“Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.” – Urban Exploration (online report)

Urban Exploration by definition is ‘the examination of the normally unseen or off-limits parts of urban areas or industrial facilities’, but with it now becoming such a new found craze, local communities are feeling the strain as more and more people come to  visit areas that would have once been ignored. The unspoken rule of urban exploring is “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints”, but because of the rising popularity, many individuals who wrongly identify themselves as ‘urban explorers’ and have other intentions are creating a concern among many property owners.

Built on 72 acres of land in 1922 East Fortune hospital was used originally as a tuberculosis sanatorium for the south east region of Scotland. Re-opening after WW2 it became a hospital for the mentally handicapped before its eventual closure in 1997.

Nowadays however, East Fortune hospital attracts unwanted visitors to the local area looking to explore and trespass on the site, causing disturbance to the locals who live in the cottages at the bottom of the hospital in an area known as ‘New Houses.’ 

Bruce Mathieson, a resident of the area, contacted via Skype, describes the damage and disturbance caused by the array of different visitors to the site;

“Every day is different at the hospital. Some days I will walk my dog around it and there may be just one or two people walking with cameras and torches, the so called ‘Urban Explorers’, the ones who break in to the buildings to ‘have a look.’ Other days cars full of youths will arrive at all hours of the morning parking their cars outside of our houses, while they continue their drunken escapades into the hospital itself, going into the most dangerous of the abandoned wards and destroying everything they find within. We’ve had thieves who’ve stripped the buildings of copper piping and brass fittings, a whole travelling community which took a month to move and every teenager in the surrounding county break in. Urban Explorer or trouble making chav, they are all the same.”

Over the last few years and with the development of social media sites such as Facebook, Flickr and YouTube, locals have noticed a substantial increase in the number of trespassers as those who have visited East Fortune hospital are able to share videos and photos of the derelict hospital, attracting more and more attention to it.

Moreover, there has now been the creation of websites such as 28dayslater.co.uk, websites specialising in Urban Exploration where users can register and share locations to explore as well as discuss with other users developments in sites, such as security measures etc. The users themselves regard their behaviour as perfectly acceptable as they believe they are doing no damage to property owners directly, they are merely trying to maintain a hobby.

 ‘Shepy’ is a user with “Full Member” status on 28dayslater.co.uk, meaning that he has contributed an unspecified number of high quality reports on the sites forums and has been useful to the Urban Exploration community is a variety of ways. His posts link to his own Urban Exploration blog where he is open to questions about the activity.

On being asked why he chooses to urban explore he comments;

“For me it’s mainly the photography and the history side of it. I’ve always had a huge interest in local history, which expanded out as I began to explore further afield. I also love the photographic opportunities that you simply cannot find anywhere else.”

True to his word, Shepy’s blog boasts a large collection of onsite photos; taken with high tech camera equipment to achieve ‘the perfect shot’, include images of East Fortune hospital.

The youths that Bruce Mathieson describes in his Skype interview are known to have broken into the buildings and have caused dangerous fires due to the high levels of asbestos dust within them and are regarded by both the New Houses community and the local police force as ‘trespassers.’ Is it possible then that Urban Explorers are thus simply receiving bad press due to those who wrongly define themselves as being Urban Explorers?

In his online interview Shepy comments;

‘It’s not just that people wrongly define themselves as explorers, but more often than not the press, police and security etc. simply don’t make the distinction between the various groups. Explorers would never steal the lead from the roof of a site or set fire to it like groups of metal thieves and kids might, but security et al don’t take the time to find out if it is only explorers of the site and treat everyone with contempt (that isn’t to say that there are not good security guards, some are fantastic, but speaking in a gross generalisation). Combine this with the lack of public understanding of what explorers are really interested in, or not ‘getting it’ and UE is usually painted in a negative light.”

However as Shepy explains;

“All UE is trespassing, though luckily it is only a civil offence and really only comes into effect if damage is caused or the person refuses to leave if asked to do so by the landowner or their agents.”

Luckily for Shepy, in the last few months at New Houses there have been improvements made in terms of security against non-Urban Explorers as disturbances became more extreme such as the trespassing of the locals own properties.

Bruce Mathieson comments;

“We have community wardens that regularly check the hospital for trespassers and cars parked are checked for any equipment that may suggest metal theft. As for the Urban Explorers? They’re now free to photograph and document as they please, granted they can prove they have nought but innocent intentions.”

With the police now thoroughly involved in the disturbances at New Houses, the occupants can only hope that it is enough to deter the unwanted and allow those who come with good intentions to do just that.

 

 

 

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