The Ridge Foundations – An Introduction

BEFS newest member, The Ridge Foundations CIC, a construction company & social enterprise, describe their invaluable work in the local community.

Apprentices in the stocks © The Ridge Foundations

Apprentices in the stocks ©TRF

The Ridge Foundations CIC (TRF) is a construction company/social enterprise, part of the Ridge SCIO charity. Our core focus is to provide high quality training in traditional skills, and supported employment for those who would otherwise struggle to access or sustain either.

Based in Dunbar, we offer opportunities to local people, in an area of geographical isolation. Opportunities to access training, entry-level jobs and support services are largely situated at least 2 costly bus journeys and a couple of hours away at the far end of the county, or in Edinburgh. For those already struggling to cope with day-to-day life, the additional barriers can prove insurmountable. And in this way, the potential of individuals is so often missed, with catastrophic negative impacts for the individuals themselves, for their families, the wider community and for the taxpayer, as their reliance on a range of services spreads and deepens.

The fabulous Dunbar Conservation Area is at risk, in large parts, of permanent loss, due to decades of neglect. This impacts on how local people feel about the place where they live, and about themselves. It also inhibits the local economy, deterring visitors and new businesses alike, limiting the massive potential of this Scottish Burgh Townscape, two harbours and castle, alongside the rich history of the place.

At TRF, local people learn high quality skills to help reverse this situation. Traditional stonemasonry and joinery skills are taught by skilled and experienced trainers, supported closely by Historic Environment Scotland (HES). As a CITB-registered company, and SQA centre, we offer Modern Apprenticeships (7 currently) for our trainees, alongside qualifications such as the National Progression Award in Construction (Craft and Technician) for local school pupils and for unemployed adults. Working in close partnership with East Lothian Council and the Jobcentre Plus, we provide access to this training to individuals from across the county as well as Dunbar locals.

The grants which support our work are increasingly supplemented by commercial contracts. This also improves the range of experience of trainees, of both the practical elements of their trade and the ‘real world’ of working for customers. The rest of the time, they are either in college, or working on our own projects, including Black Bull Close, just off Dunbar High Street.

Building 4 (as it is romantically known) of Black Bull Close is being restored with support from HES, via  generous funding and close technical supervision, as we aim to deliver a simple restoration, which is also fit for modern purposes. Every aspect of the project is an opportunity for skills training and for wider learning. We aim to include the local community as far as possible in the process, including running Community Archaeology and heritage engagement events.

There was deep scepticism locally at the outset, and many people believed it would be a waste of time to try and save the Close ruins. This has now been inverted, and the local community is thrilled with the transformation to date. The wider impact has been that other local buildings previously despaired of, are now being viewed as viable. The power of a positive, visible model!

For us, the process has deepened our passion for the built environment, and its potential to change lives. We are really keen to be part of and to contribute to the dialogue at a national level, in particular around how traditional skills can be mainstreamed and their benefits accessed without barriers. We aspire to being part of a national network of traditional skills training centres and feel that BEFS membership would be a great forum for discussing this and engaging with like-minded individuals and organisations nationally.