A very everyday kind of hero
It’s somehow easier to take inspiration from the actions of ‘ordinary’ people than from celebrities or those who seem super-human. Whilst it can be easy to excuse ourselves from following the lead of those with enormous profile, money or influence, it feels more possible to follow in the footsteps of people who seem a bit more normal, a bit more like us. Perhaps that’s why the image of schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, sitting on her lone protest outside the Swedish Parliament led - little over a year later - to some of the largest environmental protests of our generation.
But we needn’t look so far from home for our everyday heroes. I’ve been looking around Linlithgow’s immediate surroundings for ordinary people leading some pretty extraordinary projects to improve their community.
Ross Caldwell is Events Manager and Volunteer Coordinator at Bannockburn House, a grade A-listed historic house that is owned for and by the community. I asked Ross to share a little of the story behind the community takeover of the House, as well as some of the lessons and learning they’ve uncovered along the way.
How did the idea of a community buyout for Bannockburn House come about? The house had been in private ownership for its entire history and was not open to the public. It came on the market in 2017, and after some negotiation with the previous owner Peter Drake, it was agreed that the community of Bannockburn would purchase the house. A team from the local community came to clean the house and prepare it for an open doors weekend, in the summer of 2017. Over 2000 local people came along on the weekend to view inside the house for the first time. A trust was then formed and the largest community buyout was completed in November 2017.
What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome? The scale of what we are collectively undertaking is nothing short of enormous. There are unforeseen obstacles in almost every direction we explore. Things such as the limited car parking at the house, not having services - such as electric and water - when we took ownership. We now have a temporary electrical system in place, and are slowly getting there with jobs around the house and ground.
How has the community buyout affected the sense of ownership of the House? The community buyout has really empowered us all at Bannockburn House, a real sense of pride and honor in all who are involved at the house. This sense of self-determination where everyone can get involved in shaping the direction of our future and have a real meaning part to play in making that happen.
What’s been your biggest moment of feeling success so far? For me, it is all the little successes that all add up, things such as the events we hold, the tours to the public, the absolutely mindblowing amount of dedication from volunteers which is instrumental in being able to deliver everything that we can. People visiting the house usually comment that the passion from everyone involved is so clear to see.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned? There are so many assets available in terms of volunteer skill sets, local resources, national resources, local businesses, and charities. Being able to use as much of this as possible to your advantage is key. Creating good working relationships and partnerships is vital for so many aspects to a project like this. These can add great value in terms of gaining expertise, networking, promotion and working together towards shared outcomes helps immensely.
What words of advice would you offer to a community group thinking of taking on a similar project? Make sure there is an overall goal that everyone can envisage, something that everyone can get passionate about. Make sure you have a clear plan of where you are and where you want to get to. These kinds of projects take a very long and dedicated push by the community to make it happen; make sure that you have a good team in place with a diverse skill set to get through the initial phases of community ownership. Try and have a diverse range of volunteering opportunities created through your projects so that anyone with any skill set can help contribute to the project. And finally, I would say have fun, enjoy it, feel empowered in the goal of an asset coming into community ownership. It is a lot of responsibility and can bring challenges, but always keep in sight the reason why you are there and what you are working towards.
Bannockburn House Trust leads guided tours and events: https://www.bannockburnhouse.scot
This article was originally written for - and published in - the Linlithgow Community Magazine.