1950s to 2010
The Anstruther Improvements Association (AIA) was founded on 5 June 1950, with the aim of protecting and improving Anstruther, Cellardyke and Kilrenny. It was founded by members of the Anstruther community and has continued to be directed, organised and delivered by the community for the community, with a long history of supporting projects to improve Anstruther and the lives of its residents and those who work there.
Some of the projects delivered by the AIA over these years include:
- Running Anstruther’s bathing pool
- Ran excursion trains to the panto in Edinburgh
- Helped set up Dreel Meadows nature reserve
- Led historic walks around Anstruther
- Provided grants for Waid pupils to attend school trips
In 2010 the organisation had a committee and approximately 40 members, mostly representative of an older demographic. The organisation held 6 Anster Nichts, a buffet supper and a Christmas social each year, ran the fundraising duck race at Easter, put up blue plaques to commemorate historic buildings in the town, organised some of the town’s floral displays and provided small grants to town projects.
The AIA also rented the Anstruther Wester Town Hall, owned by Fife Council, and part of the complex of buildings that included the Hew Scott Hall and the St Nicholas Tower, both owned by the Church of Scotland. These formed the only community-use buildings in Wester Anstruther.
In 2010 an options appraisal identified the optimal use of the complex of buildings to be artists’ studios. The threat of losing the buildings to community use brought together and galvanised disparate sectors of the community to work together on an alternative solution that would retain the buildings for public use. These sectors included the AIA, other users of both halls, local businesses including Fence Records, the local Church community and local landowners.
2010 – 2014
The community worked with Fife Historic Buildings Trust to develop a new approach. FHBT purchased the buildings from Fife Council and the Church of Scotland, and carried out an ambitious programme of external works, with limited internal works linking the two buildings and making them one. Consultation with the wider community raised interest, awareness and around £7,000 to support the AIA’s campaign to retain the halls for community use. It also ensured that plans being drawn up for a Phase II of building work to address the neglected interior of the building were led by what the halls’ various stakeholders want and need.
Meanwhile the AIA welcomed new members to its committee, making it more representative of the community. It now has committee members in every decade from 20s to 70s with skills and experience in architecture, fundraising, marketing and PR, technology, business management, community development and local government. A concerted recruitment campaign increased the membership to more than 100 and in 2013 the AIA was reconstituted as a SCIO.
The AIA used this period to carry out a community needs assessment to increase understanding of what problems the AIA and the building could address in order to improve Anstruther. This information fed into a detailed business plan which identified what the AIA would do and how the organisation could use the halls to do it.
By the end of 2013 the work to the exterior of the building was complete and in January 2014 the AIA took over the ownership and management of one building, henceforth known as Dreel Halls. The day was celebrated with a weekend of community celebrations – champagne and cake, music from Fence Records and local choirs, coffee and crafts, a postcard auction, tabletop games and a family ceilidh.
2014 – present day
The AIA has been managing Dreel Halls since January 2014. Income from hall hires grew steadily and in each year there has been an operating surplus in unrestricted funds. In 2016 the AIA appointed a paid freelance caretaker, leading to an increase in hall hire income. Apart from this, the halls are run entirely with volunteer support, although it is recognised that this may not continue indefinitely. There is a maintenance plan in place and each year some of the surplus is ring-fenced for planned maintenance.
The AIA committee works extremely hard to deliver a broad range of events and activities, some of which target specific sectors of the community or encourage inter-generational mixing or are aimed at reducing social isolation. These events are social, cultural, educational and artistic. Community fundraising demonstrates the support and goodwill prevalent in the community. Recent additions to the calender are Anster Cinema, a community cinema which is now attracting audiences that enable it to be self-sustaining, and the Anster All Ages Cafe, an inter-generational monthly cafe.
The AIA committee never ceases to look for opportunities to make a difference and to make sure that Dreel Halls become more and more relevant to the lives of people in Anstruther. The committee recently reviewed the AIA’s vision, restating it as:
The AIA aims to build a thriving and resilient community,
improving Anstruther for all