Date: Thursday, 2nd January 2020
Contributor: John Hughes - HQ
A Bright New Future for State of the Art Headquarters Building
By John B Hughes, Chairman of the Board, The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association
I would like to begin by wishing everyone the compliments of the season and all the very best for 2020. This will be a very significant year for the RSPBA. It is our 90th Anniversary yet it doesn't seem that long ago we were celebrating our 75th.
I wonder if our founders back in the 1930s would ever have dreamt that we would become such a worldwide movement with the music of the pipe band flourishing in every quarter of the globe and with its centre, its heartbeat, right here in Glasgow? And it is this heartbeat, the newly refurbished Headquarters building in Washington Street - an address known in every country where pipe bands play - that will provide the centrepiece of our 90th Anniversary celebrations.
Our office staff have already moved in and are getting to know their way around the new rooms, corridors and stairway. It truly is a building every bandsman and woman can be proud of. State of the art soundproofing, custom made teaching and practice rooms, wi-fi connections a plenty - your HQ has been transformed.
Now we have a focal point for all our endeavours. Our popular summer school and our colleges of piping & drumming will all be held here, and eventually so will our AGM. We have plenty of storage space for our trophies and for all the tents and paraphernalia associated with running major pipe band championships, and display cabinets for a lot of our historic memorabilia.
Washington Street is an ideal size for our activities: not too big that we will run up overhead costs while rooms lie empty, but still big enough for us to carry out our core activities in comfortable, warm, well ventilated and well-lit surroundings.
We became aware back in the 1990s that the building was not fit for purpose but we just did not have the money to do anything about it. Over the years we built up our financial reserves and in 2017 the Board of Directors, after consultation with the Branches, decided it was time to roll up the sleeves and get the thing done.
We investigated a number of possibilities and analysed a number of alternative buildings over the years, but the costs of renovating these buildings was more than we would be able to support without borrowing substantially.
The feedback from the membership at both Branch level and at our various Annual General Meetings, was that redeveloping 45 Washington Street was the preferred solution. So, the decision was taken by the Board to proceed with this option. This was intimated to the members at the Associations AGM in March 2017.
After the usual feasibility studies the contract was put out to tender and the most competitive bid accepted. The cost of the work was almost £1m and the majority of that was spent on improvements and structural work you cannot see! The fire damage to the roof sustained in 2017 was much worse than we thought and there was asbestos to deal with. It had to be removed under strict environmental conditions. Costly, but our insurers pledged £120,000 on condition that refurbishment of the whole building went ahead.
Another big outlay came in the form of installing a sprinkler system and water tank. Water pressure in the Washington Street area is just too low for us to rely on a conventional system run off the mains. So downstairs we had to have a huge tank installed holding thousands of gallons of water ready for pumping should a fire ever happen again.
A substantial investment was made in making the building compliant with current regulations, including the installation of a suitable access and lift, but given our equality and diversity rules this was something we just had to have. This will allow visitors with additional mobility needs to be able to attend all functions and classes in the building with the same access as everyone else.
Consider too that the walls of the building - it dates back to 1893 and was originally used as a whisky warehouse - had moved off true! Yes, not quite the leaning tower of Pisa but moving in that direction. Now everything has been re-aligned and tied-in to provide a solid structure, perfectly sound and safe.
The fact that we are a category 'C' listed building meant that our doors and windows and some of the interior fitments had to be retained so that none of the character of the building was lost. It would have been cheaper for us just to have installed standard double glazing, but rules are rules and we needed to have the original windows reglazed to match the original style - a much more expensive undertaking. But the results are wonderful. Great insulation, great light and totally in keeping with the traditional look of the building.
All of the above costs a lot of money and, as I mentioned earlier, it was due to the careful husbandry of the Association's resources that we were able to afford it. From 2001 Chief Executive Ian Embelton has carefully built up the Association's financial reserves from our activities. To this we were able to add some grant money but a little disappointed that after 40 applications to different funds we only managed to get engagement from three: £80,000 from Glasgow City Heritage Trust, £10,000 from the Architectural Heritage Fund and a further £2,000 from the Trades House of Glasgow. The rest we had to find ourselves but we give grateful thanks to these generous benefactors.
Right now, the cost of running the Association means that things are tight. But we have a cash flow contingency arrangement with our bank and fortunately haven't had to dip into that yet. Once season 2020 starts we should be sitting more comfortably.
No matter, we have done it. With the backing of the Branches, the membership and officials, including band members, adjudicators, stewards, and directors, we are now able to boast a world class facility, which is something that every single band and member of the Association can be very proud of.
We'll have an official opening next summer and I say this to you all: Thank you for the messages of support and positive response to our work. We will be arranging opportunities to have a look round the building in the near future, as at the moment we are still settling in and finding our feet; it would be great to see you then. After all, 45 Washington Street is YOUR Headquarters, YOUR building and I'm sure you will be delighted with the work that has been done - and the fact that we have now established a world-class facility which will provide a legacy for our Association for many years to come.
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