Carbuncle film explores Scotland’s ‘most dismal’ towns

The Church Walk flats in Denny, Stirlingshire, were demolished in 2014 following years of campaigning by residents. The building is featured in a new documentary film on the Carbuncle Awards. Picture: John Devlin
The Church Walk flats in Denny, Stirlingshire, were demolished in 2014 following years of campaigning by residents. The building is featured in a new documentary film on the Carbuncle Awards. Picture: John Devlin
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IT’S the infamous award which recognises the most dismal town in Scotland and provokes fierce debate on the quality of our built environment.

The Plook on the Plinth trophy has been awarded to seven towns and one city since the Carbuncle Awards were first held in 2000.

Denny residents and regeneration campaigners Sharon Tait and Brian McCabe accept the Plook on the Plinth award in 2010. Picture: Michael Gillen

Denny residents and regeneration campaigners Sharon Tait and Brian McCabe accept the Plook on the Plinth award in 2010. Picture: Michael Gillen

Now a new documentary film has examined the legacy of the controversial event and its impact on the communities involved.

Carbuncle Town tells the story of Denny, Stirlingshire, where local campaigners voluntarily requested “the award no one wants to win” in 2010 as a way of highlighting its stalled regeneration project.

It also follows event organiser John Glenday as he travels across Scotland to draw up the shortlist for the 2011 awards.

The film, co-produced by Adam Barnett and Ann McCluskey, will be screened on July 18 in Edinburgh’s Drill Hall as part of the Architecture Fringe festival.

Cumbernauld town centre in October 2012. The North Lanarkshire town has twice won the Plook on the Plinth trophy, more than any other place in Scotland. Picture: Gary Hutchison

Cumbernauld town centre in October 2012. The North Lanarkshire town has twice won the Plook on the Plinth trophy, more than any other place in Scotland. Picture: Gary Hutchison

“I was looking for an interesting Scottish subject and I came across the story of Denny and the Carbuncle Award,” said Barnett, 51.

“I spoke to John Glenday and he put me in touch with Brian McCabe, one of the campaigners in the town who accepted the award.”

Denny made headlines in 2010 when residents staged several protests over the condition of its town centre, which was dominated by Church Walk, a run-down commercial and residential complex built in 1970.

Campaigners led by McCabe asked for the Carbuncle award after no one in John o’Groats, the original winner, could be found to accept it.

Union Street in Aberdeen. The city won the Carbuncle award in 2015. Picture: Ian Rutherford/TSPL

Union Street in Aberdeen. The city won the Carbuncle award in 2015. Picture: Ian Rutherford/TSPL

Barnett admits he was shocked when he first visited Church Walk.

“Denny is quite a nice town, but when you see such a carbuncle ruining the townscape it takes your breathe away.

“I had every sympathy for Brian and the campaign for Falkirk Council to do something about the town centre.

“The original plan was to make a short film but as events unfolded we realised there was a bigger story to tell.”

Church Walk has subsequently been demolished and new shops are being built as part of a council-backed regeneration scheme in Denny.

READ MORE: Aberdeen takes top spot in annual Carbuncle awards

The Carbuncle Awards are organised by architecture magazine Urban Realm and invite nominations from the public.

“We’re 16 years in, and we have a good idea of how the awards can target growth and regeneration,” said editor John Glenday.

“The award is divisive - people remain for or against it - but we’ve proven there is value in it, and the film is emblematic of that.”

The Carbuncles will be formally relaunched later in 2016 to begin the process of awarding a new winner.

“We want to tap into the strength of feeling that’s out there. A key proponent is people’s input - this has never been a top down process.”

The reigning champion is Aberdeen, which became the first city to win the prize last year. Judges noted its “embarrassing missteps” from controversial plans to transform Union Terrace Gardens to the failed bid for 2017 City of Culture and the on-going fracas over proposals for Marischal Square.

An on-going loss of shops from Union Street is also “sucking the life out of surrounding street,” the magazine said.

Glenday cites the example of John o’ Groats along with Denny as examples of landscapes which have been transformed since their brushes with the Carbuncle.

“The iconic hotel at John o’Groats was derelict when we first visited but has since been transformed into holiday lets,” he said.

“The village used to a bit of an anti-climax for those that had travelled there. Now it’s a place where you might actually want to linger, which has benefits for the local economy.”

Smaller sized towns dominate the list of Carbuncle award winners, reflecting a trend of high street decline and larger cities’ ability to attract more funding.

Glenday believes the key to their future success is to emphasise their uniqueness.

“They need to differentiate themselves, and a key reason for being,” he said. “You see too many streets with the same shops, there’s no distinctiveness anymore.”

Carbuncle Town will be screened at the Drill Hall, Dalmeny Street, Edinburgh on July 18. Doors open at 7pm and entry is free.

PREVIOUS CARBUNCLE WINNERS

2000: Airdrie

Shortlisted: Cumbernauld, Campbeltown, Ardrossan, Balloch

2001: Cumbernauld

Shortlisted: Gretna, Aviemore, Dumbarton, two areas of Edinburgh

2005: Cumbernauld

Shortlisted: Cowdenbeath, Dalkeith, Ardrossan, Greenock and Granton

2007: Coatbridge

2009: Glenrothes

Shortlisted: New Cumnock, Motherwell

2010: John o’ Groats*

*As no one would accept the award in John o’ Groats, it was given to Denny, one of the shortlisted towns, upon the request of local residents

2011: Linwood

Shortlisted: Nairn, Fort William

2013: New Cumnock

Shortlisted: Broxburn, Fort William, Kirkintilloch, Motherwell, Newmilns, Paisley

2015: Aberdeen

Shortlisted: Cumbernauld, East Kilbride, Leven