A range of new activities for the community have launched at the New Lanark site considered to be the inspiration for the modern co-operative movement.
The area in South Lanarkshire was the home of cotton mills and worker housing from 1786 until the mill’s closure in 1968. In the early 19th century, social entrepreneur Robert Owen took over the mill, transforming it by drastically improving worker conditions and establishing co-operative ideas – including a store where people could buy quality goods at low prices, with the savings from bulk purchases passed on to workers.
Since 1974, the New Lanark Trust has led the derelict area to becoming one of six World Heritage Sites in Scotland. The Double Row Restoration Project is now underway, aiming to ensure the survival of the building and restore it as residential accommodation. Double Row, a vacant terrace of eight four and five storey properties on Scotland’s Buildings At Risk Register, is the last block of former millworkers’ housing to be restored.
Activities now open for the public include building skills workshops, a hard hat tour of the building works, and a Back in Time experience where visitors can step back to how things were in the 1820s.
Miranda Lorraine, New Lanark’s townscape heritage project officer said: “After years of planning we are delighted that works have begun to restore the Double Row tenement block to its former glory.
“We’d love the residents of New Lanark and the local community to get involved with the project, from taking part in the traditional building skills workshops to donning a hard hat and joining us for a guided tour of the site – there’s an activity for everyone to enjoy.”
The whole renovation project is expected to cost £4m, with the majority of funding coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Environment Scotland.
The issue of how to celebrate and commemorate the New Lanark mill has been a much-discussed topic in recent years.
For five years, Scottish charity the Hometown Foundation campaigned for old farmland four miles from the New Lanark site to be turned into a modern day co-operative society inspired by the utopia Robert Owen attempted to establish in America in 1825. The site was to be named Owenstown – a self-sufficient garden society owned and run by a co-operative of its citizens.
The £500m community was expected to create 3,200 homes for 8,000 people, providing 6,000 jobs during its construction and 3,000 permanent jobs upon completion.
But in 2014, planning officials advised the council that the plans were unsuitable, saying that the project was too large, would have a negative impact on the road junctions around Lanark, public transport and the landscape. The council rejected the idea.
The Hometown Foundation’s latest plans sees it continuing to try and keep the co-operative spirit alive in Scotland.
The charity wants to take elements from the Owenstown idea and build them elsewhere. Like setting up state-funded autonomous schools.
Bill Nicol, project director of the Owenstown initiative, explains: “Owenstown allowed us to look at what schools would look like in a co-operative situation and that is what got us thinking more about education.
“The schools would be similar to co-op schools in terms of structure. They would be managed by a board and parents would have a greater say. Educationalists would run it but there would be heavier involvement by parents and pupils working closer together.
“What we would be intending to do is take the better aspects of free schools and apply them to Scotland. The main thing for us is about ownership, getting parents and children more heavily involved. The co-operative arrangement is where it is different. Co-op schools have expanded big-style and this is not private sector. The schools would be wholly owned by parents and funded by the government.”
- A full list of activities at the Double Row Restoration Project, and details of how to book places, can be found at newlanark.org