The Kilmacolm Institute

Kilmacolm's 19th century Village Institute, derelict since the creation of the the Cargill Centre, is due to be demolished and replaced. A current planning proposal for this centrepiece lot at the village cross would see the construction of thirteen flats, with two retail units below.

The Institute was formerly the Buchanan Arms Hotel, taken over by the parish when the sale of alcohol was outlawed in a local referendum under the Temperance (Scotland) Act 1913. In its latter period of its existence, the Institute served as a community centre with a few usable rooms and a small village library. Two shops - Hugh Rose's grocer and the smaller attached greengrocer shop - are included as part of the site. Hugh Rose has unfortunately closed its doors, depriving locals and visitors alike of shortbread boxes, interesting coleslaw and ingredients the local Co-op would never even think of stocking. 

In its heyday, the Institute housed facilities for bathing, a ladies' sewing room and even a billiards room. It aimed to provide a community hub, far removed from the demonic influence of alcohol, which had played such a part in Kilmacolm's early history. The village lacked a pub until the early 1990s, when the Pullman bar-diner opened in the former railway station. 
St James's Terrace: not much change since the 1920s
However the Institute became increasing dilapidated. The conversion of the two former Victorian schoolhouses across the road into the Cargill Centre saw the library moved in 2011. Even the carved-wood war memorial was uprooted and transferred. Eventually the building, with its frighteningly yielding floorboards and peeling paintwork, was put up for sale. 

The current plans exploit the building's multiple levels, with the former stables (latterly a garage) in the Smithy Brae, being incorporated into the design. Red sandstone is to be used in order to harmonise with the rest of St James's Terrace. The roofline is also to become uniform - certainly worthwhile from an aesthetic viewpoint.

Around 120 denizens attended an extraordinary public meeting of Kilmacolm community council in February to discuss the proposals. There were several concerns with traffic, but from a design perspective the two greatest concerns were the quality of materials to be used and the 'nose' of the building, the white corner, being unsuited to its surroundings. A sharp point, described by the community council as 'modern', would replace the gentle curve of the Institute building.

Although 'broadly acceptable', the design that the large 'enclosed Juliet balconies' were also unsuited to the character of the village. They are unfortunate cubic, although possibly a better choice than emulating the  bay windows of the existing tenements. The community council also objected that these 'balconies' on the second floor break the roofline. 

The objections and conditions of the community council would have the effect of improving the development, and the public consultation over this single - but important - proposal has been sincere and well-executed. Although power rests with the Inverclyde planning authority in Greenock, with Kilmacolm's structures merely consultative, it demonstrates the key role for the most local levels of government in reaching decisions on the future of their communities.

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