Falkirk is set to be a hive of outdoor activity this summer following the much-anticipated opening of the majestic Kelpies, but the towering public artworks won’t be the only show in town for lovers of the fresh air.
When the sun shines there’s only one place you want to be and that’s outside enjoying it.
The Bespoke Community Development Company is literally laying the foundations for families to have a fun-filled time in the great outdoors this year, while doing healthy activities.
The group has around 90 volunteer members who help organise outdoor events and maintain the 67 kilometres of trails, mostly around the south of Falkirk.
It has the support of Callendar Estate, which owns the land the Bespoke cycling, walking and horse riding trails are on.
Instead of being a big, bad landlord telling ‘trespassers’ to “get orf my land!”, the company is actively encouraging people onto its 6300-acre estate, making a big investment and taking its “social responsibilities” seriously.
A cafe is being built at the Greenrig car park for visitors costing a cool £400,000, while staff and volunteers are busy planning events such as a geocaching treasure hunt around the trails.
Through funding from LEADER – Bespoke now has a full-time member of staff in events co-ordinator Andy O’Neill, which shows how far the group has grown since it was formed three years ago.
Andy said: “To start with as Bespoke was finding its feet we did sporting stuff like organised cycling events, but it was mostly people from other areas like Inverness or Dumfries who were entering.
“While we welcome the visitors to here and other attractions in Falkirk, we want more people from the Falkirk area to get the benefits too so we’ve changed our programme a bit.
“The geocaching hunt will be a great way for families to spend time together outdoors.
“Once you find the boxes there will be goodies in them or stuff you can swap and the good thing is you can do it on your mobile phone mixing modern technology with outdoor activities.
“The cafe will also be great as a base for events and for people to start out on the trails.
“We’re much more organised now too and have the equipment we need to maintain the trails with the help of our volunteers when we had nothing but hi-vis vests and gloves.
“A couple of years down the line and we’ve come a long way down to having scope to get support from volunteers and Falkirk Council, who are very proactive in their thinking.
“We’re getting taken seriously now and not getting overlooked. A big part of what we are doing is offering job opportunities to local people through programmes that give them skills to find full-time work in a career they enjoy.
“People who come along feel like they are doing something worthwhile in their community. Guys come out rain, hail or shine but it’s really important they get something out of it too.
“There’s so much going on. We’ve had schools out a few times learning bushcraft and survival skills, Ray Mears kind of stuff like building shelters, and they love it.
Jack Lapsley (20), from Bonnybridge, is a volunteer with Bespoke helping to maintain the trails. He is now going on to pursue a career in outdoor management.
He said: “I’ve been volunteering here since September. Before I came here I didn’t really know what I wanted to do to get a career, but since I started here I’ve really enjoyed it and hopefully I’ll get onto another course after this.
“I’ve been doing general conservation work which can be a whole list of things. When there is bad weather there can be a lot of things needing done like shifting fallen trees or clearing paths.
“It’s great working outside. I wouldn’t like to sit at a desk all day so I want to get all the tickets I need through training. There’s a course starting in March so I’m hoping to get onto that.”
Callendar Estate has been commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage to repair Howierig Moss, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and they have the help of two conservation management students from the University of Brno in the Czech Republic.
Pavel Jagos (26) and Sona Kocvarova (24) are working with the firm after contacting them via e-mail asking if they could come over and help save the raised bog from drying out.
Estate manager Guy Wedderburn is pleased with how all the projects are coming together and developing. He said: “I’ve done a lot of work with community groups over the years but Bespoke really seems to have a can-do attitude and they are rolling their sleeves up and putting a lot of effort into it.
“When we first started we wanted to build the trails to see if they would be a success and it started a dialogue with people.
“We’ve been running a Tuesday squad since the summer and it’s been very rewarding, for both us and the people involved who have done such a great job, when you have that level of enthusiasm it’s a lot easier to move to the next stage.
“When we had the big storm in January 2012 which blew down trees and forced us to close parts of the trails we got an amazing response from people wanting to help repair the trails and get their hands dirty.
“The cafe is about the biggest investment the company has made in a long time, around about the £400,000 mark, but I think things will work a lot better with the new facilities which we hope will up and running by August.
“This should create between 15 and 20 jobs.”