village hall, the restoration work on the priory and the development of a community garden.

The new building will be linked to the neighbouring mortuary building which is also now in community ownership and operates as a thriving community bookshop.

It is hoped that all the developments will encourage tourism as well as developing better facilities for local people.

“The project will improve the built environment of the area and combat reported anti social behaviour around the existing public conveniences,” stated the report before the council.

Councillors agreed to hand over the toilet block for £1 after hearing it would save the council £3,650 each year in servicing costs.

Funding of £12,000 has just been granted from the Viridor waste company and applications are with The Robertson Trust for £10,000, SBC’s community grants scheme (£3,500) with the biggest application - for 90 per cent of the building costs - being for Leader funding.

Mr Jones said that a new centre would be a huge boost to the village.

“All the groups in the village have been helping with this because there is a real need for it,” he said.

He also appealed to the community to keep using the post office in its temporary premises to make it viable until the new building can be built.

The post office in Coldingham closed in December last year following the sale of the local shop premises. A strong community response resulted in the retention of the service in a temporary unit in The Square car park.

It is planned that the post office will be housed in the new building at a reasonable rent with the rental helping to cover the running costs of the centre.

Income should also be generated from coffee and shop sales as well as hire of the building as a meeting space during non post office hours.

The application for Leader funding is already being processed and CSCC are hoping to hear before Christmas if it has been successful.

If all the funding comes through work will begin in the spring and possibly be completed before the end of the year.

As well as information about Coldingham Priory and other religious sites in the area the new building will also house the John Wood collection of photographs. These date from the turn of last centry and are seen as an important part of Scotland’s photographic heritage.

They were discovered neglected in a garden shed by Coldingham garage owner Bob Thomson and his 10-year-old son Roy. The collection has been on show in various Scottish museums but the Luckenbooth Project would give them a suitable permanent home.

Luckenbooth is an old Scots word for the first enclosed and lockable shops in the market place.