Thursday, 14 February 2013

Good neighbours abound.

When our Assistant Housing Visitor talks of good neighbours abounding, they are not exaggerating. One of the striking things about the relatively short history of Livingston is the level of community engagement and action. Many of the first residents –  “the pioneers” - moving to Livingston from around Scotland from 1964 onwards, moved to a building site, a place of “dust in the summer and mud in the winter”. It was a town that had no established community; no established, groups or societies; no cafes, cinemas, parks, or sports fields. Yet by 1973 there were over 230 community organisations, one for every 100 residents in the town. Community spirit in Livingston had flourished.

A Department of Agriculture testing station until 1962, Howden House
was renovated in 1964 using a £64,000 donation from
the Carnegie UK Trust. It became Livingston's first community centre,
as well as the location for the board meetings of the Livingston
Development Corporation.

The growing of this community is reflected in the archives in a variety of ways. The first direct community action in Livingston was to save Craigsfarm, a 19th century farm and steading that  was located scheduled for demolition during the creation of the first residential district in Livingston, Craigshill. In 1966 the farm was saved by community action, led by Church of Scotland Youth Worker Max Cruickshank. The Church of Scotland bought the farm, renovated it, and then donated it to the community at a nominal fee. In the archives we hold the papers of the Reverend Dr James Maitland, first Church of Scotland Minister in the Livingston Ecumenical Experiment (which deserves its own blog post!). Maitland's papers contain correspondence regarding the  Church of Scotland’s decision to purchase and renovate the building (catalogued in the archive using the reference number WL26/1/14).
We also hold papers donated by Craigsfarm itself, which detail many of the activities that the community centre went on to perform and its vital place in the community – at various times it was to host a “rock school”, a community launderette to help the long term unemployed find work, a furniture restoration workshop, a cafe,  and of course many community rooms. As of 2013 Craigsfarm is still a functioning community centre.
James Maitland himself was a pillar of the community. His papers  include notes and draft chapters for his book “New Beginnings: Breaking Through to Unity”, published posthumously in 1997. These notes contain anecdotal stories of the early community spirit in Livingston where there was a sense of camaraderie that is perhaps lacking in many modern towns and cities. This community spirit led to the founding of a town Forum. The Forum was a voice for the early residents, a way to represent their views to the Corporation on how the town should be developed and what services were needed. Some of its news sheets “News Flash”, informing resident about what was going on in the area, still survive in the Craigsfarm collection. As attendance started to drop at the Forum in early 1970s it was decided to formalise the group and it morphed in to Scotland’s first community council – pre-empting the creation of community councils as the most local form of government in Scotland by two years.
As well as community spirit, there were many formal groups and clubs that grew up in Livingston. The Livingston Development Corporation contributed to start-up costs of many groups. The papers we hold on the “Minor Amenity Fund” reveal what clubs were given money. In February 1982 Lanthorn Junior Club Youth Club received £160 because “Activities that occupy young people should be supported” (LDC/PS/3/1/7/2) whilst a similar reason was given for the donation of £100 in 1981 to Nether Dechmont Outdoor Leisure Club which was “meeting the need of boisterous youth for adventure. Has great potential”.
Given the dearth of entertainment in the new town in the early years, in 1973 the Corporation set up the Livingston Sponsorship Committee whose remit was to attract professional acts to perform in the newly created Howden Parks Art Centre. This group ran for 8 years. From April 1980 to April 1981 the committee organised a folk talent contest, a piano recital, a performance  by Purves Puppets, a German Flute, Lyre and Drum Band, performances by Synthaxis Theatre Co of Hollywood, performances by the Pitlochry Festival Theatre Touring Company, performances by McAlmans, Boys of the Lough, the Scottish Ballet, and, to top it all off, a brass band contest.  

Noel Grimshaw of Livingston Development Corporation's Community Development Department. The Department helped many community groups to get up and running for over twenty years (behind him it is Howden House, again, Livingston's favourite photographic location...)

Not all community activity was spurred by the Corporation though. One of the major successes of Livingston in the 1970s and 1980s was the Livingston Festival, organised by the Livingston Festival Association which was made up of community volunteers. For a time this was the largest festival held in Scotland.

Livingston Festival Artwork, 1985
Many of those 230 community groups in Livingston were run by the hard work of volunteers with little or no money and with little or no resources. The vast array of voluntary groups required some organisation, and the sharing of expertise and sometimes limited resources to which end a Voluntary Organisations Council (VOC) was started in 1973. The Development Corporation collection contains many minutes of meetings and  correspondence with the VOC and, given their collaborative nature, their records provide a valuable insight into the nature, number and scope of voluntary organisations in Livingston during the 1970s and 1980s (LDC/PS/3/3/37/1-17.)

Just some of the community groups active in Livingston in 1973

These are just a few of the records we hold on the community and its spirit and activities in the archive – but they give a flavour of just how strong and active Livingston's community  was in its early years,  a legacy that is still felt today!

No comments:

Post a Comment