As we approach the end of 2021, and as a very newly constituted SCIO, we thought we would share our progress this year and our ideas for 2022.
As a charity we are now in a much stronger position to apply for grants and drive projects forward.
Looking back to our beginnings, we started to form as a team around the end of last year, we first organised ourselves into portfolios focused on key areas where we could focus skills and expertise – education, pathways, history, culture etc.
We began forming as a team
- We spent the first few months getting to know each other and gathering ideas from people through discussion and on social media. We:
- Found a great mix of committed people with strong complimentary skills
- Sought advice from the Third Sector Gateway about how to establish ourselves legally so we can run projects and apply for funding.
- Agreed a constitution.
- Secured trustees
- Applied to OSCR for SCIO charity status – which has now been granted.
We gathered views
- Made contact with local councillors and community council in locations around the hills in March and April to get their thoughts about our ideas.
- Built a relationship with WL Council, via Nairn, which will prove valuable and supportive going forward.
- Spoke to Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Parks & Woodlands Team, and Heritage Environment Scotland who all have ownership / management responsibility for key areas in the hills.
- Spoke to the Galloway Glens project manager – this group are 3 years ahead on their environmental project, and it was useful to get advice and hear their key learns.
- Formed a link with Heritage Environment Scotland about working together to help make the most of their important sites of Cairnpapple henge, Torphichen Preceptory and Linlithgow Palace. We have their agreement to do volunteering environmental conservation work at Cairnpapple in springtime. We are clear that car parking and infrastructure at Cairnpapple are real issues.
- Through a contact at Scotland Tourism we got feedback that the visit West Lothian site has an overview of the hills but it could be better developed, and their best advice was to consider developing a product such as a trail or a route , which makes it easier to promote.
- Sought views from local communities, via social media and discussion, about what matters to them and what they would like to see.
- We have more ideas than we ever expected and will need to continue to prioritise these as we shape them into projects.
- Given the ideas received we are clear that while the portfolios were and are useful for bringing expertise into the team, the projects undertaken will span across these. So we are unlikely just to do a pathways projects without bringing in nature and history and stories etc.
We began to gather and share interesting information, and images of the hills
Following a few months of searching, we identified that there is a lot of information available about the Bathgate Hills and surrounding areas, but this is scattered widely, and is not easy to find.
- Researched some sample areas in the hills – gathering stories and history.
- Shared some of these on social media.
- Found local historians and photographers who are willing to share their material, including drone footage.
- Secured bathgatehills.co.uk domain name and set up a skeleton website.
- From social media interactions, identified that hearing stories and the history of the hills is something that people value.
We tried a few exploratory activities
- Arranged a few buddy walks where we could walk with people and share what we knew. These had mixed / poor take up. Leading us to think that people would like to learn about the hills through website and social media but then explore themselves? We note that caution about mixing with others between covid lockdowns may be another key engagement factor here.
- Did a number of walks ourselves to check accessibility, available information, the need to walk on roads etc – we are clear that more can and should be done.
- Walked and mapped out what could be an interesting and popular ‘peaks’ challenge for walkers and runners.
- Began improvements in the Chapel Well Garden as a trial of how well we can secure volunteers. As part of this we have begun links with Bathgate in Bloom who kindly supplied plants.
We began to form ideas about next year’s projects and wrote our first funding bids
- The Chapel Well Garden work to date has been encouraging and we have a number of volunteers to help take this forward. We have now applied for funding through West Lothian Community Choices and hope to hear by February next year.
- We also applied for funding for a pathways and information project via the Place Based Investment Programme. This was a very useful process in terms of focusing and sharpening our ideas about the best deliverable projects. Unfortunately we have since been advised that we were not successful. Very disappointing, but a useful experience for us in writing our first funding bid.
So where now?
We are delighted to have been awarded SCIO status recently, and as a formally constituted charity, we can now apply for funding for our future projects.
