The Scottish Co-operative Discovery Centre a decade in the making

We recently chatted with Matt Pearce, the Trust and Project Manager at West Calder & Harburn Community Development Trust (WCHCDT). For the past decade the Trust has been working on an exciting project, The Scottish Co-operative Discovery Centre. It will be the first development of its kind to celebrate and explore the importance of the co-operative movement in Scotland. It will be based in a former Edwardian Co-operative Bakery Building, an iconic and much-loved local landmark in West Calder which has lain derelict for over a decade.  

The Discovery Centre is important to West Calder and Harburn but also to the Scottish Third Sector landscape as a whole. Its mission and activities sit at the centre of many of the current Scottish Government policies. It will be a ‘poster child’ for the Community Wealth Building policy, acting as the anchor organisation for the area and it will help tackle long standing economic inequalities and give local people a stake in the wealth the Discovery Centre creates. It seeks to operate as a connector for Social Enterprises and other organisations, which supports the Government's goals, in the Social Enterprise Action Plan, of building partnership working across the Third Sector. It is also reviving a heritage building and giving it a new lease of life, which supports the 'Our Past, Our Future' visionin Scotland's national strategy for the historic environment (2023-2028) as it creates jobs, enriches the culture of West Calder and Harburn communities and helps to tell Scotland's Co-operative story. 

The Trust has reached an exciting landmark of raising over £5 million for the project but it has taken many years and a lot of hard work from the team and Board. As they reach this final fundraising period, the team are conscious that they can't rest on their laurels. The final push will be the hardest.  Matt and the team are positive they can do it but need all the help they can get through awareness raising and political support for the campaign.  

To help them achieve this the Trust has launched a Community Shares Offer which will allow individuals and organisations to buy shares in the new project, with a fundraising target of £250,000.  To date they have secured around £25k in community investment. So, if you are keen to help make this project happen and to be involved in shaping it from the start then head over to the link above to find out how. 

As well as discussing the Discovery Centre, we also asked Matt to share some of his tips for others embarking on a project of this magnitude, here are his top tips: 

1) A strong board: There were several times in our journey when we didn't get the funding we needed, or the pandemic threatened to derail activities, but our Board remained steadfast and that has been our greatest asset. When recruiting a board, it's essential to be clear about objectives from the outset so everyone is on the same page and encourage open and clear communication. A little scepticism is good; it's great to be passionate and driven but also to know limitations and be able to objectively weigh up the risks. Having a mix of skills and opinion on your Board is essential. 

2) Stay true to your vision but allow it to flex and grow: There were times when people tried to dissuade us from creating such a big project, but we knew this deserved to be grand. However, being aware of both risks and opportunities to keep the vision achievable and to allow learning along the way has been important. It’s been hard at times, but we know that this project will create positive change for the community, and we are excited to see it come to life. 

3) Visit similar projects: We visited lots of different projects to learn from their successes and challenges. It provided us with so much insight and inspiration. I would definitely recommend others doing the same.