theSPACE: to Infinity & Beyond

As an elected representative of the community dealing with the inevitable large bureaucracy of large organisations like councils, the Serenity Prayer is a good thing to keep by you for those times you get baffled by procedural requirements and want to pick people up by the lapels for all the right reasons.

SerenityBut then there are others who operate in that same environment and yet, when given nothing but lemons, manage to produce refreshing quantities of lemonade.

One such gravity-defying, pencilneck-evading operation in whom I am in awe is right in my own backyard—actually in a disused factory just up the road.

theSPACE is the brainchild of Adrian Girling, a quiet spoken, intense guy who has not yet quite escaped the grunge style of his teenage years and who, had fate been tweaked just a little, would probably have wound up an evangelist or a poet. But from a prototype first done in East Linton a few years ago, Adrian has conjured up, with the help of local youth, willing volunteers and his own persuasive tongue, possibly the best community facility oriented towards 3-to-30-year-olds you could imagine.

Starting off as a shell of a condemned industrial building that had once hand-crafted Ben Sayers golf clubs and that he persuaded local developers to lease him short-term, he begged borrowed and stole tons of timber and top-quality plywood that he then persuaded a large number of local teens to craft into East Lothian’s first indoor skate park by themselves. theSPACE was radical, innovative and (more importantly) cool, something the council—even with tons of money and the best of intentions—could not have managed in a month of Sundays.

This blog introduced this new facility over a year ago and it has fulfilled almost everyone’s hopes for its success. But, not content with that, in the interim, it has branched out into providing other facilities that are being embraced by the community. These include music rehearsal and recording rooms, a huge soft play area that has proved a big hit with mums with younger children and a cafe in a part of town that had none.

Because it was built by skate aficonados, it now attracts serious skate park users not just from the county, as was hoped, but from as far away as Berwick and Dundee. Solid social partnerships are now forged with the local High School, Drama Circle, Community Development and even the local Rowing Club by providing them the space to build their third dory. It seems very modern that some 30-year-old is skating radical in the same building that his wife has their happily bouncing around the soft play area.

Bottom line is all this usage by grateful people gives a buzz about the place. Even from a hard-nosed beancounter perspective, it’s a success: about a dozen full and part-time staff, similar number of school-age volunteers, all putting some £400,000 into the local economy in its two years of operation so far. And what’s more: it washes its face. While there have been grants secured and almost everyone involved round about has been helpful, its success has nonetheless been achieved by appealing to people so that they want to use its facilities; they take ownership and so add to its success.

The fly in all this cheery ointment is that the lease is up in less than two years; they need a permanent home. To find several hundred square metres of cheap industrial space is next-to-impossible as there is none in town and the operation now has such a positive and supportive clientele that moving elsewhere doesn’t bear thinking about. While there would be some options approaching the North Berwick Trust to see if any development along Grange Road might accommodate them, any such development and any related expansion of Law Primary across the Haddington Road would not be for years and so don’t offer a solution in either.

It would be criminal to let such an valuable, community-based and -supported innovation as theSPACE to run off a cliff for want of some land on which to make its popular presence permanent. It does seem that the Council is primarily on the hook here: most local authorities would give their eye teeth to create such a well targeted and run facility, let alone have one develop organically in their midst. The Community Wellbeing department has done what it can to help and the local Common Good fund has chipped in with 5-figure amounts of cash.

But what theSPACE needs—indeed has earned and deserves—now is some pro-active pro bonum work by the Estates and Planning, some seed capital and assistance in securing grants and the donation of a piece of local land to which they can transfer. At the local CAPP, the drop in nuisance statistics speak for themselves and this positive effect is being seen as far away as Musselburgh as youth from other areas travel here to benefit from facilities they also see as ‘theirs’—responding as the local kids with positive behaviour.

And once this major hurdle is overcome, the next step is to solve the transport problem that makes it hard for Dunbar, Haddington and East Linton youth to access theSPACE in the evenings because of the absence of buses—and not all mums have cars and are prepared to play chauffeur on a regular basis.

But if you haven’t visited yet, go. Watch the older teach the younger skate techniques and how solicitous everyone is when they slam into each other; listen to the happy mayhem of a dozen toddlers in the play area and the detectable boom of a bass as a group rehearses. Pay particular attention to the young volunteers learning to run things, handle cash, hold down a job, deal with people.

You want to see young people from 3 to 30 given a chance to shine? Get on up to theSPACE and watch it boldly go where no community facility has gone before.

 

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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