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Reimagining Our Old Buildings – by Leia McKenzie

Press Change is a 10-day-long youth community journalism project, supporting a small cohort of young people to develop their skills, confidence and agency in raising their voices, whilst exploring local environmental and societal issues across Dundee


Driven by her passion for old buildings and the memories attached to them, Leia went on a journey through time and space, collecting stories and meanings. She shares her experiences and makes a plea for questioning why things are the way they are, and who makes the decisions.


 

Photography by Ben Douglas
About me

My name is Leia McKenzie and I am currently studying Urban Planning at the University of Dundee. I have had a love for local history for about 7ish years now, ever since moving back into the Dundee area. I love the stories that buildings tell, the way we used to live, what has changed, what has stayed the same and what has been adapted and made more modern.

I am currently a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for Dundee West for the 2023–2025 term, and I have been a member of the Youth Council for over a year now. I enjoy being in a role where you can advocate for others, being involved within the local community and creating change on things that I am passionate about. 



Why be a part of Press Change?

I got involved with this project through one of the creative practitioners, who knew me from another project I was part of. I wanted to take part because I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone as Press Change was vastly different from other projects I have been a part of. 


I really wasn’t sure what to expect when joining the project. I knew it was a pilot project but was still confused, yet intrigued at where this could go. After the first meeting I knew I would absolutely love being a part of Press Change and that everyone on the team were lovely people and changemakers in their own way. I was still uncertain about what we were doing and what my project would look like, and it took almost a month for me to decide what I would be researching.


I have enjoyed almost every aspect of this programme from the annoying icebreakers to the finished piece. I especially loved the intergenerational approach I took as part of my project as I loved getting the chance to speak to people that have lived a life so different from mine. I also loved being part of a small team and working with people closer to my age.


During this project I got back in touch with my creative side (which wasn’t really in me before Press Change!) and I discovered ways to use my degree and love of buildings in a creative way. This is where I chose my project. I have always wanted to do something publicly about preserving the past and highlighting local buildings.

 

This project allowed me to explore that in a much more creative way than I could have ever imagined. During this project, I discovered that there is a shared hope for the city to go back to its former glory, while still moving forward to the future. I also discovered that I do not completely suck at public speaking… and that public speaking is a lot less scary if you have no idea who is in the room!


Photography by Ben Douglas


My projects and findings

I chose a project on the memories attached to buildings and why we should restore buildings rather than building new ones. I started by picking buildings that I liked, then narrowing it down when I ultimately chose too many. I originally planned to do 6 buildings but after one trip to the central library where I spent 2 hours just looking at materials from King’s Theatre, I decided to do 2 buildings, which also include the Drill Hall.


The reason I picked these buildings was because I thought there would be a lot of information on Kings Theatre as it was such a prominent feature of Dundee back in the day; and I picked the Drill Hall as I have walked past it many times over the years and found out there was an application placed to demolish it. So, I thought it was important to research it while the building was still standing. 


To find out more information, Google became my best friend. I googled the buildings initially to find out as much information as I could. I then looked on the British Newspaper Archive to try and find more information about the many uses that the buildings had. From job adverts to show times, I found so much information that I felt I had a basis on what to ask people. The newspaper archive showed me how different life was 100 years ago and even 50 years ago, and I found it so interesting looking through old articles and stories. I also went out to see the buildings themselves to see them and take photos. 


Photography by Ben Douglas


I then put up a post on Facebook and reddit asking people if they would be willing to share their memories of these places. I found that the Drill Hall had more memories attached to it than King’s Theatre. 



The Drill Hall was used by the army until the 1960s/70s, and then seemed to be out of use until it reopened as a nightclub in the 80’s. It stayed as various different nightclubs until the 2010s when it officially closed its doors and has remained derelict ever since. The Drill Hall had an official name of ‘City Of Dundee Territorial Force’, nicknamed ‘Dudhope Drill Hall’ and ‘Douglas Street Drill Hall’. It was home to the 2nd Highland Royal Field Artillery and 3rd Highland Field Ambulance, RAMC. This building is the last remaining WW1 Drill Hall in Dundee. 


Most of the memories and stories I heard were from when it was a nightclub under various names – The Fountain, Dirty Dens, Oscars (Dirty Oscars), Colosseum, Oxygen, Cotton Club and Karma. 


