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March 9, 2011

Big Society comes to Garelochhead

How often are young people heard to complain about a lack of facilities and that they have nothing to do?  With local authorities in no position to invest in new youth facilities for the foreseeable future, any improvements are going to have to come from within communities themselves. Last week, a state of the art £1.6m youth project in Garelochhead opened its doors for the first time

The Route 81 eco-friendly activity centre in Garelochhead is a £1.6 million scheme to provide facilities for young people in the village and surrounding areas.

As in many rural communities, there was little on offer for young people in the area, with only an all- weather pitch, which was hard to book, and an hour a week in a youth club provided for them.

Local adults and young people have worked together to deliver the new centre, which has been eight years in the making.

According to the project’s chairman, Rev Alastair Duncan, the centre is the so-called Big Society in action. “It is, in terms of where it came from,” he said. “It is entirely down to the efforts of local people.”

The activity centre offers extensive facilities for local young people and community groups, including a climbing wall, indoor sports hall and gymnasium, IT suite, cafe area, and outdoor activity amenities. A community cinema will show the latest films – until now, the nearest cinemas in Paisley and Clydebank were nearly an hour’s drive away.

“The all-weather pitch was there, but not in some respects, because of the difficulty accessing it, and the youth club was fine but only for an hour a week,” Rev Duncan explains.

Although he is the local minister, Rev Duncan says Route 81 is not a specifically religious or Christian centre. Instead it has been led by its members, a group of local youngsters now numbering about 65, who have helped drive developments and chose the name. The latter is a reference to the A814 which serves the village, and the local phone codes which begin 810 or 811. 

It is housed in a former East Dunbartonshire outdoor education centre, which was purchased in 2009 after that council closed it down. The derelict building included a William Leiper-designed Victorian primary school which is also incorporated. 

The building’s green credentials are down to a £10,000 grant from the Scottish Power Green Energy Trust which was used to install a ground-source heat pump on the premises, helping to minimise the building’s carbon footprint.

The project also received financial support from the Big Lottery Fund, the Scottish Rural Development Programme, Climate Change Fund and the Scottish Government and the community had “invaluable” backing from Community Link Scotland, Rev Duncan said.

Officially opened yesterday, the centre also includes dormitories, with space for up to 45 people, which will provide accommodation for residential groups from further afield. These will be available for youth groups, businesses or others to hire. Inquiries have already been received from a young carers support organisation, and a slimmers’ boot camp.