Innovation Exchange

Gourdon Placemaking


Key activities

Benefits and impacts


Gourdon is a small coastal community in Aberdeenshire. It had, for some time, been showing low levels of participation, engagement and motivation towards working together; a general sense of apathy, of being disempowered and forgotten about and a lack of pride.


There was evidence of health and wellbeing issues for families and higher and longer than average records of unemployment.  Driven by Regeneration Activity and the Local Community Plan, a partnership working group took a progressive and bold decision to prioritise, re-allocate resources and focus holistically on Gourdon as a ‘place’.


Empowering the community became the primary aim, with further specific objectives around health, employability, and improving the physical environment.  The project has succeeded by gradually engaging a community in a range of projects that have brought visible improvements in terms of environment, economy, heritage, civic pride, village profile, employability and communication.  The success has been a more integrated community who now take interest, pride and a role in their village.


Having put Gourdon back on the map (among other things they became the location and extras for an award winning feature film), they confidently engage with stakeholders to continue to identify and meet the needs and aspirations of the people in the village.


Empowering a disempowered community to believe, have pride in and make things happen for themselves and their ‘place’ was the primary aim of this project.  Gourdon had to become able to participate productively in the current social and political context in which communities and residents need to be motivated and able to meet more of their own needs. Also, there were specific outcomes around health, employability, increasing social and economic activity and improving the physical environment in the village.


The Aberdeen City and Shire Strategic Development Plan had defined the coastal strip of Kincardine and Mearns as a Regeneration Priority Area.  Various regional and local assessments, such as, the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), a Coastal Path Study, a Conservation Area Designation Appraisal, a Community Profile and an NHS Health Needs Assessment provided good evidence and this was supplemented by further community engagement to identify regeneration priorities.


As regeneration activity commenced, it became clear that despite expressing some needs and aspirations, Gourdon was not accessing the opportunities being made available.  For this reason a public art opportunity was used as a way of engaging the village creatively on how they felt about, understood and lived in their community, what was important to them and what they would like to see change or improve.


Partners agreed to prioritise, reorganise and access resources for the follow up work necessary to support the village to deliver on the issues and aspirations they revealed.  Engaging the community at every stage and supporting increasing responsibility on their part meant that the issues tackled were precisely the ones affecting the quality of life of its members and they were done so in the ways they decided themselves.

Theme: Community Planning and Empowerment

aberdeenshire council logo

Aiming for the best regeneration outcomes possible the local Community Planning Partnership looked into effective and efficient uses of time and resources.   The steering group formed, including community representation, used the Visioning Outcomes for Community Engagement (VOiCE) tool to guide their initial steps.


The available information was shared and an engagement exercise undertaken to elicit further knowledge ‘from the ground’.  All the evidence was used to identify priority themes of: social enterprise, transport, physical environment, supporting and developing learning and tackling health inequalities.


A further more focused survey was conducted using a variety of channels including focus groups, existing networks and client contact.  The findings were distilled into objectives and actions, and using a priority scoring matrix an action plan was developed and ratified by the community and Area Committee. With regeneration funding acting as leverage, partners and community groups were encouraged and enabled to prioritise time and budgets to deliver projects.  Once it was recognised that Gourdon was not accessing the opportunities, Aberdeenshire Council staff worked together to coordinate and involve the community in a community art engagement and an options appraisal for the physical, heritage and conservation designation of the village.


A community steering group was supported to develop the brief and recruit the artist who then came and lived in a caravan in the village.  She carried out various interventions that offered creative opportunities for residents to reveal how they felt about the village; how they lived and worked; what was important to them and encouraged them to come up with ideas for improvement.  Alongside this was an investigation into the specific physical features and improvements that residents felt were important.


Many opportunities and assets were identified through the research, from the array of traditional and contemporary skills among some residents to a very definite attachment to the village.  The findings also supported anecdotes of low levels of community involvement; some views that the village was divided; concerns regarding health issues for families; low levels of community pride and a disempowered feeling.


