Doing it for themselves: how Scotland’s smallest town went shopping for a community solution

The concert next Saturday is billed as a tribute to Scott Joplin and the birth of American music. But it also marks the effective rebirth of Scotland’s smallest town.

New Galloway, 19 miles north of Kirkcudbright in the south-west, is the size of a village with a population of about 300 people living in an attractive rural destination. But thanks to its historic market town status, it’s our smallest royal burgh, boasting a town hall, multi-arts venue CatStrand, pubs, and a golf club.

And, crucially, it can now say with some certainty that it has a general store, after a fundraising campaign to save Hopkins, the town’s last shop, which was facing closure when its owners retired.

The Big Lottery have awarded an £800,000 grant from their Growing Community Assets fund to buy and renovate the shop and six-bedroom house above it. The latter will be converted into tourism flats for let, and a social wellbeing hub will be set up in the large back-office.

The Big Lottery grant will also pay for a part-time community engagement officer for the next five years, offering a sign-posting service to help people at times of life upheaval, such as bereavement or ill health, host surgeries to ensure people are getting what they are entitled to, and administer fuel-buying co-operatives to save people money on fuel bills.

The long term aim is for New Galloway to be a self-sustaining community with its own income and strong support for all of its residents.

They’re doing their bit too, financially, with a community share offer reaching over £14,000 of its £20,000 target in just weeks. Profits from next Saturday’s ragtime concert, starring local resident Jim McPhee,  and a celebratory supper at the end of April will swell the coffers further.

Mike Brown, chair of New Galloway Community Enterprises Ltd, a Community Benefit Society owned by local people and supporters, said: “The award of the Big Lottery grant was a tremendous boost for the New Galloway community and a vote of confidence in the energy and imagination of everyone involved in devising the plan.

“What started out as an effort to save the last shop has turned into something much more adventurous which will create employment, generate income, attract tourists and enhance the cohesion and resilience of the community through the appointment of a community engagement officer.

“It has been very exciting to watch the plan develop as it absorbed numerous ideas and innovations arising from a succession of consultations with local people. Not only is this development needed by the village, it is wanted and clearly is being supported.”

Andrew Frew has lived in New Galloway for over 30 years. Now in his 70s, he is delighted the shop has been saved.

He said: “As I get older, it will get more important. There’s an important social role as well – as a way of hearing how people are and checking on their welfare. Also, if the village had lost its shop, it would have become a much less attractive place for people to come and settle in.”

Community Shares Scotland programme officer Sandra Macaskill said: “We are excited to see how much interest the community share offer has made at the mid-way point, with a hearty total to date of £14,000 already pledged.

“Building local engagement has been a real boost to their community regeneration ambition, with the tourism element bringing a further business benefit to the town.

“The unique element of this plan overall is the creation of the community engagement officer who will bring real support, assistance and encouragement as plans unfold.“

Maureen McGinn, Big Lottery Fund Scotland chair, said: “I am delighted that New Galloway will benefit from these enhanced community assets, thanks to this contribution from the National Lottery.

“Since its launch ten years ago, our Growing Community Assets fund has invested £98m in 181 projects across the country.

“This award is another great example of local people doing it for themselves and I look forward to following their progress as they pursue their community ownership ambitions.”

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