The Hive Moniaive

by Robin McKelvie

There must be something about Moniaive. In 1998 a travel writer from the village proposed my application to get into the British Guild of Travel Writers. He had traipsed around countless countries but had chosen to base himself permanently in the Moniaive community. He is still there; he is not the only one. Franz Ferdinand singer Alex Kapranos has a Moniaive house (which used to belong to one of the famed Glasgow Boys painters, James Patterson) and Joanna Lumley has a bolthole nearby too. The Times has even hailed Moniaive one of the UK’s ‘coolest’ villages.

The first time I came to the area I was blown away by the scenery. I was hiking the glorious coast-to-coast Southern Upland Way across a swathe of Dumfries and Galloway. This is a land of big hills and even bigger skies, plunging glen and bountiful field. Indeed Moniaive sits at the crossroads of three glens on two waterways - the Cairn Waters and the Dalwhat Waters. Moniaive is the beating heart of Glencairn, a picturesque area it shares with fellow villages Kirkland and Wallaceton.

Deborah Iden, Project Co-Ordinator of the Moniaive Initiative, sees the village’s attractions as going far beyond the undoubted natural beauty: “Yes, some people see the greatest asset of Moniaive and the area round it as the landscape, but I’d actually say it’s the people who are our greatest asset. Not every village has such a strong community mindset and that always draws people straight in.”

I’m always impressed by all the cultural rumblings I hear about Moniaive too. There is the famous Folk Festival, where my writer friend likes to pick up his own guitar, as well as a Bluegrass festival, autoharp festival and a guitar festival. The celebrated comedy festival is not currently on, but as we all recover from Covid and its Lockdowns I wouldn’t be surprised to see it back and the roster of festivals growing. Iden acknowledges this creative side to the village: “ It feels like we’re a very musical and creative village. Every other person you speak to seems to be some sort of artist or musician.”

The Moniaive Initiative grew out of the community council back in 2013. From the off, they were not just being prescriptive. “We asked the community what they would like to see”, explains Iden. “And the overwhelming answer was that local people wanted to see a community space, a resource that everyone, every age, could all use.” In 2016 an action plan was put in place with this in mind and a venue was sought from a list of possible vacant properties on the High Street.

The community made it clear that they did not want some newbuild structure landing in the village like a spaceship; they preferred an old building being reborn. Iden says, “The community wanted something more in keeping with the traditional architecture of what is after all a conservation village.” The Hive was found - ironically through misfortune - as the original earmarked building was decimated by flooding. Undeterred, they pushed on with its neighbour. In the early days, they held a few pop-up events there. This grew into a six-month lease. And from there it developed into full ownership with help from the Scottish Land Fund, with the building purchased outright in June 2019. The Moniaive Initiative went from tenant to owners responsible for the building’s preservation and upkeep.

The most dramatic project of the Moniaive Initiative SCIO is clearly the acquisition of The Hive. Since first opening its doors in 2018 it has had a big positive impact on the community. Lisa van Nuland, Development Officer at The Hive, is an example of what The Hive means to the community as she herself started as a volunteer here. She explains what it offers: “This community hub in the village’s High Street has a shop selling items from local makers and creatives, and includes a gallery space, a library in which books can be either bought or borrowed, and a pre-loved clothing area. We also offer space rental and have small events and workshops on. Lastly, we operate as an information hub for the village. All of this is led by our underlying ethos focusing on a zero-waste approach, and the need to alleviate rural isolation.”

The Hive offers a number of volunteering positions and the shop benefits both the local community and tourists. “All we do has a high value to tourists visiting, but always has the higher aim to provide outlets for our local community and alleviate rural isolation”, says van Nuland. “That the whole community keeps helping – all generations of it - and showing up makes The Hive as best as it can be. We know some people have benefitted tremendously from the services we offer, especially in the form of having a little event to attend, or just a warm space with someone to talk to without the feeling that they need to buy anything.”

The Hive is quite clearly at the heart of Moniaive’s community today. Van Nuland expands on its role: “One of the main aims of The Hive is to have a place open during the daytime, a mix of ages and demographic. Take the library. The mobile library being axed was a blow to many people, but we quickly set up a library in a spare room that was already lined with shelves. It’s amazing how quickly you can fill a room with books if you try. People also come in just for a chat. People give time for you and offer time to speak to you.”

Strangely Moniaive may be recognised as a conservation village, but it has no heritage hub. The Hive goes some way to addressing that for the community by having a heritage window display put together by the local Glencairn History Group that changes monthly. It covers myriad aspects of the community’s story and of a village with a rich history.

Iden stresses too that Moniaive and The Hive very much buy into the SCOTO idea of ‘temporary locals’: “I think our community almost invented the idea of ‘temporary locals’. Visitors always comment on how friendly the community is. Many keep coming back and then want to move here – there is an Australian guy at the moment who is very keen to buy after visiting. You really get caught up in the community. During the Folk Festival doors are just thrown open and people just play music where there is a free spot, even if it’s in someone’s front room! People are welcomed as part of the community and it all starts at The Hive. People can come to get information about the rest of the village – it’s the first place as a tourist that you want to come to in the village.”

Everyone I talk to who lives in Moniaive are true advocates for the village. Iden says. “It’s just a great place to come and visit and relax. It has something for everyone, whether you want to stick to the well-trodden places or want to branch out in search of solitude. You can really escape here.”. You can. In fact Charlie Chaplin’s son Michael eloped to Moniaive to get married as a teenager! He is just one of a long list of actors, musicians, painters and other dreamers who have found themselves in this seriously welcoming community. It even welcomes travel writers, so I’ll be paying my own Moniaive treasure a visit soon to share in the joys of his community. I suggest you follow suit.

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