This website uses cookies. Continue browsing if you consent to this, or view our privacy policy.

Communities Realising the Potential of Vacant and Derelict Land

Karlene Doherty

In this guest blog, Karlene Doherty – Vacant and Derelict Land Project Manager at the Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS) – looks at the opportunities for community-led regeneration of abandoned sites and the partnership between DTAS and the Scottish Land Commission.

Imagine a 220-year-old wind-powered mill transformed into a community-owned heritage tourism attraction. Imagine a bare post-industrial site surrounded by housing, transformed into an adventurous wild-play area. Imagine a decaying building within a city park, transformed into a place to socialise and learn new skills. Don’t imagine: these are just a sample of real projects that community anchor organisations in Scotland are working on right now.

If you’re anything like me, when you walk past vacant or derelict sites the possibilities of what they could become spring into your imagination. Whilst there are lots of possibilities, often the most innovative and on-point ideas stem from those who live, play and work nearby.

Across Scotland communities are harnessing the power of community-led regeneration to address the needs within their local areas. Often these projects require access to land or buildings and where there is a vacant or derelict site, communities are seeking to deliver extra benefit through their projects by choosing to bring a new purpose to land which may have been perceived by others as being too problematic to be viable. This is the case for the six community anchor organisations I am supporting through a partnership project between DTAS and the Scottish Land Commission which assists communities tackling vacant or derelict sites. 

The recently published recommendations from the Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce recognised community-led regeneration as one of the four recommended pillars of activity to bring vacant or derelict land back into use. Small, very visible sites are often at the heart of communities, meaning that they are particularly harmful to people’s wellbeing as they are encountered regularly. Due to their size, these sites are often not considered to be strategic priorities by local or national delivery bodies. By supporting communities to lead on transforming them, these sites can be used productively to provide space for community-led initiatives, which can in turn create a range of societal benefits.

My role as project manager is hands on and varied. Some days I’m assisting with the practical considerations of taking ownership or developing a site, preparing funding bids, assisting with consultations and checking a site for invasive species. On other days I’m reporting on the opportunities and barriers each of the communities are tackling, such as challenges in gaining control of a site, eligibility for funding or the complexities of contaminated land. The sites being supported are varied in terms of site history, landownership and long-term visions. They were chosen so that the project would gain a broad range of learning to assist in its goal of supporting more delivery of this kind in the future. The project plans to achieve this in two ways: the lessons learnt by the project will inform future decisions on funding, policy and nature of support. Secondly the project will seek to inspire and inform future projects through case studies. 

Each of the projects are community-led and place-based. This means that the visions for the sites stem from the community in relation to the site and their wider place, it is not decided by me what should be developed. This is important because community-led regeneration is most powerful when developed by a community in response to a direct community need. DTAS is a 300 strong membership network of community anchor organisations who are all delivering community-led regeneration. There is so much potential for communities to take ownership and transform sites that matter to them: one third of Scotland’s population lives within 500m of vacant or derelict land and approximately 10% of the long-term vacant or derelict sites are classed as small.
The six community anchor organisations I am supporting are Carluke Development Trust, Vale of Leven Trust, The Concrete Garden, South Seeds, New Cumnock Development Trust and Castle Douglas Development Forum

We’re only four months in but significant progress is already being made. I’ll let you know how we get on.

If you would like to find out more visit: or