£6m co-op heritage centre planned at historic Scottish bakery

The Scottish Cooperative Discovery and Activity Centre will offer lessons on the potential of the co-op model

Funds are being raised for an ambitious project to create a Scottish co-op heritage centre, tracing the movement’s links from local to global scale.

The Scottish Cooperative Discovery and Activity Centre will offer lessons on the potential of the co-op model, along with other social and values-driven enterprises.

West Calder & Harburn Community Development Trust (WCHCDT) is working on the project with Cooperative Development Scotland (CDS), Co-operative Education Trust, local and national schools, universities and further education colleges to create in-centre and outreach resources that will promote co-operation as a real world solution to modern challenges such as inequality and climate change.

The centre will be based a historic former bakery, which was operated by West Calder Co-operative Society – a strong regional society that went on to become part of Scotmid.

Completed in 1909, the Central Bakery is a rare example of an industrial building from renowned Glasgow architect William Baillie, which is regarded as significant and important building regionally and nationally. The trust says the site will be renovated with support from Historic Environment Scotland to produce 1,200sqm of modern, sustainable and functional space.

The trust has owned the building since 2020 and will retain ownership on behalf of the local community following the redevelopment. A new community benefit society, the Scottish Cooperative Discovery Centre Ltd, will operate the centre, leasing the building from the trust; any surplus profits from the operation will be returned to the trust and used for the good of the community. 

The trust says it chose this structure for the centre to ensure that the local community always retains ownership and ultimate control of the asset while including those with expertise and interest in co-op heritage.

Community involvement has been built into the project from the start, with the trust running a series of community consultations, In 2018, a 10-day Coop Heritage Festival where people could comment on options for the building and project.

The centre will bring a £6m plus investment to a region of central Scotland which, says the trust, “is home to many areas of disadvantage, many of which are ex-mining communities where co-op heritage is strong”.

Artist’s impressions of how the centre will look (images: Collective Architecture, the employee-owned organisation brought in to lead the design of the conversion)

It adds that the work will create at least 65 construction jobs during development and 22 roles upon opening, alongside training and work experience to over 150 students every year, plus outreach work in schools and colleges.

The team is working with a range of funders – including the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Scottish government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund and Historic Environment Scotland – to deliver the capital works and a range of community activities.

A community share issue has been launched for the project, and the trust says “a strong funding strategy is being actively delivered”.

A £300k Development Stage – using the trust’s own funds alongside Lottery money – has been completed and the project “has been positively reviewed and gathered impressive partner and community support”, it adds.

The trust adds: “We are discovering a large amount of artefacts, archives and stories – both locally and nationally. We intend to co-produce stories and interpretation with communities, schools and people often excluded and to do so creatively.

“With support from Museums and Galleries Scotland (MGS), the Cooperative Heritage Trust, Co-op Group, Paisley Museums, Glasgow Museum, the Scottish Shale Museum, New Lanark Mills and other key heritage partners, we will develop a Scottish Cooperative Collection that not only safeguards, interprets and celebrates a proud local and national heritage but which makes it relevant to our world today.

“We have had great support from West Lothian Museums and Heritage Service with whom we have a museums collecting and development agreement.”

West Calder & Harburn Community Development Trust is a community-led charity set up to take forward the local Community Action Plan for West Calder and Harburn in West Lothian. Alongside this project, it says it has delivered on its community goals by building a skatepark, running heritage festivals, upgrading paths, renovating the village square, running a community woods and garden, running a community café and organising regular community events including West Lothian’s largest free-entry fireworks display.

It has negotiated three windfarm partnerships to manage £130,000 a year in community benefit funds and has managed local improvement and community development projects leveraging around £2m to date in outside funding into the community.

Click here for more details of the centre’s share offer