It’s ours! Ardchattan buys back old school

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Ardchattan’s old school building is officially back in the hands and hearts of the community.

The deal to buy it, and the school house next door, from Argyll and Bute Council has finally been sealed after four years of hard work and belief that the defunct property could be brought back to life as a community hub.

Members of The Ardchattan Centre Group and Oban North and Lorn councillor Elaine Robertson, who has supported the project from its earliest days, gathered, socially distanced, at the school in Bonawe last week to celebrate the purchase.

Funds from the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) have helped to buy the property and carry out  feasibility work to make sure the building is an asset.

The Scottish Government’s Launch Me fund also provided £10,000 to help progress a five-year business plan if community ownership went ahead.

An extra £5,000 from SLF will also pay for urgent roof repairs for now.

And there has been money in the pot to help fund a development and fundraising manager to see the building transformation through.

Major refurbishment work is likely to start in 2024 and there will be lots more fundraising ahead.

Chris Lavis-Jones from the Ardchattan Centre Group, said: ‘It feels such a relief that it’s ours at last. We can really enjoy it now and get on with the planning and fixing now we know it’s in our hands and not going anywhere, being sold off to someone else.’

Oban North and Lorn councillor Elaine Robertson said: ‘This is the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the Ardchattan School buildings. The school has been the gathering place for the people of Bonawe and the surrounding area for generations and it is a delight to know that the school buildings will once again be the hub of activity in the area. Many congratulations and very well done to all involved in making this happen. I look forward to seeing the Ardchattan Centre grow and flourish; the plans are exciting and will bring new life and opportunities to the area.’

Over the past years the public’s input has played a major part in shaping the old school’s future – exploring ideas of how it can be best put to use from meeting venues for the community and events to providing spaces for creative workshops and a weaving co-operative, also becoming a potential base for small businesses.

Once Covid restrictions allow, ideas suggested will go back to the community.

Already in the making is a bespoke outdoor cafe being built by Etive Sheds, it could be open by May as soon as the grounds are cleared.

‘People will be able to buy their picnics from the cafe and sit in the grounds to enjoy them. Little did we know when all this started that the outdoor space would become so very important,’ said Breege Smyth, Ardchattan Centre Group chairperson.

Inevitably the pandemic has meant changes but the future is looking ‘incredibly rosy’ says Mrs Smyth. Using the old Bonawe school for holiday ‘bunkhouse’ accommodation was another idea mooted in the past.

Big thanks go to so many people and organisations who have shown  support, including Kevin McMillan from Firstport and LaunchMe who gave £10,000 for the outdoor cafe/takeaway.

‘Linda Gillespie from Community Ownership Support Service/ Development Trusts Association Scotland  has given us advice and support with business plans and sources of funding. Karen McMillan was our adviser on cashflows and sustainability as part of the Accelerate Programme for Social Enterprises.

‘We also had assistance and advice from the Architectural Heritage Fund who have supported the project from the start and, of course, thanks to the Scottish Land Fund who have done everything possible to ensure that we had assistance in every stage of the funding process to acquire this building for the community.

‘We have also had great support from The Rockfield Centre, The Ardchattan Community Council, Rotary Oban, McQueen Charitable Trust, Oban Community Council, The Oban Times  and lots of businesses and people who have donated time and money to get us to this exciting stage of the project.’