Woolfords, Auchengray and Tarbrax Improvement Foundation (WAT IF?)
Facts & Figures
The WAT IF? area covers the three rural villages of Woolfords, Auchengray and Tarbrax, along with several small hamlets and outlying settlements. 90% of the area is in South Lanarkshire, with 10% in West Lothian, covering the small hamlet of Cobbinshaw. The Trust was formed in 2012 to ensure that community benefit funds from the various windfarm developments in the area were distributed in the local area for community led projects and improvements.
Although the villages are classed as rural, they are easily accessible from Livingston and Edinburgh, however infrastructure is lacking and one of the key priorities for WAT IF? is to address issues such as lack of sustainable transport and key services such as superfast broadband. The Trust also has an important role in supporting existing community groups + helping to develop the villages for a more sustainable future.
Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO)
Roots & Links
WAT IF? was established as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) on 28 November 2012.
Membership is open to anyone above the age of 16 in the WAT IF? area. Associate membership is open to any group or corporate body operating within the area of benefit. The board consists of up to 11 Elected Charity Trustees. There is also a staff team consisting of a full time Development Manager and part time staff including a Project Officer, Finance & Administration Officer and two Shop Coordinators.
WAT IF? works closely with other groups in the area, including the Auchengray Church Centre Trust, Tarbrax Village Hall Association, Woolfords Village Association and the various clubs.
WAT IF? also administer various grant schemes which members of the community and groups can apply for to undertake projects which will have an impact on the whole community as well as individual grants for education advancement and driving lessons.
During the COVID outbreak in 2020 WAT IF? reacted quickly and set up a Support Group for local residents, recruiting dozens of volunteers to help people in need of support, with things such as prescription pick ups, shopping or even just a friendly phone call. WAT IF? Also set up two local larders which were open to all residents of the area, where people could pick up free food and household essentials.
Since then, and with restrictions easing, this idea has now resulted in the establishment of a Community Shop which opened at Woolfords Village Hall in June 2021 and has been proving immensely popular as the nearest store is a 20 minute drive away.
The volunteers recruited during the outbreak of the pandemic remain active and instrumental in the running of smaller community projects such as gardening, walking, art classes and more.
We have carried out three community surveys resulting in our Community Action Plan 2013-2018 and 2018-2023 (see link below). In Spring 2021 we went back to our community to ascertain their views during the pandemic and this resulted in our Community Spring Survey Analysis in April 2021 which can also be viewed via the link below.
The Trust has developed partnership relations in local government, other development Trusts and third sector organisations.
Although the Trust does not manage a physical space, a key aspect of the Trust is to support those volunteer groups who run and develop the community spaces already in existence.
Builds Local Capacity
WAT IF? relies on community members who volunteer for a wide variety of tasks, with a key role being on working groups for projects. We also have volunteers for events, newsletter distribution and are lucky to have highly skilled volunteers who can help with more technical projects, such as broadband improvements.
We believe strongly in developing our volunteers, and empowering them to develop projects with our guidance and training. By building local capacity in this way, we are building into the Trust the ability to sustain activity with skilled and motivated community members.
We also promote a local Enterprise List, published online, where people can publish their skills or business so residents can “support local” when requiring a service.
Furthermore we fund training sessions such as First aid, defibrillator, food hygiene and mental health first aid, which are open to all residents of the area and free of charge to them.
WAT IF? publish a quarterly newsletter called Community Matters which includes local news, a community diary and updates on key projects.
To improve local transport links, the Trust subsidises a Taxibus service to the nearest town of West Calder (through a local taxi firm) which operates at a very low cost to residents, and more recently the Trust acquired an electric vehicle which is available to book for essential journeys, and runs on a donation basis.
A key need in the area was the improvement of broadband, and over the past few years a collaboration was formed with a local broadband provider who set up masts in the area to provide wireless broadband in the area. The Trust subsidises each household within the area who wish to join the scheme, keeping installation costs down for them. The wireless broadband has been well received and residents are very happy with the speed and reliability of the service.
Since 2021 the trust has set up a Community shop at Woolfords, which focuses not only on providing basic food and household items, but also focuses on selling fresh produce from local farms and suppliers.
We work closely with the groups who manage the village halls, to help them maintain, improve and further develop the properties for the benefit of the community.
Ten years on, we are almost at the end of our second Community Action Plan (2018 – 2023). Some of our main achievements are summarised below.
Woolfords Hall: In one of our first projects as a new community development trust, we successfully redeveloped a local community hall and car park that had fallen into disrepair. This was welcomed and used by the residents. During the pandemic the hall was successfully used as a community larder and is now a temporary base for our trial community shop/takeaway café.
Community transport: Since 2014 we have run a subsidised taxibus service to enable our residents to access essential services such as healthcare, shopping and leisure facilities. To date we have supported over 1200 journeys. In June 2021 SP Energy Network via the Green Economy Fund awarded us a grant towards the purchase of an electric vehicle for the project as well as the installation of electric charging points.
Grant schemes: Since 2014 we have provided support to individuals as well as to other community groups and facilities. These include community grants, driving lesson grants, WAT Next education and bursary grants. To date we have awarded a total of over £160,000 of grants locally.
Community broadband: In partnership with Borders Online we provide a community satellite broadband service for residents as well as a voucher to assist with installation costs.
Paths: We have successfully developed new paths linking key settlements and greenspace areas and have brought back into use many old paths and trails that had fallen into disrepair. We have developed a range of walks for all abilities including adventure discovery walks, health walks and Nordic walks.
Affordable rental home: Purchased by the trust, and with funding from the rural housing fund, we successfully developed our first affordable rental property which is now rented to a local family.
MUGA floodlights: We worked with South Lanarkshire Council after the redevelopment of Auchengray Primary School, to provide floodlights to extend the use of its outdoor multi-use games area (MUGA).
Covid response – Community support: Our response to the pandemic was the launch of our community support plan. With a network of over 50 local volunteers, we were quickly able to establish support projects that included the following:
Community shop/takeaway café : In June 2021 as a result of our Community Survey we launched our trial shop to assess the initial demand for this service and to ascertain if there was a need for a more permanent facility. The shop is located temporarily in Woolfords Village Hall.
As the Trust area has three villages, each with their own identity and needs, as well as a lot of individual settlements away from the villages, the challenge is ensuring that the needs of all residents in the area are taken into consideration and through regular communication and consultation we can build a Trust which responds to local needs.
The Trust recognises it has a duty to serve all residents as best as possible, and we listen and learn from our local residents to ensure that what we provide is what the community wants.
Always take the time to celebrate successes. Particularly when there are so many volunteers giving their own time it’s so important to celebrate all successes whether they are big or small!
A community hub, where we can provide more services, a place for people to meet, eat and grow, and somewhere we can celebrate the area’s past, present and future.
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