Why did you start the Ridge?
I had worked as a secondary school teacher, and been Chair of the School Board at Dunbar Grammar School. I had 3 children growing up here. I could see that there were big issues around some youngsters leaving school with few options to access training or work. I was really inspired by Jamie Oliver’s ’15’ restaurant which was featured in a tv show at the time. It gave the chance to those who were really struggling to learn high quality skills in cooking and front of house, gave them qualifications and set them on a path into successful/satisfying careers. I have a big interest in horticulture, and thought it would be amazing to have a high quality training restaurant with training garden attached, which would create local opportunities for young people, while meeting a need locally for more great places to eat. Obviously how things developed didn’t deliver that precise vision, but this was where it all started! I’m really inspired by the potential which everyone contains and frustrated by the lack of opportunities for many to fulfill that potential. The desire to do something about this has been a driver from the start, and continues to be.
Why is it called The Ridge?
It comes from a specific place – Meikleirig (the big ridge in Scots), where I lived and had originally thought the Ridge would be based. It is up a steep narrow lane, which emerges onto an open track to a jaw-dropping view along miles of the Firth of Forth in both directions, and over to Fife and the Ochills. It really takes your breath away to suddenly have this huge dramatic vista open up in front of you. I felt it was a great metaphor for what I wanted The Ridge to offer, in terms of enabling people to see their own potential, to have their eyes opened to the possibilities which the world contains for them. So it is about bringing people to the top of the hill, and saying ‘open your eyes and look around you at your world’ and then supporting them to step out into that world in the direction they most want to go.
What is your favourite thing about the Ridge?
I love the people I work with. The Ridge team (who are all extraordinary individuals) and everyone who works with us as volunteers, clients, trustees, supporters… It is a huge privilege to be a part of it all, and to see the incredible transformations which take place daily as a result of everyone’s work. I particularly love the tangible evidence of this in seeing some of those who face the most challenges taking on some of our most despaired-of historic buildings and wasteground sites. The skills which are learned, and the personal development which happens over the period of these physical transformations are truly extraordinary and seeing this never fails to give me goosebumps.
What are your hopes for the Ridge over the next 5 years?
The Ridge has always been really adept at flexing to meet the needs of the local community as they arise. None of us knows what’s coming next, but I know we will be ready to meet the challenges. I hope that the local community will continue to engage fully with our work and to make full use of our services and sites, which are held and managed on their behalf by The Ridge. I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges as we bring our various capital projects (Black Bull Close, Fleshers Close, 86-88 High Street, Empire Close) to completion. Seeing the envisaged end uses in full swing is truly exciting – the support centre, training kitchen, therapeutic centre, workshops, construction skills training centre etc – these are all things we have urgently needed for a long time, to allow us to better meet the needs identified over the years of working to support the local community.
What is your favourite thing about living in Dunbar?
The people! Dunbar has a uniquely strong community spirit, with so many amazing individuals getting together to do such a wide range of wonderful things, looking after the place and its people. There’s a really positive energy and sense of active engagement. People want to see change so they get up and make it happen. It helps that we have the most gorgeous setting, on this beautiful stretch of coastline, and a glorious historic townscape, full of fascinating tales from the past. I just feel extremely lucky to live and work in this wonderful place.