by Stuart A. Paterson, Lowland writer in residence
Cometh the hour, cometh the town centre regeneration arts hub, cometh the associated projects and cometh its first Writer in Residence – me. Welcome to Lowland, described thus by its lead artist Martin O’Neill –
A 3-year project conceived and delivered by the Stove Network. It seeks to place writers at the core of the Stove’s and local community’s activities to reflect and celebrate a town in a transitional phase of its history. Generating a contemporary narrative of place, by interacting with and responding to activity in the town through the written word. The central idea of Lowland is to generate an evolving narrative through a series of engagement opportunities and outputs, whether a song, a book, a map, or a play – these outputs will create a collage of work and output that will form the backbone of our future activity.
I’m delighted to have been chosen to launch the Lowland ship into the uncharted waters of the next three years. If it’s only half as successful as The Stove has been in the previous three years, it’ll prove to be something well worth waiting for, for everyone.
What exactly does ‘place writers at the core of….the local community mean’? For me, it means not so much putting writers into the town regeneration spotlight, more about giving words, writing, ideas the platform to inspire, instil inspiration & hope into Dumfries & its future. For we’re all writers, really, all poets of the everyday, although most of us will never write it down. Poetry is in the stories at the bar, the chat at the shop counters, the sharing of memories about the place, the blether on the benches. Aye, it might not always be positive & that’s understandable. Like many towns the length & breadth of the country, Dumfries has had more than its fair share of knocks, disappointments & let downs from those to whom we trusted the future health of our towns & communities. It turns out that that trust was misplaced for much of the time. And external trends & markets haven’t been kind to the business, spirit & lifeblood of town centres. Out of town shopping, death by rates, the internet, a lack of incentives, accompanied along the way by ‘improvements’ to the very fabric of our town centres have been wrecking balls we’ve been powerless to avoid.
I believe that in Dumfries, contrary to what many might think, there is still more than enough of a history, spirit, pride & culture to kick-start it into a brighter future than many towns might hope to inhabit. Not just history in old buildings, stories in stone, memories of the good old days, pride lost & never to be recaptured, glories gone & the old days always being better than now (what was the old joke? Nostalgia’s not what it used to be?). We can do something about that & we’re actually doing it now. Not just talking but doing. The Stove is the acorn from which a hundred wee oaks have started to grow, mostly nurtured & encouraged by the town’s young people, from the outskirts to the centre. Lowland, like Brave New Words, Nithraid, Blueprint100 & the Midsteeple Quarter, is one of those wee oaks, putting down roots in the town centre & beyond. The words I’m harvesting from the people & workers of Dumfries are themselves branches into past, present & future. They’ll hopefully be here long after town centre planners & absentee landlords have sold up, moved on & been forgotten about.
There are, I hope, some good things lined up for the next 3 months. Nithraid is almost upon us again – the boats, the crowds, the Salty Coo. I’ll be getting involved & hope to see you there as I man the Word Oven & keep hearing & gathering the words & stories from any Doonhamer who’ll give me the time of day. There’s a Word Walk planned, a tour of Dumfries & its past inhabited by the writers now no longer here. I’ll be hosting High Street Writers on the first Wednesday of each month, 6-8pm in The Stove, meeting & encouraging the writers who are coming through & here now. I’ll be linking up with Crichton Writers & Dumfries Writers groups to add to the Flood of Words, which we’ll be creating from the feedback on the Lowland postcards – fill yours in now, put it in the box in The Stove. We’re going to have words on windows, poems in shops, stalls on the street – & Latvia 100! on September 5th, which will be amazing & a cultural crossover which’ll have the Norwegians shaking in their boots. And of course, Brave New Words on the last Friday of each month. It goes from strength to strength & shouldn’t be missed. Come along, no matter if you’ve never read in public before. You’ll be among pals.
Before we know it, it’ll be October & my 3 months will be up. I hope to leave a few building blocks for others to add to, as well as the beginnings of a legacy of the town’s narrative in the present day. Nostalgia’s great – but let’s make our own good old days first.
Stuart A. Paterson, Lowland writer in residence