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Volunteer story: restoring the railings at West Bay

Along the promenade at West Bay, a group of volunteers meet weekly to work on restoring the railings. We talk to Richard, an expert painter who leads the group, and the volunteers about what they’re doing and why. 

Volunteer railing painters on West Bay
Volunteer railing painters on West Bay

The high-pitched peeps of oystercatchers and the lapping of the Clyde on the shingle shoreline are the background track to my chat with Richard and the volunteers restoring the railings at West Bay. Richard Cable, a painter with decades of experience, guides a group of volunteers as they learn how to professionally prepare and paint the metal railings along the popular seaside promenade. I talk with them to find out more about how Richard’s expertise and the volunteers’ time are contributing to our town.


“I’ve had a colourful career,” says Richard, who specialises in traditional painting techniques to restore historic and listed buildings. Dunoon Community Development Trust was delighted when Richard got in touch, keen to use his expertise to restore the rusting railings. Richard has worked as a painter in both Britain and the Netherlands. After years of working for other people and learning his craft, he set up his own business in the Netherlands. Running his own business meant that Richard could follow his passion for historic restoration painting and doing it to a high standard. He has painted in the homes of the Netherlands Royal Family and a few pop groups and singers too. Now, he’s applying his professional techniques along West Bay as a lead volunteer. 

Preparing for painting 

Preparing the railings for painting
Preparing the railings for painting

It was an overcast and cool May afternoon at West Bay when I chatted to Richard and the volunteers. Focussed on their task, the volunteers filled buckets with water, dished out sponges, sandpaper and scrapers, and set about their task to clean off the algae or scrape loose paint. Working away together on a section of the railings down at the Bullwood end of the Bay, they laughed and joked with each other. Richard demonstrated what to do here and there and showed them how to get the tricky edges cleaned. This cleaning and preparing of the railings is the first phase of the restoration work. Once prepared, the railings will be primed and given a fresh lick of paint.


The volunteers wore cosy jackets and fleecy tops suited to spending a couple of hours in the exposed location. It has not always been as nice as this, the volunteers tell me. They’ve had a few wild days since the project began in October 2023. They took a break in the wilder months, starting again in spring.  


Unlike the volunteers, the railings are exposed to the elements day in and day out. The winds can be cold and salty and this winter has been particularly wet. Salty and wild conditions mean that the railings need regular attention, the paint layer providing a protective jacket for the metal. 


Running along elevated sections of the main promenade in Dunoon, from Bullwood to the Boat House café, the railings have been looking tired for a few years. While still living in The Netherlands, Richard watched a video of the Kilted Cyclist cycling along West Bay. His keen eye spotted the tired-looking metal railings in the background. 


“Look at those railings,” Richard said to his wife. “I’d love to do them.” 


After taking a step back from working, due to a couple of heart attacks which have left him with only 50% heart capacity, Richard and his wife moved back to their home country of Scotland in August 2022 settling in Dunoon. Unable to work, Richard was keen to continue to use and share his skills in a way that worked around his health. He heard about Dunoon Community Development Trust at a volunteering event in Dunoon Job Centre and shared his interest in restoring the railings. With support and advice from Claire Hallybone from the Dunoon Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme, discussions started with Argyll and Bute Council. It was vital to make sure that any restoration work in this important conservation area was officially approved. Due to this being a conservation area, there are also specifications to follow for colours and materials used. In October 2023, with agreement from the Council, Richard and a small group of volunteers began cleaning and scrubbing away years of algae, rust and flaking paint on the railings by the pavilion.


“It’s not just about making that wish I had while living in the Netherlands come true. It’s also about doing something for the community,” says Richard. “Decades ago, the council had more people employed to keep everything tidy. All the signposts, railings and things like that would be regularly maintained. They just don’t have the funds now. But the community can get involved.” 


Dunoon Community Development Trust partnership and development manager Ann Campbell is pleased to work with proactive people keen to make improvements in the community:

“Restoring the railings at West Bay will be a very visible improvement for the town. This is a great example of what can be achieved when local people and local organisations work together. West Bay is an important natural asset for Dunoon, where locals and visitors walk and cycle, swim and relax. We were happy to facilitate this simple improvement that will make a big difference to how the area looks.” 

Fresh air and friendship 


Hundreds of metres of railings have been prepared so far. But there are still hundreds to go. 


“It’s so easy to complain, but it’s another thing to do something about it,” says Carolyn, one of the regular volunteers who has been cleaning and preparing the railings since the project began. “It’s only a couple of hours a week and you’re outside enjoying the fresh air and getting on with improving things.” 


Railings restored by volunteers
Railings restored by volunteers

Volunteers Jennifer, Jeanette, Sandra, Anne and June from the Dunoon branch of the Inner Wheel were also there that afternoon. To celebrate 100 years of the Inner Wheel, an international organisation of women members, the different branches were tasked with doing 100 of something to mark the occasion. Focussed on friendship and personal service, the Inner Wheel group decided to do 100 hours of volunteering with Richard and Dunoon Community Development Trust to help restore the West Bay railings. They’re already over halfway. Well done ladies!


“The more people the merrier,” says Richard, who is looking for more local people to get involved. Richard is teaching the volunteers techniques using rollers and paint brushes that will give the railings a professional finish. As well as being good for Dunoon, volunteering is also a great way to meet people and get active. For Richard, who is using his skills and realising an ambition to restore the railings, it’s a positive experience. 


“It’s quite simple really, as well as knowing that I’ve contributed to making the town look better, I enjoy the company of the volunteers and getting to know other people living here,” says Richard. “Together, we’re doing something good.” 

Want to get involved?


While hundreds of metres are prepared, there’s still a way to go before it’s time to start painting.  

If you would like to come along for a few hours or every week, here are the details:


The group stays in contact via a WhatsApp group and usually meet on Tuesdays from 1pm to 3pm, except in wet or wild weather. 


You can register your interest by emailing the Trust’s volunteering for wellbeing co-ordinator, Barbara Henderson, at


Whatever you can manage would be a great help. 


Richard’s five-step process for restoring the railings

A restored railing on West Bay
A restored railing on West Bay


1.     Degreasing the railings 


Use an environmentally friendly solution, wash the railings to remove grease caused by pollution from the rain, hands and birds.


2.     Removing the loose paint


Scrape and scrub to remove any loose paint to create a good foundation for painting. 


3.     Sanding


Go over the railings with sandpaper to score the existing layer and help the primer and paint to adhere. 


4.     Apply a primer


Apply a rust-inhibiting primer to prevent further deterioration of the metal.  


5.     Paint 


Apply at least two coats of paint.  


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