Yvonne McLeod: supporting community development through the Ian Findlay Path Fund

Our £1.5 million fund supports the improvement of local paths within and between communities, making it easier and more attractive for people to choose walking, wheeling, cycling and public transport for everyday journeys.

Locals and visitor to Cullen, Moray can enjoy panoramic views from local community path networks.

Yvonne McLeod, our Senior Development Officer for the Ian Findlay Path Fund (IFPF) shares her first-hand experience of visiting local communities in Aberdeenshire and Moray. Instrumental in the evolution of the fund, these visits help the IFPF team to learn more about the needs of community groups with wide ranging community path and active travel projects, and how our new Fund can support local community development.

“It has been a very busy four months since the new Ian Findlay Path fund opened for applications. We have been encouraged by the response from groups located all around the country, that have big plans to create, upgrade or develop path networks in their communities.

I’ve been inspired since I set foot through the doors of Paths for All. One of the best bits about this job is the opportunity to talk to and meet the groups who come forward with those plans. It’s quite inspirational to see the work being done, mostly by volunteers, who share our passion to get people connected by improving active travel links through and between communities.

The fund is still quite new: each ‘Expression of Interest’ we receive raises different questions to be answered. We are endlessly surprised by the range of projects and the ambition being shown - the knowledge in our team continues to grow.

The team decided early on that we would try and visit every interested group before asking them to submit an application.  This won’t always be possible in every case, but we will certainly do our best. 

A visit lets us see the lie of the land – metaphorically and literally speaking. It’s really useful when it comes to providing targeted advice and support for ongoing projects when we have first-hand experience and knowledge of the area, and we’ve made those valuable in-person connections with the group. It is also useful to see and hear about work going on in communities.  These individuals and groups are very much the unsung heroes making the difference to where they live – they deserve all the credit and recognition we can give.

The IFPF team is geographically spread across Scotland which makes arranging visits easier. Personally, I am based in the North East of Scotland so have been delighted to be able to visit several prospective projects in my own area.

I’ve had several great site visits but the day in November when I managed to fit two visits into one day, has to be the best so far.

In the morning I went along to see the work being done by Cove Woodland Trust, on the Southern edge of Aberdeen. This group has already made a huge difference to a site that until quite recently, was just another farmer’s field. You can find out more about them here. The group, whilst relatively new, have done a lot of work so far: from crowdfunding the purchase of the land to planting thousands of young trees, it seems there are promising achievements on the horizon.

A montage of images showing community path signage and two people enjoying a walk.

Over the past five years, the Trust has achieved a great deal – in addition to planting over 3,000 trees on the site their team of volunteers working with the Board have created a quiet garden at the east end of the Woodland Walk, now called the “Harvey Strachan Garden” in honour of Harvey, the previous owner of the land. Whilst Harvey was very pleased with this tribute and was looking forward to visiting the garden, he sadly passed away in August before he had the opportunity to do so. The Trust also created a Memorial Tree Garden where people can plant a tree in memory of their loved ones and continue to plant trees with support from local volunteers and businesses including FIS Chemicals and the charity Befriend a Child. 

Their land is crossed by a core path, and they have identified its upgrade as a priority, with the aim of increasing footfall and opening the route up to people with a wider range of abilities than are currently able to use it.  Their ambition for the future of the site knows no bounds and it will be great to see how their project develops.

In the afternoon I was delighted to join the Cullen Health Walk from their base at the community-owned Cullen Community and Residential Centre. They have been working away for years and are well established as a vital part of the Cullen community scene. The range of activities and services they provide is vast. From low-cost bunkhouse style accommodation to dance, drama or fitness classes or the weekly ‘knit and yarn’ session, they have something to suit everyone and it contributes to a sense of community, and social wellbeing.

They developed a Discover Cullen app to help people take the best advantage of everything that is available locally and as a keen walker I found the interactive trail map of the area to be most useful. The QR codes linking to some of the history of the area is a great addition which really added another layer of interest.

The group wanted to discuss the removal of an old barrier, improvements to an existing access path and the installation of some lighting which are all things that can be funded by our Ian Findlay Path Fund. 

Such a brilliant day out left me feeling inspired. Importantly, I learned that Paths for All, and specifically the Ian Findlay Path Fund, have something unique to offer groups at every stage of their community development journeys.

We can help with all sorts of advice and support so if you have a project in mind that you would like to discuss with the team, drop us a line at IFPF@pathsforall.org.uk and we will get back to you as soon as we can.”

Find out more about the Ian Findlay Path Fund here.