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BEST PRACTICE - ROMANTIC WAY TO RAISE FUNDS

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South Lanarkshire has made the most of its buildings by renovating them for public events, says Claire Seneviratna...
South Lanarkshire has made the most of its buildings by renovating them for public events, says Claire Seneviratna

COUNCIL South Lanarkshire Council

AWARD Commended in 2005 awards

CATEGORY Innovation

SPONSOR ITnet

For couples planning a fairytale wedding, putting in a call to the council might not be the most obvious first step. But increasingly, people keen to get spliced or hold an event in South Lanarkshire are doing just that following the success of the council's£30m conference and banqueting service.

Five years ago, and already blessed with an array of stunning listed buildings, South Lanarkshire Council decided to focus on the five unique sites it had inherited following local government reorganisation. It realised that by putting them all together in a professional portfolio, renovating the most crumbling and creating a strong brand identity, they could make serious money and push the boundaries of good service.

Commended in the innovation category of the 2005 LGC Awards, the council has since refurbished and opened Rutherglen Town Hall, following a£12.5m facelift.

The unique baronial-style building has been turned into a premier location for arts and cultural activities, exhibitions, conferencing, banqueting and weddings.

Stephen Kelly, head of facilities and cultural services, says: 'Just as important as upgrading the buildings and access has been boosting the quality and scope of the services we provide. So when, for example, we get a call from a bride-to-be wanting to hire Hamilton Town Hall, we would deal with not just the booking but even the catering and flowers.'

Prospective clients have much of the headache of organising a major event taken away by knowing that everyone they come across are part of one team. Mr Kelly believes the council's decision to take this approach, has helped increase take-up and word of mouth recommendation.

'The feedback has been really encouraging. The community has shown a keen interest in what we've been trying to achieve from the outset, and that interest is now turning into additional bookings.'

While much of the increased revenue is rolling in from private functions, the council has been keen to broaden the range of activities the local community can benefit from. Evening classes and cultural events are now held in many of the venues.

Each of the buildings - including the 1960s council HQ modelled on the United Nations building in New York, and Chatelherault, a hunting lodge set in a country park - were already in use as museums, training centres or simply as council offices. The trick was to give them a new look and purpose without compromising their existing role in the community as social, leisure and tourist venues.

South Lankarkshire's ambitious refurbishment programme has been made possible using a cocktail of council money and funding from external agencies including the European Regional Development Fund,

Historic Scotland and the Scottish Arts Council.

Since receiving its commendation, South Lanarkshire has also opened two neighbourhood centres at a combined cost of£7m. Burnbank Centre and Whitehill Neighbourhood Centre are aimed at offering more down-to-earth facilities. Whitehill Neighbourhood Centre has a library, youth wing, health services, police, employment and training opportunities, a crèche and after-school care, and leisure facilities.

'We have brought the same integrated approach to both these centres,' says Mr Kelly. 'So the management and running of them are unified rather than farmed out to various centres and departments.'

This ethos will also to apply to a further neighbourhood centre planned for the Fairhill area of Hamilton.

The figures are looking good, with an average 30% increase in bookings and an annual injection of around£2m into the local economy. Much of the revenue generated from the service is being ploughed back into the high maintenance building and standards of service.

Mr Kelly says: 'We are reinvesting a lot of this additional revenue into the facilities themselves to maintain and improve the service we are providing. The council's conference and banqueting service now has a very positive reputation. We want to keep it that way.'

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