What is our Vision for Lanark?
Will the Vision project help transform the town?
Lanark is a place that is full of clubs and organisations that strive to keep alive the Burgh’s community spirit and its pride in its heritage.
These groups tend to carry out their own thing - sometimes in competition with each other – and sometimes coming together in joint projects.
The overall responsibility of leading the town is the job of South Lanarkshire Council. Lanark has three councillors with the difficult task of having to deal with the main Council based in Hamilton.
As readers of this column will know, I am a great fan of the earlier system where the town was run by 18 town councillors, a third of which would stand down after three years and be re-elected for a further term of office if the townspeople decided to have them back.
When the local government reforms came in 1974, the politicians were aware that the remoteness of the Council could be a problem and it was agreed to create Community Councils to work as an official link between the community and the local authority.
The Royal Burgh of Lanark Community Council was formed, and within a few years appeared to have a clear view of what the town needed, and together with the ‘big’ Council many good and worthwhile projects followed.
There were also frequent differences of opinion and inevitably the Community Council fell out of grace with the Council. Lanark Town Centre Forum was recreated with help from the Guildry of Lanark, whose Dean was appointed the permanent position as the Forum’s Vice Chair - not the Chairman of the Community Council! Membership appeared to be chosen by the Forum for the Forum.
It became clear that the main function of the Forum was to push through the townscape project. The meetings were held in private and any press reports were produced by the Council. After the streetscape was completed, a town centre manager was put in place by the Council and after the establishment of the controversial Retail Park, the Forum became redundant and it slipped away unnoticed.
The Trust has worked tirelessly on the Castlebank regeneration project in recent years
Support by the big Council for the Castlebank group was never seemed to be forthcoming. Despite being awarded Stage 1 funding for their grand plans, Stage 2 never received the financial support of the big Council, and it failed.
All the wee organisations went back to doing what they could for Lanark. The Castlebank group continued to lobby the Council, Lanark in Bloom kept trying to keep the town looking cheerful in the summer and another group put pressure on the Council to upgrade play equipment at the Loch. The Community Council would clean road signs, the Wallace Trust planned to restore St Kentigern’s Church and The Tolbooth continued to act as a home for many local groups without their own premises.
In 2007 there was a move to create a Development Trust with the ability to obtain funds from bodies that would allocate funds for projects. Such funding would not be for the Council, but it would suit them to support the Trust in projects as the Trust would get the money for things they would normally fund. They would also save on wages as the Trust members are volunteers. For the organisations involved it seemed a welcomed way of securing money to cover their costs.
To begin with not a lot happened. They seemed to lack any direction but were keen to do something. They eventually learned that they could get funding for feasibility studies to work up any good idea they could agree on. Such studies normally require an element of consultation with stakeholders. A paid Council official was on hand to point them in the right direction.
In their nine years their experience has grown, as has their confidence. This is evident in their production of “The Vision for Lanark”. It is this which worries me and I will try to explain why.
In Lanark we have many talented and well-meaning people keen to do their best for the town, yet if you spoke to any of them you would find huge variations in their priorities, what they consider feasible - if they can agree on a topic - and the best way to undertake it. It is evident that the early days of the Trust also encountered this.
Aligning various organisations can be a challenge
It is easy to agree on broad ideas. There should be less crime. The Church has a role to play in the community. Lanark shops should be busier. Agreeing on a strategy to make these aspirations actually happen is a much more difficult matter.
For example there are committed Christians who want to come together for worship. That is the broad idea and most would agree with it. In Lanark we have St Nicholas Church, Greyfriars Church, the Ecumenical Union Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church and St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. We can add to this the Kingdom Hall for the Jehovah Witnesses. The existence of so many places of worship suggests differences in opinion in the implementation of worship.
The real problem with the Trust’s Vision is that they are now committed to have all the organisations in Lanark fall in line with it. I know of two organisations in Lanark who are being encouraged to fall into line. History is full of examples of where a Vision is imposed on others with disastrous results!
Had the Labour Party not decided to arguably sabotage the Community Council, Lanark would still have a body, independent from the Council, but prepared to deliver the vision for Lanark they stood for election to deliver. A Community Council that would discuss and compromise, not dictate. A Community Council who could support the Council where Lanark would benefit. Now it seems to leave the Development Trust to come up with the ideas. Why?
It seems to me that the Development Trust, with its many creditable initiatives, seem to rely on the generosity of others. If the grants dry up, and their community sponsor disappears, where do they go next? Would the Council still need them? Probably on paper. Would the other organisations who have existed on their own still need them? Possibly. Could the Community Council continue the Vision? I have my doubts, but there are exceptions.
The Rail link with Edinburgh is one of the exceptions. This initiative led by the Community Council would tick a lot of boxes for the Development Trust Vision. Will they get this on to their plan for the future? It would certainly boost the visitors they hope to attract, and even divert visitors from the Loch to their excellent project at Castlebank! Co-operate, don’t dictate and you will get more people involved.
I saw some graffiti abroad once that stated “Don’t talk, Act!” and it impressed me. If I had to say the same type of stuff, I would change it to “Don’t talk, LISTEN, then act”.
I have learned a lot from the Development Trust and wish them well.