Gina Davidson: A good heart beats beneath Broxburn carbuncle

SO it seems that the small town I live in is a rather large blot on the landscape of our country.Apparently Broxburn could be awarded the dubious Plook on the Plinth honour in this year’s Carbuncle Awards – a scheme designed to draw attention to places in desperate need of good architecture and regeneration.

Unsurprisingly the idea that Broxburn should even be nominated in such a category has got the backs of the town worthies well and truly up.

The problem is, if you’re head of the community council and point to a Peacocks store as being “blue chip” and the best example of retail in the place, then you’re not actually proving your point. Rather the one the judges are making.

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Not that having Peacocks is a problem. In fact, without it there would be nowhere to buy clothes in the town. But the building in which it is housed is horrible. It’s the kind of 1960s architecture which gives the place a feeling that it’s awaiting demolition.

And there are many similar examples especially the newer but just as ugly – and even worse – empty Ugo supermarket on the opposite side of the road.

In comparison with the more leafy, and much older village of Uphall just a few hundred yards up the road, Broxburn pales – at least it does once you hit the shopping thoroughfare.

There are some good stores – ironically for a place which is home to the under-threat Hall’s pork processing factory, Broxburn has a fabulous butcher in John Lawson. And the family firm has recently spent a lot of money on renewing its store.

There’s a great fishmongers – although it looks nothing like the same firm’s stores in Edinburgh – and there are other small, independent places which are great if you need to buy a card, a present for a new baby, a bike or a pair of school black rubbers for your child. There’s even a burgeoning farmers’ market on the go.

But let’s be honest, there’s nothing there which would make you go on a Saturday afternoon rather than head to Edinburgh, the Gyle or The Centre in Livingston.

According to the local councillor, money has been invested in the town centre. I’m not sure where – it’s certainly not been to attract new business. Yes, there are some public works of art up, yes, there are areas for floral planting outside the Argyle Shopping parade, but a few daffodils does not a bouquet make.

There is even some good architecture – mostly in the older buildings, including the town’s churches – and hidden away out of sight is a brilliantly-designed new clubhouse for Broxburn United Sports Club Trust.

Yet overall the impression that the Main Street leaves is one of it being dreary – which is what the Carbuncle Awards have said. Thankfully, though, a place is not just about it’s buildings and it’s shops. It’s about the people. And there Broxburn should surely be receiving awards.

Given its size it’s a place where everyone still knows everyone, or at least someone else who does, and as a result the community is tight- knit. There is an amazing amount of charitable work done by people in the community, through the churches or schools or clubs.

Which means it’s almost impossible to say no when it comes to buying raffle tickets, going to church hall socials or dressing up as Greek gods and balancing precariously on a float.

Take the recent Gala Day. There was some concern that it wouldn’t go ahead this year as old stalwarts had given up the organising. An appeal to the people of the town and the whole thing was rejuvenated, with many people getting involved for the first time.

Then there’s the aforementioned Broxburn United Sports Club Trust which provides facilities for the community and trains more than 400 young people and children every week – and all coaches are volunteers. For a cynical newspaper columnist, I find it astounding. As I do the organisation of volunteers to host children from Chernobyl every year.

It is even, despite it’s more colourful past, a safe place to live. So much so that there is one part of town where every second house seems to be owned by a police officer. Of course these things are not unique to Broxburn. But they are part of what makes a place somewhere good to live, even if the shops are a bit rubbish.

They say you shouldn’t judge books by their covers. Perhaps we shouldn’t judge towns by their buildings – though if winning such an award puts more focus on Broxburn and makes for more investment and regeneration then perhaps it could ultimately be a good thing.