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December 14, 2011

Banking on the future

More than six years ago, the Clydesdale Bank announced it was about to close its local branch in Neilston and sell it off to developers. The building held great prominence in the town and a few local activists began to hatch a plan. Time was in short supply as they explored the prospect of using the new community right to buy legislation.  It has been a long and often tortuous journey, but yesterday’s grand opening marked an important milestone.


Minister’s visit recognises success of a community determined to shape its own destiny

Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment will visit the East Renfrewshire town of Neilston on Tuesday 13th December at 10am to mark the completion of a six year project undertaken by the local community to buy, develop and run their own community asset. 

The Bank (formerly the Clydesdale Bank) was purchased by the local community through the Community Right to Buy provisions of the Land Reform Scotland Act in 2006.  The Bank was, and is still, the only commercial building in Scotland to be bought using the full powers of the Act.  The community (through Neilston Development Trust) then operated the building as a cafe and activities centre, including an annual festival, carbon reduction project and volunteering programme, until funds were raised in 2010 to undertake a large scale refurbishment of the premises. 

The reopening of The Bank on 13th, with improved café, office, meeting and activity space is a significant milestone for both Neilston Development Trust and the wider community as it marks the completion of the first element of an ambitious programme, to bring about the physical, economic and social regeneration of the town.

Alex Neil said “I am delighted to be able to open Neilston Development Trust’s fantastic new community facility.  However the work of the Trust goes far beyond the bricks and mortar of the building.  The Trust has the vision, the energy and the ambition to make Neilston a better place for all who live, work and invest there.  It was seeing examples like NDT that made me determined that community led regeneration should be at the heart of our new national Regeneration Strategy that I launched yesterday.  This Government believes in the creativity, determination and skill of the Scottish people, and our new Strategy will help to unlock more and more of that potential across the country.”

The Trust, which was formed in 2006, has played a significant role in delivering a number of other ground-breaking initiatives.   These include the delivery, with partners, of the Renaissance Town programme, which engaged Neilston residents in setting out a future vision for the physical regeneration of the town.    This resulted in Neilston being designated as Scotland’s first renaissance town.

The Trust is now moving to financial close in its Limited Liability Partnership with a commercial wind farm developer (another first), for a 4 turbine development which will see around £10m of revenues being distributed for use within the community over the life of the project (25 years).  The aim is to create a financial situation which enables Neilston to shape its own future without being wholly reliant on external funders.

Key to the ongoing success of the Trust will be the continued ongoing support of the wider local community.    Until April this year, almost all of the work of the Trust was undertaken by volunteers and over 50,000 hours of volunteer time has been accrued so far.

NDT chair, Andrew Jones said “we have always been aware that, for the town’s longer term plans and ambitions to be achievable, we needed to take control of our own destiny.  The purchase and redevelopment of the Bank, which we hope will develop into a real hub for the town, and the community’s stake in the wind farm take us some way to being able to achieve our goals.  However, the whole focus and purpose of the work we are doing is the people who live here.  We want to ensure that we continue to reflect their vision and that they are able to actively contribute to seeing it realised.”

With the re-opening of the Bank, the Trust has taken another step towards delivering on its vision of an engaged, sustainable and thriving community with local people leading the charge.

Angus Hardie, Director of the Scottish Community Alliance said:  Neilston exemplifies at a local level so much of what is being espoused at national policy level in relation to community regeneration.    The Trust has managed to adopt a community led approach to regeneration which focusses on harnessing local people’s energies to bring about an enterprising and sustainable future for the town.