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25 Jun 2024

Building local connections to unique places

Two young women stand chatting at an archaeological dig site, with the Torridon mountains in the background. Other people are working in a shallow pit behind them.
Community Engagement Officer Jess Carnegie with Katie Anderson, Community Development Officer for Torridon Community Association, at a community archaeological dig in Torridon
Our new Engaging Communities initiative seeks to deepen our connections with diverse local communities so we can learn how the places in our care can better meet their needs.

The Engaging Communities project is a 12-month initiative, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund with thanks to National Lottery Players. Led by a team recruited especially for the project, the aim is to consult with community groups, pilot activities and develop plans for future engagement. The project is focused on four Trust places, with the idea of developing models of community engagement in very different contexts – from cities to remote and rural locations. The selected properties are the Tenement House in Glasgow, the Hill House in Helensburgh, Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire and Torridon in Wester Ross. Models of engagement developed at these places will then be adapted and applied at Trust properties across Scotland.

We already work closely with a wide range of people, including mental health & wellbeing groups, new Scots, community food initiatives, local environmental and conservation organisations, craft groups, loneliness initiatives and walking groups. Initial meetings with community groups have suggested a variety of new ideas, ranging from skills & career development to the use of Trust spaces for creative activities and engaging with Scotland’s heritage through cooking.

David Hicks, Engaging Communities Project Manager said: ‘The four properties we’ve chosen for this project include a time capsule of 20th-century tenement life in Glasgow, an internationally significant Charles Rennie Mackintosh masterpiece, an 800-year-old fortress, and a mountain wilderness in the North West Highlands. They show not just the diversity of the places we care for, but the diversity of communities who may live near, work in and use our properties, so we’re excited about what we can learn from this project. This is a unique initiative, looking to put people at the heart of heritage. We are asking the question: how can this be useful to you?’

“The intention is that, by taking an open and inquisitive approach, we can extend our existing relationships with local community groups, and with their help discover new ways of seeing and using Trust properties.”
David Hicks
Engaging Communities Project Manager

David continued: ‘Our charity has been pioneering public access to some of Scotland’s most significant buildings and landscapes since 1931, and this project will help us further develop our community engagement approaches. We’re grateful to National Lottery players and to our charity’s members and supporters, whose generosity is making this work possible.’

A young woman stands in front of the Mackintosh-designed fireplace in the Hill House, talking about its features to a small group of visitors.

The initial phase of the project has seen four Community Engagement Officers, based at the pilot properties, talking to local community groups as well as property teams. They have researched past activities to understand how properties already engage with local communities – by hosting local events, facilitating school visits and ranger-led activities, or simply offering a place for groups to gather. Many Trust places also offer volunteering opportunities, enabling people to become actively involved in conserving and caring for Scotland’s heritage.

Sarah Eggleton, Community Engagement Officer at Fyvie Castle, has found that the castle and the surrounding estate offer many possible touch points with community groups. She said: ‘Set in the farming lowland of North Aberdeenshire, Fyvie Castle has so many cultural, built and natural treasures. Its 800-year history has been shaped by the people who lived in and around it, and today it is a great example of conservation in action. This project is an opportunity to discover creative ways to explore and respond to this rich heritage, uncovering hidden histories, inspiring new storytelling and involving the local community in shaping how the property can be more inclusive and accessible, for all to enjoy.’

A young woman stands beside a giant portrait of an 18th-century colonel, who is wearing tartan and carrying a large sword. She also has a length of tartan cloth draped over her arm and is holding a sword. She is talking to two visitors, who have their backs to the camera.
Community Engagement Officer Sarah Eggleton leads a group at Fyvie Castle

Community consultation is at the core of this project, and over the next few months the project team will continue to connect with local groups to discuss how they could use the pilot properties. Through a mixture of interviews, focus groups and discussions, the team want to understand any barriers that prevent people from visiting as well as the potential for our places to meet the needs of local people.

A growing body of research shows the clear links between visiting historic and natural sites and an improved sense of wellbeing, through activities that offer people the chance to learn, get physically active, connect with others or have an enhanced awareness of their surroundings. Our project team will also explore how Trust places can inspire creativity through a range of participatory arts, and support skills development through work experience and insights into careers in heritage.

Romy Galloway, Community Engagement Officer at the Tenement House in Glasgow, said: ‘I am enjoying using creativity and storytelling as tools to connect the Tenement House with young people who experience a variety of barriers to engaging with cultural spaces. If you can find inspiration in the collection and stories at the Tenement House, you can take that into your own home and be creative there too.’

“I am working in partnership with local mental health charities and also with organisations supporting new Scots, to look at how Tenement House can create a sense of place and support people to feel welcome, rooted and connected.”
Romy Galloway
Community Engagement Officer

Romy added: ‘It has been incredible to see how the Tenement House can make a shared local history so tangible – from trying out Agnes Toward’s recipes and seeing what ingredients they can access today, to learning the language of their new home city, the meaning of a tenement ‘close’, and how on earth to pronounce Sauchiehall Street!’

A bird's eye view of a group of people's arms handling a range of early 20th-century objects laid out on a table.
Community engagement activity at the Tenement House

The final phase of the project will see each Community Engagement Officer develop a plan for their property, using the results of their consultations and pilot activities to outline a sustainable strategy for connecting with more diverse local audiences. The wider lessons learned from the project will also be used to inform the way the Trust engages with communities at all of our properties.

This new initiative supports our objective to enable a greater diversity of people and communities to access our places to improve their health and wellbeing, as outlined in our Nature, Beauty & Heritage for Everyone strategy.

Our Strategy

Our new strategy – Nature, Beauty & Heritage for Everyone – provides a framework for the future of the National Trust for Scotland as we look towards our centenary in 2031.