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Lochmaddy Hospital Site, North Uist

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Last week we spent a few days in North Uist, where we’re working with a community steering group on a feasibility study for a potential buy out of the former Lochmaddy Hospital buildings and site. A former poor house constructed in 1883, the buildings ceased use as a hospital in 2001 and have lain empty ever since. The original stone building is an austere two storey structure which sits a little grimly out on the edge of Lochmaddy. However, it’s an important landmark with a local significance which stretches beyond its physical form.

We invited local people to walk around the site and have a look at the buildings. We wanted a first hand impression of how they’d react to getting back up close to this remote and neglected place. It was immediately clear that the site has a cultural and social history which is deeply embedded in the community. Many people were born in the former maternity wing. Others worked there – their names can still be seen on the old nurses lockers in the staff room. Some had elderly relatives who spent their final years as residents.

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Everyone recognises that the site will never host hospital services again. However, there’s an eagerness to find viable new uses for the site. Almost everyone agreed that the original stone building should be retained and refurbished, if at all possible. There are ideas for expanded higher education opportunities in Lochmaddy, building on the success of art courses run locally at Taigh Chearsabhagh.

There may be a need for student accommodation and other supporting services. Other opportunities exist for visitor and tourism related uses. It’s likely we’ll need a mix of uses given the size of the site and buildings. In any event, the project must ensure that broad community benefit is delivered if it is to truly succeed.

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We’re now working through options for the buildings and uses. We report back to the community on 19th May in Carinish Village Hall from 7pm.

Our team for this project includes :

Hazel Allen, Athena Solutions; Amanda Bryan, Aigas Associates; Sam Foster, Sam Foster Architects

Culbokie Update

We recently completed a Feasibility Study for the Culbokie Community Trust. The Glascairn Community Project seeks to provide much needed local services and facilities and create a new heart for the village. The Trust has applied to the Scottish Land Fund for assistance in buying the site, having successfully completed a local ballot which showed strong support for the project amongst local people.

The development proposals focus on a community cafe and shop fronting a new public square. Culbokie has no public realm or civic space to speak of and little prospect of ever getting any without this community intervention. Other communty buildings would provide rooms for local health services and a covered events space, with some housing meeting a need for smaller homes for local people and helping to fund the development.

SketchAerial copyCulbokie has become a commuter settlement in recent decades and with more housing estates to come it is in danger of becoming an all-out dormitory town, shipping workers in and out of Inverness every day. The market has failed to provide local services and even to meet local demand for smaller more affordable homes. Like many similar towns, house builders have built larger, expensive homes in recent times, partly as a response to rising land values.

Sadly, the planning profession has had no meaningful response to this issue. The land reform process is now addressing housing land. Market intervention to drive the delivery of housing which meets local need and responds to local character is overdue. Local Authorities are likely to have a key role, although most don’t use the powers they already have.

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This project is an excellent example of a community taking its future into its own hands. Community empowerment in action. The Trust has shown strong commitment to the task and provided leadership for a community which is realising that there is an alternative to declining local services and a diminishing sense of place. Culbokie is not alone – it’s part of a growing number of community-led projects which are slowly transforming Scotland’s communities for the better.

Our team partners were :

Hazel Allen, Athena Solutions; Amanda Bryan, Aigas Associates; Sam Foster, Sam Foster Architects.

The project was funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Highland Council and HIE.