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May 25, 2010

SOS distress call answered

When the traditional industries of coal mining and fishing disappeared, the decline in the fortunes of West Wemyss -once a prosperous Fife coastal village – was swift and devastating.  The village has been left with no shops, no school, no post office and no jobs.  But although the village is down, it certainly is not out – a strong community spirit and civic pride have survived.  And now thanks to a massive cash boost from the Lottery’s Village SOS scheme, the community is going to feature in a TV documentary series as they set out on their long road to recovery

An enterprising Scottish community has today been announced as one of six across the UK to be funded through Village SOS, a programme from the Big Lottery Fund and the BBC, which aims to inspire a rural revival across the UK. Village SOS is responding to the plight of rural villages across Britain and is supporting new community-led business ventures that will breathe new life into their areas, create new jobs and improve the quality of life for local people.

Villagers in West Wemyss applied to Village SOS last summer and fought off stiff competition from a range of different projects across the UK to be awarded funding of £374,977. They will use the money turn a disused pub into a community hub with the potential to house a licensed bistro, a village shop selling local produce, meeting rooms and holiday accommodation. The group also want to create small allotments and a woodland burial site, while they are also considering the installation of wind turbines.

Blair Denwette from the West Wemyss Development Trust Steering Group said: “This is fantastic, absolutely superb!  Village SOS is going to put us on the map which is something we really need. After the local industries of coal and fishing died away there has been nothing to replace them with and there is nothing here for people to do. At Christmas we held a Village SOS event which was attended by most of the village and it was the first time I’ve seen so many people come together. Since then our confidence has grown and grown and with our Village Champion I’m sure we’re on to a winner!”

Helping the villagers will be their ‘Village Champion’ Allison Hammett, who will move into West Wemyss for a year and use her experience to support the villagers in getting their community business up and running. The villagers chose to work with Allison Hammett from a pool of experts found through a nationwide search by the BBC and Enterprise UK. They have been working with the project since November last year to develop their idea into a standout business proposal.

Reacting to the news Alison Hammett said: “This really is a Village SOS as there is nothing in West Wemyss just now – no shop, no school, no post office and only one commercial premise available, and now we’ll be able to buy it! I’ve been so impressed by the team who have worked so hard and tirelessly and we’re all so confident we can make this happen. It’s an ambitious project but we’ve got so much support which I think that will make all the difference. I can’t wait to move there although right at the moment it seems a bit surreal to think it’ll be all change within the next couple of weeks, but it will most definitely be worth it.”

BBC One will document the village’s journey for a six-part series which promises to be gripping entertainment for viewers as they follow the highs and lows of the new village business, from start up to trading. The series is produced by BBC Cymru Wales and will be screened next year.

Chair of the Scotland Committee, BIG Lottery Fund Scotland Alison Magee said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the people of West Wemyss to take forward an idea that will put the heart back into the community. The project will create a much needed focal point, providing everything from a cafe to meeting rooms to accommodation and should be a well used resource given the level of enthusiasm we have seen so far. I look forward to seeing the project take shape in the months to come as filming gets underway.”

View West Wemyss film: