Tricia Hill, Head of Placemaking at Scottish Canals, wears a very satisfied smile these days, and rightly so. As we gazed out of the window of the brand new Treehouse building at Muirtown Basin in Inverness it was clear that we were in a thoroughly modern creation which will be an asset to the local community.
“I suppose you could say that our new building here is a bit of a ‘diamond in the rough”, she says. We are on the edge of a busy industrial estate on a grey, wet day when we meet, so it’s easy to agree with Tricia’s assessment. “The building here has been created in an environmentally sound fashion from start to finish”, explains Tricia. “What we have here isn’t spangley or glamorous but has a thoroughly modern identity. The build process, ground source heat pump, green roof and modern energy efficient credentials deliver a very sustainable model. We have to credit the funders for this - in addition to our own Canals money we were so grateful that our aspirations were bolstered and made possible by majority funders.”
The Green Infrastructure Fund is but one of several financial supporters, and with the help of Highland Council this has enabled a dramatic transformation of a plot of vacant and derelict land which is one of the most pleasing aspects of the project. The previous Scottish Canals Director who had the initial vision must be delighted with a sleek building which promises to better connect the canal with nearby local communities.
Tricia’s ambitions for the new Treehouse Hub are realistic yet bold. “We want to see this new centre become really well used, but used in a way which is tightly linked to local community needs. The Locality Improvement Plan covering Merkinch and South Kessock has key strands to provide for both the young and older groups, and we want to support that drive. Our aim is to work with the groups that already exist in the area, and where helpful provide canal-led activities. What we can offer is to tap into the potential that the Canal and the Local Nature Reserve have to bring benefit from our natural environment.
“This is why we worked so hard to appoint a Volunteer Coordinator. We want that role to be embedded in this building, and to offer nature-based activities for a variety of different groups. We are in a building which visually makes a good impression, and want to build on that good impression by creating a solid reputation in the local community and with nearby schools.”
Rebecca is our Volunteer Coordinator charged with forging lasting links with the local community. “It’s an amazing space, we have here,” she enthuses. “Initially I’m hoping to work with people from Merkinch and South Kessock, and then the wider Inverness area. I’m keen that what we offer here supports the priorities outlined in the Locality Improvement Plan, providing activities that will help support employability and contribute to local health and wellbeing targets for example. We want to work alongside existing groups, to supplement what they are doing, not duplicating anything already happening. I’m doing a lot of community networking at the moment, meeting different people, finding out what is happening, seeing what groups are out there, and I’m confident this space should be able to help support many different activities and groups.”
Tricia doesn’t hide her appreciation of the ERDF Green Infrastructure Fund. “We are very grateful to the Green Infrastructure Fund, not only here in Inverness but for supporting other Canal led projects which have come to fruition. The fund didn’t just help enable the physical build, but also let us start the process of appointing a Volunteer Coordinator. That’s a great development and an exciting new role for the area.
“There have, of course, been challenges along the way. Covid and Brexit meant we were challenged from different angles. The original timescale for construction and completion was pushed out, either by restrictions or by material availability. We saw a lot of additional raw material costs, as indeed did all construction projects. We are grateful to NatureScot because when we put in additional claims they were approved. Being able to weather turbulence in the construction market has been so important, and we are likewise grateful for our good relationship with our contractor. They are still on the end of the phone if there is a niggle and just around the corner. We needed that support, for good as any building project is, there will always be teething problems as you move into a building.
“Looking ahead we are pleased that we have already secured a tenant for the majority of the ground floor. It was always our intention that we would have suites to let in this building and the architects behind the design of the building snapped up a large space which is a nice outcome.
“We needed to have commercial space in this build, the running costs of the building alone need propped up and this will help to subsidise the rest of the building. We are looking at appropriate costs for hiring the community space, again just to make sure we cover our running costs. You can probably see around the building some lovely planting and green space, I highlight that because soft landscaping all needs to be maintained, we don’t have that capacity in-house, so at the very minimum we need to cover that. If we hadn’t let parts of the building we would be continually fundraising to keep the building open.
If you walk around The Treehouse you are sure to be impressed by the landscaping and building materials. As the new tenants move in, and local events are hosted, there is bound to be a sense of energy. Just a short stroll from the canal side The Treehouse is clearly destined to have a very good fit with the local community.