Content provided by THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)



These are some of my favourite stories from the place as it showed how differently the building has been used over the years. I have also grown a love for the 80/90/00s clubbing scene as it sounds like people had some very fun nights.


 

King’s Theatre on the other hand was very difficult to find stories about. I know that it was originally a theatre that changed use into various cinemas such as Gaumont, Garrison, Odeon then into County Bingo, then changed into various nightclubs, food and retail units such as Déjà vu, Joy, Millets, Continental Restaurant and Ballroom. 


The ground floor units are still mostly in use as nightclubs (Kings and Pout) and Efes Café Bistro. The upper floors are no longer in use as well as a few of the ground floor units.



Content provided by THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)



These are some of my favourite quotes as it showed that Kings was a prominent feature in Dundee. It meant the world to some and was normal for others. I love the contrast because it is the same building but for different people it means different things.


 

I also spoke to community groups; they were amazing and I absolutely adore them with my entire heart! 


Everyone in the groups were lovely and willing to speak to me about various aspects of Old Dundee – the trams, trains, Royal arches, underground toilets, ballrooms, nightclubs, pubs, walking the Tay Bridge, swimming pools, DC Thompson and night buses. 


There was a wealth of knowledge between all these community groups. It made me realise just how much Dundee has changed over the decades, some for the better, some for the worse. While speaking to these groups I started to see that there was a collective memory of Dundee, where people had similar memories just in different places, different buildings, different parts of the city and different years. 


I then found it more difficult to identify what places people were talking about as it sounded so similar from previous groups. It was also difficult imagining where these places were as Dundee streets have changed so much, from the addition of shopping centres to the demolition of the Arches.


 

After speaking to the community groups, consulting people on Facebook and Reddit, going to the Central Library, looking at the British Newspaper Archives, taking photos of the buildings and a lot of googling, I had an insane amount of knowledge on these two buildings and no idea how to present it. 


At the start of my journey, I originally wanted to showcase the way Dundee has reused its buildings over the years – by taking lots of photos of Dundee’s reused buildings and making a scrapbook of them highlighting all the ways we could reuse our current derelict buildings. The plan then changed to mapping out areas within Dundee showing the ages of the buildings and how little of our history is left – but then I realised that was my degree talking! 


I also wanted to do a timeline of the two buildings with the old photos, newspaper articles, information and memories all showcased in a physical way (before I realised how confusing copyright was!). Then, it was suggested to write a piece on my findings and experiences of Press Change and I thought, yeah that sounds fun, let’s do it.


In future, I will most definitely touch on all the ideas I had earlier on and research even more buildings within Dundee in my own time. The love I have for Dundee’s history is immense and I want to showcase it to others.


I want others (mainly young people) to question why we have what we have, what used to be there and the decisions made by others that have led Dundee to become the Dundee we know today.

I want to capture as many stories as possible before they become lost memories and encourage others to ask people and share their memories of their favourite places, to keep the memories alive.



Thanks!

While taking part in this project, I have learned some amazing skills, met some even more amazing people and gotten to be a part of a weirdly wonderful pilot project. 


Over the last 3 months I have gotten to sit in a unit in the Keiller centre and research one of my favourite topics in the whole world and got to see some of the coolest places in Dundee. This would not have been possible if it weren’t for Press Change. 


I would like to thank the Changemakers Hub and all the partners for the opportunity to be a part of Press Change. It has given 5 young people a voice to share topics important to them in such a public setting, which I would definitely like to see more of around the city. 


I would also like to thank the British Newspaper Archive, Dundee’s Leisure and Culture, DC Thompson and people on Facebook and Reddit who shared their memories. This piece would not be possible without your information and help. To the community groups of Dundee, I love you guys, keep up all the good work you do and a very big thank you for all the help. 



I would also like to thank the Press Change team for understanding my humour (ish) and for all the work you guys did to help us and our projects. I would like to thank Gemma and Lisa for being amazing leads to the program and for the ice breakers… I am definitely stealing them. Fatima for bringing me onto the project and coming to all the community groups and libraries with me. Avery for making me laugh a lot and the digital help. Ben for being an amazing photographer and a funny guy. 


I would also like to thank the reader for making it this far. And lastly (I know, finally!) I would like to thank my mum for everything.


 

The photo of the inside and outside of Kings: https://cinematreasures.org/theaters/23219/photos 


 


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