The community steering group was supported to deliver what had emerged as top priorities and ‘quick wins’ for physical improvements.  With growing confidence and momentum, steering group members formed themselves into Gourdon Improvement Group (GIG).    A project to renovate and the village’s Maggie Law Museum was supported, its reopening celebration offering a perfect opportunity for further engagement on a village action plan. Members of GIG participated in social media training being delivered to local Community Planning Partners and found better ways of keeping in touch with the rest of the village.



Funding deadlines and other priorities sometimes made project delivery more difficult or rushed than ideal and this is being be fed back for future planning with particular emphasis of responsiveness and flexibility.

Empowering the community is the resounding success.  Having put Gourdon back on the map, they are engaging confidently to improve the village and the lives of people who live and work there.  The community leading decision-making and gaining skills throughout the three year process is evidenced by GIG, Community Council and other working group minutes, prioritisation records, the artist’s report, Illuminating Practices and other evaluations from engagements and activities.  The social benefit of the volunteering hours alone in the all the various projects has been estimated at around £26,000 and this does not include the value of the outcomes they achieved.  Further specific outcomes include:


  • People leading and involved in building and racing a community boat,
  • Increased involvement in the Community Council and local Parent & Toddler group
  • Significant environmental  improvements, including coastal paths and village steps & listed buildings
  • Maggie Law Museum refurbished & re-opened.  In 2013 they recorded 1200 visitors per annum compared to figures in the low hundreds in previous years; have developed links with businesses (200 sponsors); offer a mobility scooter for tourist use.
  • Physical improvements – the  re-conditioning of the harbour barometer and memorial which are important heritage assets, Harbour Shelter replacement, Village Hall refurbishment, the resurfacing and enhancing of harbour areas, new planters, interpretation boards & Village Gateway Piece all designed by the community
  • New street furniture around the village, some of which was made by individuals who took part in the employability training programme.
  • The filming of a feature film brought investment, opportunities and excitement to the village.  233 community members were involved in filming.  62 crew lived in the area over 30 days spending an estimated £60,000.
  • Between the employability programme and the filming opportunities, 4 people moved into employment with a social return estimated at £56, 000.
  • The Community Council are more engaged as a statutory consultee with increased communication with Council services.
  • The village hall is used more by community groups.


Local quotes:

  • I felt it brought the community together more and made people work as one”;
  • It gave the community lots to talk about and loads of excitement”;
  • "Put Gourdon on the map!!  Really showed the community spirit of the village” and
  • Made me feel part of the village community”.

Partners are increasingly proactive in community engagement and joint working.  However, often when communities and partners are brought together it throws up challenges, different perspectives and past disappointments.  Each time is an opportunity to learn and improve.  This project was another example where local partners were brave enough to try something new and improve outcomes.


Professionals and volunteers were asked to step aside from their own experience, training and priorities to look at Gourdon as a whole place.  An atmosphere of inclusion and openness was created from the beginning with the partners and communities involved encouraged to voice both their hopes and concerns.  Both professionals and volunteers supported each other to step outside their comfort zone and work in ways that were unfamiliar.


This is how the future is being created in Scotland – by individuals and agencies coming together to form shared goals; negotiate their differences and empower each other.  People are more prepared for this future through the lessons learned, the relationships formed and the channels of engagement developed, both face-to-face and also online.  The interventions delivered by the artist were innovative, involving, for example, a mobile caravan and images projected on the local Harbour Bar.


The sharing of information, opportunities and success has been a large focus in the area, which is aimed at generating more knowledge, motivation, activity and celebration.  Now Gourdon Online links to K&M Communities and other community websites and social media accounts to share journeys.


Evaluation has started to quantify the social benefit of the investment made.  The figures have far outweighed expectations.  The demonstration of success that this has brought has surprised and uplifted the entire partnership.  These will be shared with further local and regional partners to keep encouraging this kind of change, effort and courage.  The boat building kit; other programmes and process maps are all available for sharing or replication.

Contact details:

To find out more about this case study, please contact:


Karen McWilliam

Committee Officer

Aberdeenshire Council

01569 768202

Case study added to site: June 2016

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