Helping shape a better future

A FEATURE of my Dumfriesshire Clydesdale and Tweeddale constituency is the strong community spirit, widely-held progressive attitude and a strong bond with our colourful and sometimes turbulent past.

I was reminded of all of these during visits I made in the Peebles area recently between meetings with constituents.

One was to the fantastic community gardens project in which an area of surplus grassland behind Scottish Borders Council's Victoria Park Centre in Kingsmeadows Road has become a hub of activity.

My other visit was to historic Neidpath Castle where Lulu Benson of Wemyss and March Estates took me on an excellent guided tour detailing ongoing restoration work and efforts to attract more visitors to Tweeddale.

The garden project is part of a successful programme by Peebles CAN (Community Action Network), which fits in with a long-term mission to build community resilience and sustainability.

They have already achieved much by increasing young people's experience and confidence as they enter the employment market and, more widely, projects improving life in the town, such as encouraging small enterprises by supporting Peebles Food Market.

Skill sharing projects have seen residents of all ages gain valuable knowledge in many areas ranging from mindfulness and nutrition to sculpture skills and running a Dementia Friends awareness course.

My host at Peebles CAN, manager Amy Alcorn, explained they particularly targeted help at young people and families.

And she showed me round the excellent flower and raised vegetable beds where members grew produce whilst enjoying friendship and sharing ideas and skills.

Also on site were polytunnels and a yurt -- large traditional tent -- with wood burner allowing shelter for indoor activities and meetings.

Peebles Can, a registered charity, raises funding from various sources and welcomes fresh support. It holds regular volunteer sessions at the garden and prides itself on a community-led programme.

Meanwhile, history tourism and hospitality are on the agenda at Neidpath Castle, overlooking the River Tweed, which has been the site of a fortress since 1190.

It was great to see the restoration results so far and the atmospheric sense of times past in the comfortable guest areas of the castle, including the bed chamber where Mary Queen of Scots stayed.

The vaulted ceiling Laigh Hall is proving popular for marriage ceremonies as is the Great Hall for wedding breakfasts. 

The castle attracts guests to both the estate's visitor accommodation and other Peebles area businesses.

Just as Tweeddale's forests and countryside prove an attraction in the mountain-biking sector, our heritage looks set to be a great tourism asset going forward.