Looking back and looking ahead

We set out on this adventure to bring the former Benedictine convent on Corbelly Hill back to life in September last year and the past four months have been full of surprises and excitement.  What started out as two guys passionate about historic preservation and community-building has grown into a team of over a dozen volunteers with diverse backgrounds and a multitude of talents.  In this e-mail, we’ll reflect on what we have accomplished and share our plans for what lies ahead.

First, some amazing news: We have been successful in our application to participate in the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Steps to Sustainability programme.  Felix Waterhouse and Emily Tough will be taking part in a 5-month course focused on building a sustainable heritage organisation.  Specifically, they will be working on creating a robust business plan for UnConventional which will be essential as we move forward with applications for funding from the Scottish Land Fund and Architectural Heritage Fund that would provide for acquiring the convent and bringing it into a state of good repair.  Following completion of the programme, we will receive 10,000 GBP in funding to help support a viability study and building survey.  

Now, looking back: It all started with our launch video, starring Liz West, a former pupil at the school who has published a book documenting its history.  She’s a wealth of knowledge and we are so fortunate to have her help!  Philip Palios and Sabrina Henry also helped with the production.  The video was produced by Felix and his ability to weave hours of footage into a compelling story and call to action resulted in the video accumulating over 1,000 views in the first two days.  

Philip has also been working behind the scenes, including getting our website going with the Vision Quest survey as well as launching our Facebook page and email list.  Going forward, we plan to utilize the mailing list and website more than social media both for financial and ethical reasons, but we recognize the usefulness of Facebook so will not completely abandon it.

Following the launch, Felix and Liz produced a second video focused on green spaces at the convent.  With 8 acres of land, there are a lot of opportunities for us to engage the community both in and out of doors.  Felix then went on to lead two (masked and socially distanced) volunteer work sessions cleaning up and beautifying the convent cemetery. Huge thanks to all of the volunteers who joined in to help with this!

In November, we held our first (online) community gathering.  It was a great opportunity to connect folks in Dumfries, discuss the project and share ideas.  We followed this up with a second gathering in December that was equally helpful.  After a winter break, we are planning to hold a third gathering later in February (details below).

Our final project of 2020 was a Christmas card campaign.  Emily created a beautiful drawing of the convent and designed postcards featuring the drawing along with our new logo designed by Katie Barr (as seen at the top of this message).  Felix led a group of volunteers to deliver these postcards to people living close to the convent and in other parts of Dumfries.  While we would love to connect with the community in-person, we thought this was a nice way to go offline and continue to be covid safe.

Toward the end of 2020 we were fortunate to have Anne Lindsay join the team.  She has a lot of experience with community projects and has helped with our funding applications as well as ensuring perspectives from different generations feed into our work.  Gabrielle Bailey has also been helpful by providing her extensive fundraising expertise to help guide our development work.

With nearly 100 responses to the Vision Quest, we have a lot of data to inform our business planning.  Our intention is to transform the convent into a community centre with a focus on education.  The building is so massive that we can’t help but see it serving a variety of uses, including education, lodging, spirituality and dining.  Our focus for the first half of 2021 will be creating a business plan that shows how we can use these ideas to create a sustainable charity.  In the second half of 2021 we aim to begin meanwhile use of the building, assuming we are able to progress in our funding applications and negotiations for purchasing the convent from its private owner.

Being a community-driven organisation is at the core of our constitution and we want to make sure as many diverse voices from Dumfries as possible are heard as we move forward.  Sharing this update as well as our videos and encouraging others to join the Vision Quest are the best things you can do to help us make this happen.

We know there are a lot of questions and have done our best to answer them here, but please write us if there is more information we can provide or if you would like to get more involved.

Our third online gathering will be held on Wednesday, 17 February at 7pm.  Joining details will be sent leading up to the gathering, but please save the date and spread the word!

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