Through our research this year we have a much greater understanding of the Bathgate Hills, their huge importance as a beautiful outside space for people to exercise, find solitude or just get some breathing space for a while.
We know that while they do this, there is little on site or easily accessible info to share the history of the hills, and the amazing things there are to explore.
We know that there are significant issues with parking in the hills, and the answer is not to spoil them with big car parks.
We know that existing paths could be better signposted, and a small number of new paths created to join interesting places together – with an aim to provide attractive, safer, ways for people to enjoy the hills. This should save people from walking across fields, worrying to both walkers and livestock. Our aim is to guide people through existing walkways as much as we can.
We are considering two projects to take forward in 2022, and would really appreciate input from anyone who would share ideas, or get involved to shape and deliver them.
Project 1. Better signpost some existing pathways and bring the local history and nature to life
We would like to speak to WL Council about the car parking and paths that are already being created near the Korean War Memorial, through the land gifted last year by Andy and Elspeth Gibbs.
We would like to raise funds to better signpost existing paths between here and other nearby sites like Witchcraig, the Refuse Stone and Cairnpapple – if this is not already part of West Lothian Council’s existing plan.
As a SCIO we believe we are well placed to apply for small grants to install better signposts on these selected and agreed existing routes.
We would like to create some informational webpages and videos about these areas, bringing history and nature to life, with information that is easy to find. We will add these to the Bathgate Hills website. On the hills themselves we would like to introduce a QR Code hunt similar to geocaching to make visits fun – this would link to our website information, photographs and videos.
We would also like to consider creating a first drone video of one of these locations, supported by a local musician / band – either playing in the hills or providing a musical overlay for the video. In doing this we believe we can promote both the hills and local West Lothian musical talent.
We will also apply for funding for the creation of the informational videos and website work. Given likely costs for these smaller initiatives, we may find appetite for sponsorship from local businesses.
We would like to understand where WL Council plans / funding start and stop for existing work.
As a larger third phase we would then apply for NLHF or equivalent funding to create paths on the next leg of the route, subject to landowner agreement. For new paths we would choose to skirt farmer fields as much as possible. A key priority will be to introduce safe walking for people, including families and dogs. Ideally we will avoid roads as much as we can.
We will also liaise with the HES funding team to ensure we include access to their sites if we can, so that these important historic locations can be accessed and enjoyed by more people.
This project may be a great way to showcase what we can achieve together.
Project 2. ‘Peaks’ challenge for runners and walkers
We would like to further develop our ideas for Bathgate Hills walking and running routes with input from local runners and walkers.
The aim is that we would design a peaks challenge, similar to that offered in the Pentlands and other locations in Scotland. The Bathgate Hills, though not hugely tall, have much to offer to walkers and runners keen to challenge themselves and tick off a few summits while enjoying stunning views.
Through discussion we need to agree whether people do this in their own time (at any point in the year) or whether this becomes a once/twice a year public event. Our initial thoughts are that this could take place as an annual or bi-annual event encouraging visitors to the area, and helping increase spend in the villages and towns surrounding the hills.
Reflecting back on our 5 year plan
2021 has been spent gathering views and ideas, developing a network of interested parties and volunteers, and trialling a few smaller things as we built as a team.
We brought forward the need for a constitution and legal status from 2022 to 2021 as this will be essential for many funding bids.
We are pleased with the progress we have made, accepting that we are volunteers who are doing this alongside day jobs, families and busy lives.
We are however clear that we will need to secure more help as we move to designing and delivering projects next year. We cannot do this alone.
We aim to get more help in three ways:
- Secure volunteer deputies for each of us so we have more support to drive things forward.
- Include the cost of paid resources in our project funding bids, so that we help bring local paid roles to our projects.
- Build up our group of volunteers who would like to get involved in these first projects.
Our first activities over winter will be research into the history and stories of the hills, both online, in books, speaking to museums and local people. We’ll also gather photos and videos, both old and new.
If you are interested in joining us, either in this research, or in shaping the design of these first projects, then please drop us a note at email@example.com