New Galloway

by Robin McKelvie

“Dumfries and Galloway has often been seen as a backwater in tourism, but that is really starting to change”, says Ronnie Bradford, Property Manager at New Galloway Community Enterprises Ltd. “We’ve got it all here, whether you want to savour complete solitude, or to be welcomed like a ‘temporary local’ in our village of New Galloway, where you can stay in one of our cottages and head into our community-orientated New Galloway Community Shop.”

I’ve only visited New Galloway once, briefly when I was having a rest day in St John’s Town of Dalry while I tackled the rigours of the Southern Upland Way long distance walking route. It was long enough to see that it lies in an area of quite remarkable natural beauty in Scotland's Southern Uplands. This is big sky, big hill country, a place that makes you just want to stop, breathe in a lungful of clean, fresh air and then let out a relieved sigh. There is so much to do here, from walking to mountain biking; watersports to golf. New Galloway instantly came across as the sort of village you’d want to spend a lot of time in.

And people do come and spend a lot of time in New Galloway, as Katherine Wagstaff of New Galloway Community Enterprises Ltd (NGCE) explains: “We are always looking at new ways of attracting people here and how we inspire young people to stay, to reverse the population drain. A number of people who have stayed in the village on holiday have gone on to live in the village, including younger couples, which is crucial for the future. People find the lifestyle a much better fit than the city. I moved here five years ago and everyone has been so lovely. It started with knocks on the doors from all our neighbours – we were welcomed like old friends. You don’t stay a stranger for very long in New Galloway.”

New Galloway’s only village store is run as a community benefit project, offering a wide range of provisions and giving employment to local residents. NGCE was born out of the imminent closure of the only remaining shop in New Galloway around eight years ago. “We were set up to save the shop”, says Katherine. “We wanted to do something that would benefit the community, everyone could literally own this asset, be part of the community.” A group of residents formed NGCE and was successful in making a bid for Lottery funding and selling shares to over 700 investors enabling the organisation to purchase the property and set about converting it into the valuable community asset you see today. It is endlessly creative – a recent cooperative community oil purchase system is helping local people to cut costs in straitened times.

Ronnie explains the set-up: “We now have shareholders in the community but also throughout the world so we can truly claim to be community-owned. We have others whose community buy-in takes the form of volunteering to help with the care and maintenance of the properties and taking responsibility for regular tasks. I am particularly proud of the response we receive to our marketing messages, with guests actively seeking out our accommodation to book a stay, knowing that every penny they spend with us stays in the community and is used to enhance the lives of those who choose to live in the Glenkens area. NGCE now employs nine local people. It is very much in keeping with what I’ve seen of SCOTO.”

The second major string to the NGCE’s bow is the brace of superb cottages they offer as accommodation: Stroan and Skerrow, which together are known as the New Galloway Cottages. They are marketed as ‘places to stay in the community for the benefit of the community’. The properties have a high occupancy rate, raising a substantial amount towards the running costs of the shop and also supporting local initiatives. Ronnie says, “We are proud of the fact that we saved a highly important resource whilst adding value to the community estate with the shop. We also have two high-quality self-catering apartments attached to the shop, the income from which supports the shop and local community projects. As part of our offering, we also offer a self-service launderette for the use of our guests or any visitors to the area.”

Ronnie says New Galloway really buys into the idea of ‘temporary locals’ – “With ‘temporary locals’ idea our accommodation is set up so guests feel part of a community, get to be an active member of that community with the money they spend fed straight way back into the community. Everyone that comes to stay at our Cottages gets a £10 voucher that they can spend in the shop in our version of the circular economy. The relationship that most guests feel is very special and involved. People feel immersed in the community.”

Ronnie himself would rather be nowhere but the Glenkens: “I would never want to live anywhere else. I am Glasgow born but wouldn’t go back. My family are embedded here, we all appreciate this special area, my children and grandkids live in the South West too. It’s just so good for your soul and your health.” This feel-good factor spreads out around the surrounding villages, as Ronnie recognises, “You get a strong sense of community through the Glenkens villages. The villages thrive on helping each other out, with the communities at the core of life. We all feel connected, and you are welcome to be part of that.”

Looking to the future, NGCE is hoping to expand both their range of accommodation and also how many local people they employ. Seasonality, or rather the lack of it, emerges in New Galloway and is key for Ronnie: “When everyone else literally shuts up shop, we keep going. The shop is open every day with regular hours – we’re here when the community needs us. And we keep the cottages open throughout winter (offering Short Breaks between October and April). Billy Connolly talked about there being no such thing as bad weather, only poor clothing, and we agree with that. ‘Temporary locals’ are welcome in New Galloway anytime.”

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