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Elgin to feature in national exhibit at Dundee’s V&A

Designers and locals in Elgin

What would you like to be changed about Elgin?

Well, five locals got the chance to discuss just that, and their thoughts will be featured in a national exhibition at the V&A in Dundee later this month.

Called ‘What if….?/Scotland, it will explore what local people in Elgin would like to see improved in their town.

It paired five residents with five architects and designers who discussed ways to improve where they lived and what they wished for in the future.

The professionals then proposed how they could make these dreams a reality, asking What If?

The process was filmed by film-maker Basharat Khan and the films, along with the wishes will be exhibited at the V&A from May 22.

The project

Locals and designers in Elgin

It was initially started in 2019 and was created by Edinburgh-based 7N architects together with Architecture and Design Scotland and commissioned by the Scotland + Venice partnership.

In Elgin, the locals discussed a number of areas they would like to see developed, including a revitalised High Street to create a vibrant place.

Student Jennifer Evans showed Niamh O’Reilly from 7N around the places she spends time in.

She felt that the sense of community wasn’t what it should be in a small town and wanted to consider how empty buildings, such as Grant Lodge, could be used to bring people together from all generations.

Grant Lodge

Meanwhile, local Christy Bollard and engineer Claire Hope considered how revitalising the main square could bring the community together.

This would provide a space for events and festivals, but also with the use of imaginative lighting, it could generate an evening culture that would create a buzz in the town centre.

Another topic of discussion was about how young people generally left Elgin to study or develop their careers and whether anything could be done to stop this.

One idea was to use empty units on the town’s High Street for entrepreneurs to test out business ideas.

The exhibition

Designers and locals in Elgin

Elgin is one of five communities taking part in this project, alongside Annan, Wester Haies in Edinburgh, Paisley and Lerwick.

Dundee will be added in time for the opening at the V&A.

Overarching themes ran through each of these areas, including regenerating lost and iconic buildings, closed shops on High Streets and creating an accessible meeting space.

In addition to the five films there will be an interactive installation called the Cloud of Dreams, where anyone attending the exhibition can submit their wish for their place.

The exhibition will be on from Saturday May 22 until Sunday November, with booking open here.


Cooper Park

Heather Claridge, principal design officer for Architecture and Design Scotland, revealed what sort of process went into the exhibition.

She said: “Through a walking tour, the participants shared their thoughts and stories of different places in the historic centre, including Cooper Park and the main streets and lanes.

“This gave an opportunity to delve deeper into the participants’ issues and aspirations for Elgin.

“The group discussion revealed there were many commonalities in the town’s current challenges including the sense of community, poor physical connections, and a lack of activation of spaces, particularly after dusk.

“The exchange between the designers and participants also provided a chance to consider the Council’s aim to be carbon neutral over the next 10 years. At the workshop, the designers helped the participants to see their local surroundings with new possibilities.”

The V&A

Ewan Anderson of 7N Architects described how Covid had affected these communities following their initial meetings.

He said: “When we first met with these communities in late 2019, who could have foreseen how much our lives would change?

“It’s interesting that even prior to a year in lockdown, community, and spaces to gather and meet were of common importance throughout Scotland.

“I’m delighted we have found a home for the exhibition as it is important that these stories are told.  And how fitting that this exhibition examining our places and how design affects them will be presented at Scotland’s first Design Museum V&A Dundee.”