Significant efforts to re-generate Prestonpans Civic Square have been recognised through a double success at the Scottish Design Awards 2023.

The project picked up two awards at the recent event – the Chair’s Award for Architecture and gold in the Regeneration category.

Regeneration of the square was driven by Prestonpans Community Council in partnership with East Lothian Council and the Preston Seton Gosford Area Partnership, and funded through the Scottish Government's Town Centre Fund.

Provost John McMillan said:

“This is a very well-deserved double win for the Civic Square project. I’m delighted for everyone involved and would like to record my congratulations. Their vision for the site to be a focal point for the High Street, linked to other heritage led regeneration activity in the local area, is inspirational. Local people, including the community council, have played a pivotal role in the initiative which will be appreciated by residents and visitors for many years to come.”  

DJ Johnston-Smith, Chairperson of Prestonpans Community Council, said:

"The community council is absolutely delighted that our refreshed Civic Square has won these two significant accolades. Despite some unexpected delays, due to COVID and other factors, the end result has been well worth the wait and now provides a wonderful, fitting setting for our beloved World War One and Two war memorial, by William Birnie Rhind, that we restored in 2017-18 and the new memorial to the town's formerly forgotten fallen, carved by Gardner Molloy, that has just been installed.

"We want to thank the Scottish Government for funding this much-needed regeneration project and East Lothian Council for overseeing and supporting it. Rankin Fraser for the overall vision they created for the Square and heritage consultant Lyndsey Clark and artist Stephen Kirkpatrick for all of their in-depth work on the heritage interpretation scheme. Our thanks also to the many, many other craftspeople, council officers and local residents who have been involved in regenerating the Civic Square over the last few years in a variety of ways. We hope that this marvellous refurbished civic space will now become a catalyst for further positive interventions along this urban stretch of the beautiful East Lothian coastline."

The project involved removal of an elevated viewing platform on the west side of the square that was inaccessible to many and was no longer considered fit for purpose, as well as work to protect and conserve the war memorial designed in 1922 by William Birnie Rhind (RSA). Additional space was made available within the square (not on the existing memorial) for missing or new names.

Another aim of the project was to create a flexible public realm for community events and gatherings including Remembrance Day, encouraging users of the John Muir Way to stop in Prestonpans and to provide interpretation of the built, natural and cultural assets of the town.

A series of subtle design approaches were introduced to recognise the historic significance of the memorial and its current setting within a walled enclosure designed in the 1950s. The memorial setting was improved by incorporating the expansive views of the Firth of Forth and Fife beyond via a Juliet Balcony and picture window cut into the rear wall that make these views accessible to all.

A new natural stone surface was put in place articulated through unit size and pattern to frame the memorial space and link to the balcony via an in ground interpretative route restoration and repair of the boundary wall. A native Scots Pine was introduced as a counter point to the memorial.

The Civic Square was re-opened in December 2022, 100 years after the memorials unveiling.

The improvement works to Civic Square continues the heritage-led regenerative investment in the local area which includes the physical repairs to Preston Tower and Doocot, due for completion in September 2023, construction of the new Engine Shed and planned creation of a volunteer base and regeneration of the former Bath House at Prestongrange, and the development of coordinated heritage interpretation linking various key sites to encourage the local community and visitors from further afield to engage with the area’s rich history and heritage.

Architecture panel chair, Heather Claridge, Design Director of Architecture & Design Scotland said:

“A small intervention has become a bigger catalyst. It's raised the bar and makes you turn your head. Simple moves have transformed this site and opened up views of the sea, in the process a new public space has been sensitively created that promotes improvement and is a destination in itself.”

Published: Monday, 3rd July 2023