Work starts soon on £3m Rockfield Centre

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Building work starts next month on Oban’s £3 million Rockfield Centre, transforming the once derelict school into a cultural centre of excellence.

Oban Communities Trust  (OCT) announced today that it has ‘reached a major milestone in the journey’ and has funding in place to proceed.

It has been a roller-coaster ride taking four years of determined fundraising and a lot of  dotting i’s and crossing t’s to get to this stage, ready to embark on a new and exciting life for the main building.

Mull-based TSL Contractors Ltd has secured the contract, with work to open the refurbished building expected to take a year.

If all goes to schedule, the main building should be ready to open next summer when activities already happening in two huts in the former playground will move into their larger home with space to grow and thrive, said Eleanor MacKinnon, OCT’s project facilitator.

‘This is a major milestone in our journey. Just four years ago the vision to create a community cultural hub in the former primary school was established and here we are today ready to embark on a new and exciting life for the main building at The Rockfield Centre thanks to the support of our many funders and the wider community,’ she added.

The old primary school in the heart of Oban shut in 2007 and lay empty for seven years before OCT was formed in 2014 and it was bought by the community in May 2015 with volunteers working to rid the building of dry and wet rot to save it.

The Big Lottery became its first major funder and a community shares offer raised £210,000 towards the project from supporters in and out of town, which was ‘overwhelming’, said OCT chairman Gordon McNab.

More funding boosts came from Historic Environment Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise that flagged up The Rockfield Centre to the area’s communities and the Scottish Government Regeneration Capital Grant Fund through Argyll and Bute Council.

The Co-op Foundation also added its support through its Community Spaces Programme, the first award in Scotland.

And in keeping with a community social enterprise project, other contributors  included The Hugh Fraser Foundation, Scottish Sea Farms Heart of the Community Fund, BID4Oban, MacQueen Bros Charitable Trust, The Crerar Trust, JTH Charitable Trust, Agnes Angus Trust, RBS Community Funding and an Historic Environment Scotland Technical Grant – not forgetting the many individual donors and legacies.

Mr McNab said: ‘With the mix of social community benefit and a strong economic boost to Oban and area, we can look to The Rockfield Centre being a hugely  important beacon for our town reaching out in so many ways and a shining light as the heart of our creative and caring community.

‘Oban is developing at a fast pace with more visitors coming to the town than ever before. With an increasing local population and a burgeoning tourist sector, The Rockfield Centre will be an important and vital part of our town centre – a focal point that will not only provide activities and facilities to benefit Oban and the wider area but become a national destination as a centre of excellence across the board.’

Volunteers are continuing to have a say on the project as it develops, said Mrs MacKinnon, helping various task groups establish what the main building will need to be kitted out inside as well as being on hand for day to day operations.

She added: ‘We’re carrying on as we started and doing things differently. Everyone in the community can be involved and have a say in how The Rockfield Centre will run, what’s on offer and how to make it a focal point for Oban, its communities and its visitors.

‘This project will make a huge difference to the lives of many in our community and support all age ranges to be active and involved.

‘We are all very excited. It is truly the start of a new era for The Rockfield Centre, for Oban’s communities and as part of the national scene.’