Visiting The Ridge

In this BEFS blog, BEFS Director gives a personal reflection on visiting The Ridge in Dunbar.

Last week BEFS team (or at least some of us) were lucky enough to visit The Ridge in Dunbar. Here, I’m going to give a personal reflection on this long-planned trip.

BEFS have worked with The Ridge Foundations CIC since they became Members in 2020 (you can see our intro to them, here). A lot of our work together has, understandably, been around skills: skills shortages, skills training, and skills policy. Within a policy world many things we deal with can seem quite theoretical. What makes the work meaningful is knowing it has real-world applications (and implications). Visiting The Ridge is seeing so much of what the sector now champions made manifest.

As you wander round – and the word ‘wander’ belies the immense skill at being taken through the journey of an organisation – seeing repurposed commercial premises with temporary uses to support those more vulnerable in the community; gardens (both commercial flowers and quiet reflection); a SPAB award winning completed project; and areas in many and various stages of exciting development, “the windows arrive today!”.  Along this wander you’re bombarded by the layers of place, and materials, and the stories of the people; from tales of past residents sitting by their stove – to beams, reused from boats scuttled in the harbour, to seeing a first apprentice now training a team of his own.

What is done here, is to fulfil a need. People who might not have thrived in traditional educational settings, or had other challenges thrown their way,  need training, support and entry level roles. So that’s what the Ridge Foundations has developed and supports, enabling those local people to work towards increasingly skilled roles on properties within the Conservation Area. It happens that the surrounding heritage sites are ripe to be made purposeful again, to provide the rooted sense of place for the whole community – but the people are the fulcrum. Training and developing traditional skills, to fix traditional places – where people learn, and grow, and gain qualifications seems symbiotic. That apparent symbiosis comes from years of balancing hard won funding, and demonstrating continued project successes.

The connection between the skills, and the place, and the people is tangible at The Ridge, it’s a hub of activity (of all sorts). And, at every stage, it seems every completed project is to be learnt from; training frameworks are made more meaningful for those progressing through them because there’s an understanding that, “it’s not that satisfying to make something useless then take it apart just to demonstrate a skill”.  The pride that comes in making also means that ‘commercial’ is not a dirty word – locals (and those further afield) need their homes fixed, income streams need to be diversified  and generated. Sustainable is not just about re-use – it’s about ensuring a future for The Ridge, ensuring it can continue to meet the needs of those it inspires, as well as enabling further projects to provide space within the community to meet their needs, both social and economic. This sustainability is also what BEFS advocate for across the built environment policy spectrum. When it comes to the existing built environment a fabric-first approach (ensuring a building is wind/water tight and in a good state of repair) should be the first step of all retro-fitting, regardless of what appropriate interventions/technologies are then used to reduce energy consumption and move to zero emissions.

The Ridge sits in Dunbar an area now well connected to Edinburgh by train but a long bus journey from many training centres. Regional delivery for traditional skills is a topic much discussed at policy level, and The Ridge is showing what can be done in practise.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when heritage was spoken of in a silo – with the buildings the pinnacle of what mattered.  The Ridge demonstrates why community matters to heritage and vice versa; why skills and people, and how we learn to care for these places again, is integral to the future. And not because they want to tick boxes, but to meet local need, and deliver meaningful place-based change. Their strap line is, “inspiring transformational change” – I was only there for a few hours, but I’ve no doubt they chose the right words.

BEFS Team thanks all those at the The Ridge for all their work, and for letting us be inspired.  Particular thanks to Kevin McClure, who took the time to tell us so much about the place, the people, and all their skills.