Huntly missed out on the oil and gas boom enjoyed by Aberdeen and its nearby towns. But over the decades, Huntly’s residents have instead learned how to make their own luck and are not afraid to do things differently.
The town has a long history of community-led action, with two organisations in particular – Deveron Projects and Huntly Development Trust – complementing each other’s activities over the last decade for the community’s benefit.
Deveron Projects has brought a unique blend of creative and arts-led activities since 1995. Their projects have explored everything from gender and parenthood to current politics, placemaking, walking, the changing high street, traditional industries, and local food and climate change, to name but a few. Everything is designed to contribute to the social wellbeing of Huntly, and the town itself becomes studio, gallery and a stage for artists of all disciplines from all over the world.
You can find out more about Deveron Projects’ creative approach by exploring their own fascinating website. The basic point is that sustained artistic and cultural activity has, over many years, tapped into and nurtured creativity in the local community, with the vast array of intangible benefits that brings for individuals and the community as a whole.
Every town has its artists: Huntly, and others described in the Arts and Culture section of this Toolkit, have both nurtured and capitalised on their creativity for the benefits of the community as a whole - engaging a whole bunch of folk in community life who might otherwise have just stayed home.
Huntly Development Trust (HDT) was established by the local community in 2009 when earlier public sector led initiatives ran out of funding. This was despite their success in supporting community-led projects like the longstanding Huntly Farmers Market, Huntly Rewards card scheme and Gordon 2000, an international 3-day festival that celebrated Huntly as the home of the Gordon clan.
Development Trusts Association Scotland and the local authority helped to set up the new development trust. From the outset, HDT homed in on a number of community priorities such as the town centre, rather than spread the jam too thinly.
The development trust also realised that they as an organisation needed to generate sustainable annual income if they were to be around for the long term. So, although the HDT was successful in securing a range of grant funds – from LEADER, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland and ‘planning gain’ – to deliver its first portfolio of projects, it knew it needed to acquire assets that would generate steady income into the future. These have included a number of renewable power generating projects and partnership working with a local housing association. You can read more about the Trust’s approach to long term funding sustainability here.
Over the last decade, the trust has worked hard to revitalise the town centre and tackle climate change.
It hasn’t always been easy: HDT nearly went bust in 2013. But over the last decade, they have organised festivals, built footpaths, commissioned turbines, created a green travel hub with electric bike hire and a community car club, and bought the 63-acre Greenmyres farm for outdoor facilities, education, woodlands and renewable power.
In 2019 the Trust completed a major buyout of prominent vacant properties on the town’s main square to convert to enterprise and community spaces, as part of a big push to revitalise the town centre. The anticipated income from their acquired assets is millions of pounds each year, giving them long term security.
The point isn’t simply to list all the development trust’s many achievements – you can read more about those in their newsletter here. What’s important is that it is a sustainable community-led organisation, led by local people, committed to tackling big issues like town centre regeneration and climate change at a local level – and generating income to make sure that they stay around for the long term. It’s not always easy, but their story shows that any community can do it.
Thanks to community action, the future is bright for Huntly. Ambitious local organisations show what can be done with creativity, commitment and an eye to the long term. Never standing still, local community organisations and the local authority are planning and delivering the long term future of the town through the Huntly: Room to Thrive strategy. Watch this space!