Bridgend Eco-Bothy in Edinburgh was built by a community of volunteers who were involved every step of the way - from fundraising and decision-making to laying bricks and building frames.

What could you learn from this inspirational, award-winning project? 

The Bridgend team in Edinburgh, Scotland has been converting an old farm into a community-owned centre for creating, learning, eating and exercising where they can work and grow together to develop a flourishing community. Part of this project was converting an old piggery into a bothy, the Scottish word for a small hut or dwelling. Here, we look at how they managed to achieve this as a grassroots, consensus-based organisation.

Watch the video to see and hear some of the people behind the Bridgend Eco-Bothy project:

How it started

The team started converting the old farmhouse into their hub of operations and then set their sights on converting the piggery into a bothy. The bothy was an embryonic idea at that stage because the farmhouse hadn't yet been fully renovated.

Early on, the team started collaborating with the Scottish Ecological Design Association (SEDA) who were interested in working with a community group to do a build project, by linking up architects and builders and communities to create their own sustainable building. The first event was a design day for the bothy in the old farmhouse with a variety of practical things, such as drawings, models and conversations. It was quite a social event, encouraging people to bring and share food. Word-of-mouth helped the team start the project with a buzz in the local community. 

The decision-making process

Bridgend Farmhouse is a bottom-up organisation that aims to involve the community in all decisions. The team members ensured that the members and volunteers had an active and democratic say and influence over all of the project stages. A working group was set up to meet regularly and it was open to anyone who was interested in building the eco-bothy. To make it work, the team adopted a voting system which helped reach consensus among project coordinators and volunteers.

The way this consensual decision making process developed has definitely nurtured a strong collective ownership.

- Will Golding, Bridgend Farmhouse Trustee

They just treated everybody the same. It was like we were all equals.

- Jakob Marks, Volunteer

Gaining and sharing practical skills

Based on the consultations, the team looked at what the community wanted and decided that the bothy could actually help train lots of people in new skills. The courses and the training that followed were a good way to give the site more purpose and footfall, and to slowly reach and engage with the local community.

"It was volunteers who were doing all the training themselves with the support of a build manager. It was very much hands-on, with everybody in the same boat digging in and doing what we can," said Simon Hackin, Founder and Director of Greenworks Scotland.

Jakob said:

I've learned a lot of skills through the project.

"The bothy is like everybody's baby, and when we take photographs or see pictures posted on the WhatsApp group, and see where it came from - the foundations to now - it's really satisfying."

Overcoming challenges

Where there's a will, there's always a way.

The Eco-Bothy building project has gone through several rounds of fundraising, simply because they didn't know exactly how costly some of the materials would turn out to be.

Unexpected challenges like Covid-19, and other factors such as building warrants or planning permission, have meant that progress has sometimes stopped and started. What kept the team's motivation up was a sense of humour and a feeling of collective endeavour, which got people through. Celebrating what has actually happened, what the team has achieved during a particular day, month or year, can also give volunteers a boost.

"It's been a real help for me because I came out of hospital and was starting from scratch again. New accommodation, new town and everything like that. It gave me a purpose and it allowed me to make new friends and feel some self-worth. You're doing something that's worthwhile for the future and for the community," said Jakob Marks, volunteer. 

Lessons learnt

  • The first thing to ensure is that people really want whatever it is you're doing, so don't try to hide how difficult something is going to be. 
  • It's always best to have a good vision that can catch people's imagination and energise them, including funders and the community.
  • Don't be daunted by how long it may take. If your timescale is one week or one year, see that through in stages. Speak to the funders, speak to the people who have done it already and speak to the local community.
  • Build trust with stakeholders in your local community, from residents to local authorities and organisations. This can come in handy if you have to fill out applications or design something together.
  • The Bridgend Eco-Bothy team benefited from being inclusive. Having a diverse mix of volunteers can boost the creativity of a project.

The Bridgend Eco-Bothy project won the Scotland Award at the Epic Awards 2020. Learn more about the projects run by Bridgend Farmhouse via

If your creative group has a story to tell about an innovative or inclusive way of using space to run your activities, then share it with our team via email at [email protected].