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Grand Bequest – Saving Scotland’s history with data

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO SCOTLAND’S OLD BUILDINGS?

Completed in 1900, Kinloch Castle stands on the East coast of the small Scottish island of Rum. The grand development cost over £250,000 to build and was one of the first places in Scotland to provide electricity to its residents. When the owner, Sir George Bullough, died in 1939, the estate became neglected, was sold to the Nature Conservancy and finally passed on to Nature Scot (formerly Scottish National Heritage). Despite best efforts from SNH, the building is now slowly falling into ruin.

After multiple failed regeneration attempts, the Kinloch Castle Friends’ Association (a local community charity group) decided to formally apply for an asset transfer of the castle and policies and to negotiate the transfer of the contents of the castle. The request was rejected.

ABOUT GRAND BEQUEST

It’s stories like this one that inspired the Grand Bequest Historical Real Estate Platform.

What’s fun is that every single person I talk to says, “Oh yeah! I have a building.” They tend to be cinemas, or churches, or little run down houses at the end of their street. They want to save it, but they didn’t know that they could do anything. That’s where it gets exciting”, says Grand Bequest Founder, Dr. Katherine Gunderson.

In a bid to tackle the current system and the number of old buildings currently falling into disrepair, the Grand Bequest app aims to help homeowners and city councils overcome the financial and operational obstacles of restoring historical real estate to its former glory. They hope to bring communities together by giving them a say in what these buildings should be used for, bringing out a sense of pride in contribution.

Dr. Gunderson continued,

“I wanted to figure out why the ‘Building at Risk’ existed at all. We had all these beautiful buildings in Scotland and nobody was doing anything with them and it doesn’t make sense. I wanted to understand how we got to this place – what problems are people running into? Why they can’t use these buildings? We have urban density issues, we have social housing issues, why aren’t we using these buildings we already have that are just sitting there vacant?”

THE GRAND BEQUEST CHALLENGE

Approaching TORCH, Grand Bequest already had elements of their project in place:

  • A basic mobile app (iOS and Android), aimed at individuals and their communities (around a building).
  • A basic web portal. This is where B2B client organisations/people would log in to engage in project work.
  • An Excel based spreadsheet built on top of an extract from the Buildings at Risk Register – around 2300 building listings. This is where their intellectual property was contained. It builds the algorithms that define which buildings to focus on and why.

They also had other loosely connected data-sets such as Google Maps/GIS capabilities, alongside tools that would clearly be required in the future. Dr. Gunderson was aware that Grand Bequest needed a data platform, but acknowledged that they required help with the next stages –

I don’t have a tech background. My background is Business, Manufacturing, and Operations. When it comes to the technology, I could maybe sit down and try to learn it, but it’s not what I should be doing. I should be bringing in research and experts that know it – getting their guidance on what the next steps are.”

The Grand Bequest Team had also been in the process of applying for Innovation Funding when TORCH joined the project. Their initial plan has been to apply for a number of grants to help support the initial build, however, the Covid pandemic had hijacked this –

“We were expecting around 100 – 200 people to apply for a grant that has 10 positions: there was over 700 hundred!”

TORCH was brought in to act as the ‘trusted friend’: to validate, challenge, and enhance Grand Bequest’s thinking.

grand bequest app

TORCH SOLUTIONS

With all of the above already in place, the TORCH team initiated a detailed mind mapping session to summarise what was and wasn’t there. It was quickly identified that what Grand Bequest needed was a technical roadmap that would turn what they had into an integrated platform.

The core technical recommendation was to migrate the existing buildings database to a modern data platform (in this case Microsoft Azure) – making it much more accessible. When live in that platform, this database would act as the hub with which each module would interact. The core intellectual property would then evolve within the context of a well-managed data platform that has the right tools to manage, grow and use the value generating tools.

The TORCH team also provided Dr. Gunderson with a one-day piece of work that she could use to apply for their Smart Innovate Funding – this was unfortunately unsuccessful due to the pressures of Covid (a new challenge that many start-ups are facing and should not be overlooked)

GOING FORWARD

As Grand Bequest looks for investment, Marc van Neerven joins them as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) following an introduction by TORCH. His organisation, CTO-as-a-Service, will assist Grand Bequest in moving their database onto the Azure platform, following a recent comprehensive brainstorming session with Dr. Gunderson.

The TORCH team explained,

“CTO-as-a-Service saw the potential in Grand Bequest. They’re very close to Microsoft, understand how to move the spreadsheet to where it needs to be, and they wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t see value in the project.”

Despite funding setbacks as a result of Covid, TORCH Senior Solutions Architect Iain Henderson is optimistic about the future of the project –

“Grand Bequest’s algorithm drives what’s the best use for this old building – not just be the one that’s waving its hand. It considers where it is, what it is, what the community around it needs, and what’s not around it. The primary potential paying customer for product is the local council; these buildings are public assets, but they’re currently selling them. This initiative would keep the money in their pocket, but they’re simply overwhelmed. We need this to help the community to say, “Stop selling our buildings.”

TORCH CLIENT FEEDBACK

Speaking to the Data Lab about her experience with TORCH, Dr. Katherine Gunderson said,

“The team have been very patient with me. Just knowing I have people I could throw a question at was such a relief. The patience and the support has been enormous, especially for us being a start-up.”

She continued,

“Introductions have been priceless. The unbiased hand-holding has been really important for us.”

If, like Grand Bequest, you need support with the next stages of your technology project, why not contact the TORCH team for an informal chat about your idea? You can also find more examples of how TORCH has helped move businesses forward in our other case studies.

To access Grand Bequest, download the Grand Bequest app, where you can upload details and photos of your own building/projects and explore/support the uploads of others.