From Football to Pub Crawls – Artists Uncover Tales of the Dam Builders

Artists investigating the story of the Galloway Glens’ dams, reservoirs and power stations are uncovering fascinating glimpses of a colourful cultural past.

Ted Leeming and Morag Paterson have been talking to people of all ages across the area about their thoughts, memories and attitudes towards the huge hydro projects of the 1930s.

Morag said:“The response has been tremendous and we’d love to hear more. We’ve lived in this area for more than 20 years ourselves, but the stories people tell us are helping us see the entire landscape through new eyes.

“For many there is a pride in being home to a huge source of renewable energy and a real sense of the importance of green power for the future.

“Some older residents have told us about the impact that the arrival of up to 2,000 construction workers had on this remote rural area – especially when they needed to let off steam. 

“We’ve heard how the camps had their own football teams and competed in the local league – with Glenlee winning the cup in 1932.

“And then there are stories about how the men hired a local bus to take them round the pubs and offload them back at the camps ‘pickled with drink’ at the end of the night.

“But there were other sides to life in the construction camps. We heard how the local minister Thomas P Hitman regularly did a round trip of 160 miles on his pushbike to attend to the men’s spiritual needs of the men and organise recreational activities. It seems the church eventually bought him a motorbike.”

The project, called Energise, focuses on the history and legacy of the Galloway hydroelectric scheme, exploring perceptions and responses to climate change with specific regard to renewable energy.

The artists have engaged with young people through schools and with the general public through open sessions and by inviting people to write using special postcards that have been distributed round public buildings. 

Once their research is complete Leeming and Paterson, who are internationally renowned photographers, and Dundee-based artist Jason Nelson, will create artworks inspired by what they have learned.

Energisehas been set up by Dumfries and Galloway’s Upland Arts Development organisation.

Amy Marletta, Projects Directorat Upland Arts Development, said:“Just about everyone in the Galloway Glens has been affected by the hydro schemes. They help power people’s homes, give us areas to go walking or cycling, and clearly made a big difference to local society when they were being built.

“We are really pleased that people from the area are really getting involved and making their contribution to Energise.”

The project is supported by Creative Scotland and the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership.

McNabb Laurie, Galloway Glens Team Leader said:“The Galloway Hydro Scheme, constructed in the 1930s, continues to be distinctive influence on the valley.

“At the time of commissioning it employed 90 staff. Automation and technological advances have reduced that to around 25 but, with an average electricity output each year of about 90% of Dumfries and Galloway’s annual requirement, the technology is still performing well today and the scheme is a notable player in the national energy mix.

“Initial results from this project have been very interesting and I urge anyone interested to visit the project’s Facebook page for progress.”

If you would like to contact Leeming and Paterson with your thoughts, views and memories about the dams then email info@leemingpaterson.com or 07917102693.

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