Morebattle projects welcome £170,000 cash boost

Members of the Morebatle Village Shop steering roup outside the store.
Members of the Morebatle Village Shop steering roup outside the store.

Two community projects in Morebattle are celebrating after landing a funding boost of more than £170,000 between them this week.

Morebattle Community Shop has received £143,000 from the Big Lottery’s Scottish land fund to help it take over the existing village shop, and Kalewater Community Company has been awarded £27,500 from the same pot to develop recreational land as a park.

James Playfair-Hannay, chairman of Morebattle Community Shop, says that funding will help the group secure a vital village amenity for years to come.

The shop, bought by retired teacher Ann Brown around seven years ago, could have faced being turned into housing had she not supported a community takeover.

“Ann wanted it to remain open and for the community to take it on for its own benefit,” James said. “She has had offers for the facility in the past few years but was never convinced that it was going to be kept in use as a shop.”

The group has already carried out a feasibility study and appointed a consultant to prepare a business plan, and now that £143,000 grant should cover around 90% of the purchase price of the shop, plus legal fees.

And with matched funding still required, applications for shares in the project will go live this weekend.

James added: “We hope that the community is going to invest in the project.

“When we were communicating with everyone in the winter, we asked for an indication of how much money the community was prepared to put into the project, and we got overwhelming support in the region of £50,000.

“The share application closes on October 10. After that, a management board will be elected to move on and manage the company, and then we can look to buy the facility, invest in it and carry out refurbishments.”

James, 61, a fourth-generation farmer at Morebattle Tofts and founder and director of the Borders Machinery Ring, is no stranger to running co-operatives and says he understands the challenges that lie ahead.

“One thing we have got is a lot of dreams and a lot of ideas,” he said. “We want to develop the shop into a hub for the whole community, but at the moment it’s about how we balance the books.

“We have got to persuade the community to buy the shop and to use it.

“It’s clear from research over the last 18 months that there’s a will within the community to keep the shop open, to invest in it and to make it work for the benefit of the community.

“We need to increase footfall, turnover and profitability, as well as buying stock and paying for refurbishment works. Staffing is going to be another challenge.”

Meanwhile, just a hundred yards down the road, Kalewater Community Company is preparing to spend its £27,500 grant to buy a field behind the Templehall pub and village hall to transform it for recreational use.

Under the chairmanship of Eric McNulty, the 34-strong team has already funded a community survey and feasibility study and appointed a landscape architect to draw up plans for how it can best use the 3.4-acre field.

Eric said: “The results of our survey were supportive, and the community is behind the idea. The ground belongs to the previous owner of the pub, and they wanted to sell it to the community.

“Just now, the only space we have is behind the school and that’s not available all the time.

“We are planning to create a community recreational area which would include an orchard, gardens, play facilities for all ages of children, a large area for sports and games and a trim track right around it.

“What we develop will be open to everybody all the time.

“We will be relying on volunteers to do the weeding and the grass cutting and so on. It will have to be quite self-contained.

“We are looking to give something that is there for all the community, for the young and the old. Somewhere nice to go, and where people can spend time together.”

Eric, 57, a retired members of the Borders General Hospital management board, is a previous chairman of the community council and has been involved in both the village hall and Morebattle Games Week committees.

“It’s all the things you have to do when you live in a rural community”, he added.