It started with a ‘For Sale’ sign spotted in a deserted field in an industrial estate, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020.
The Place, a youth project in Ross-shire, had previously been based in a hall nearby and was looking for a more permanent home for the services and activities it provides for the young people of Alness, which has areas of high deprivation.
A much-loved organisation for more than 32 years, The Place desperately needed somewhere to operate from that would allow it to continue helping, educating and supporting children and young people, providing a safe space and a warm welcome.
When the team came across that ‘For Sale’ sign, they discussed the idea of taking on the field – which had lain vacant for over 30 years – with the young people, who were keen to get involved.
The youth workers, supported by Youth Highland, successfully negotiated a 99-year lease for the land with Highland Council in 2020, and, as Covid-19 restrictions eased that summer, they set about making the most of their new outdoor space.
They cleared the land and got the young people involved in helping, and invested in a stretch tent allowing them to continue to provide services and activities for young people throughout Covid and whatever the Scottish weather throws at them.
In its first few months of opening, 1,200 people used the facility for a wide range of activities including film nights and working towards Youth Achievement Awards, and other local community groups such as a nursery and a horticultural group also started to use the field. And, working with partners and funders, the team at The Place has lots of plans for the future, including setting up an outdoor cooking facility, growing fruit and veg and looking after animals on the site – all with the goal of offering rewarding experiences for people of all ages to benefit from.
The Place is a fantastic example of the difference bringing a piece of forgotten and neglected land back into use can make to a community when it is looked after and managed by the people who live there, enabling them to plan for their future.
It is bringing people of all ages together in one space with a common goal of making The Place the best possible facility it can be – and shows what can be achieved with a little bit of imagination!