Reflections from Learning Places Scotland conference

A photograph of a person walking away from the camera between two full bookshelves of colourful library books
Published: 25/11/2021

In this blog Jim MacDonald, Architecture and Design Scotland Chief Executive, reflects on two days of the Learning Places Scotland conference which took place in Glasgow 23-24 November 2021.

From community hubs to PassivHaus and much else in between, this year’s Learning Places Scotland – and the glittering awards ceremony that went with it – highlighted the value of creating places by and for the people who use them.

Day 1 - The importance of listening

On Day 1, I was lucky enough to chair a panel session featuring two quite different schemes which both exemplified this beautifully.  

At Newton Primary and Early Years in Ayr, Fiona McAvoy and her team working alongside the local council, have created a space which works for her students and the wider communities in so many ways it is hard to imagine that it only cost £107,000. From food to advice, support and simply a place to feel safe in, the school’s determination to be a heart for the whole community is as inspiring as it has been successful. 

In Inverurie, the creation of a community campus on an altogether larger scale is proving equally transformational. Situated in the centre of the town, the new campus is home to two schools, a community centre and swimming pool. Judging by the comments from the students who shared their thoughts on both the process and the outcome, the efforts of all involved have paid-off handsomely.  

What they shared was a commitment to listening. Listening to the users of the buildings, the needs of the wider community and the challenges faced by those who serve the communities. The results underline just how important this is and how much more value we get from investment. 

Day 2 - Effective engagement and the primacy of tackling the Climate Emergency

On Day 2, we enjoyed breakout sessions on digital and inclusive growths and keynotes from Ollie Bray at Education Scotland and Chris Rothwell, Director of Education at Microsoft. Those I attended reinforced the messages from Day 1, in particular the need to understand a place and the needs of its people before committing investment. 

Across all the inspiring stories I heard, two things really stood out – the benefits of effective engagement with users and the primacy of tackling the climate emergency. It is very clear that we need these at the heart of investment in our learning estate – indeed investment in any estate – to deliver for people and planet and that this is beginning to influence how that investment is being planned. The key now is to go further and faster on both fronts. 

Header image credit: Redd on Unsplash