Geilsland – A Personal Perspective

William Morton, Administrative Assistant at Beith Trust, reflects on the Beith Trust and the role that the former Geilsland School is playing in redefining Beith and North Ayrshire for the 21st century.

“Could you write a blog for us William?” “Yes”, I said. Then the realisation hit me, I’ve written blogs which have been kindly published on the Beith Trust website/social media.  However, this is different, the Built Environment Forum Scotland, that’s scary knowing that a wider audience will be reading and commenting on not only this blog but on the Beith Trust, so here goes.

Beith has a population of just under 7,000 and is situated on the border between North Ayrshire and Renfrew.  A town once famous for high quality cabinet makers, from 1745-1757 the Parish Minister was one John Witerspoon. Witerspoon was the only clergyman to sign the American Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July 1776. And being the birthplace of Dr Henry Faulds, the first person to publish a detailed report on ‘the conception of fingerprints in criminal investigation’, in the scientific journal Nature in 1880, as well as founding the Tsukiji hospital in Tokyo in 1875.

Today, let’s be honest, you might see Beith or other towns in North Ayrshire on the TV weather map and wonder who or what they are. These hamlets, villages and towns in North Ayrshire and other areas are often overlooked, seen simply as a feeder or commuter towns; you live in these places but work and spend your money outside, never connecting/engaging or being an active participant in the community.

How, dear reader, do I know so much? Well, I grew up in North Ayrshire, went to school here, so have and continue to see the affects the aforementioned has/is having across the region.

Established in 2010, the Beith Community Development Trust (BCDT) has evolved into a community/social hub. In the beginning it was a combination of parents, young people and children who wished to take over the running of the local Astroturf pitch from the local council, which was achieved in 2012. The evolution from simply a sports group to community hub at the Beith Astro has taken a mixture of time, money, resources, good will and continued dedication. At the Astro today you have a soup group, a community garden, play scheme, street meet, employability sessions and opportunities for those eligible to undertake Duke of Edinburgh, to name but a few groups/classes.

From 2012 until November last year the Astro was the one and only base/Headquarter. However, in November of 2015 after 18 months the Trust was given the keys to the old Geilsland School. Geilsland, the former school given approval by the Scottish Education Department for building in 1963, for years lay empty, worse the longer the campus was left the more it became disconnected physically and in the minds of the community.

Sounds very negative doesn’t it; not exactly filling you with confidence about the future. Well, fear not, as our journey continues. Showing essentially a new campus for the 21st century with connections to the past, the campus is currently undergoing its largest major refit, including remodelling and re-positioning. It’s the belief of the Beith Trust that that campus can/should become the ‘gateway to North Ayrshire’, an asset along with others in the region to entice residents and visitors to stop, reflect, linger, spending time and money locally on local produce, goods, recreation and amenities, reversing the Garnock Valley’s decline over the past thirty years.

Furthermore, the campus will continue to support the delivery of a range of opportunities, activities and initiatives, giving individuals the tools to enable themselves to learn, and develop as active, informed contributors within the community. This creates a circle in which wealth is created and retained locally in monetary, social, environmental and cultural measurements.

I end this blog with this: for any regeneration to work and be sustainable you need community engagement. You can’t just assume it will happen, you need to tell the community what you are, what services you provide and for them to take a positive outlook/view on what you are trying to do. Yes, you can show them with an all singing all dancing website or brochure but the real test is when they or their kids come and won’t stop talking about how much of a great time they had; that’s how you measure success. This also involves engaging with the community when the town has something positive to shout/whoop about, such as Beith Juniors reaching and winning their first Scottish Junior cup final. Or working with local businesses to improve the appearance and condition of your main street as is the case with Beith Main Street, embracing the towns past while not being defined by it.

It also involves highlighting the positive assets of an area. For too long only the negatives have been highlighted. True, everywhere has its issues, but that’s never been the full story.

William Morton, Administrative Assistant at Beith Trust.