RSPBA Chairman Hails Bright New Future for Association

By John Hughes, Chairman, 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 AGM can be held here; our popular summer school; our colleges of piping and drumming. 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.

Exterior of the refurbed HQ building

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 work in comfortable, warm, well aired 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 a sizeable nest egg 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. After the usual feasibility studies the contract was put out to tender and the most competitive bid accepted. 

The main hall

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. But our insurers pledged £120,000 on condition that refurbishment of the whole building went ahead.

Another big outlay came in the form of our own 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 have a huge tank with thousands of gallons of water ready for pumping should fire ever happen again.

The rear stairs

A lot of cash was spent on our disabled lift, but given our equality and diversity rules this was something we just had to have. Wheelchair users will now 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 getting there. Now everything has been re-aligned and strapped so that we have a solid structure, perfectly sound and safe.

The pristine new entrace hall with traditional features retained

The fact that we are a category ‘C’ listed building meant that our doors and windows 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 in the old 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 cost 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 2000 Chief Executive Ian Embelton has carefully built up our bank balance from profits from each year’s majors. 

One of the main teaching rooms in the new HQ

To this we were able to add some grant money but were a little disappointed that after 40 applications to different funds we managed to get money from three: £80,000 from Glasgow City Heritage Trust, £10,000 from the Architectural Heritage Fund and a further £2,00 from the Glasgow Trades Association. The rest we had to find ourselves but 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 and individuals, including adjudicators and directors, we are now able to boast a world class facility, one 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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3 thoughts on “RSPBA Chairman Hails Bright New Future for Association

  1. I’m a pipe band association member through a band, I’ve just relooked at the press release on the 2nd of January and do not see detailed evidence of how the project was managed. I just see small amounts of money from funders and insurers mentioned. It doesn’t demonstrate how the headquarters refurbishment was a good value for money decision? Can we look at a tender report for the services provided and also the option appraisals? Interested to know how much renting a building over 40 years would have cost for the equivalent space?

    1. Sir, It is a pity you cannot put a name to your very reasonable query. Firstly it would be very difficult to put what you ask for into a readable article for general consumption don’t you think? Therefore if you are a band member why not seek to represent your band at the AGM and ask for the information you mention? If you cannot manage then can I suggest you put pen to paper and write to the Chief Executive and/or Chairman? This would be the way to properly conduct your investigation. If your questions and motives are fair and reasonable they will not fail to respond to you. RW

  2. Is there any chance that Mr. Hughes may for the benefit of the piping world on this side of the world may get something on the RSPBA YouTube channel. Perhaps a virtual tour of the new building mixed with a short history of the RSPBA?

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