Over the last 8 months The Stove has been part of a major community-led project within Dumfries to take positive action to create a new, beating heart in centre of the town. This initiative has gone through a series of working titles including: ‘#MakingDumfries’ and ‘Living on the High Street’ (search these terms in our website and social media and the detailed story will emerge) – but for now Midsteeple Quarter is the title that most of the diverse partnership involved in the project will recognise.
Midsteeple Quarter re-imagines a strip of empty shop buildings on Dumfries High Street as a community-run mixed development of live-work/ education/ enterprise/ social spaces.
The project began with the #SquareGo events in March 2016 which saw The Stove taking over Fountain Square in Dumfries to ask local people how they would like to see the Town Centre re-invent itself for a new era when market towns like Dumfries will not be dominated by retail.
Repopulating the town centre was one of the strongest themes identified by the #SquareGo project
In the same week as #SquareGo John Wallace’s documentary ‘A House on the High Street’ was premiered at The Stove.
The film inspired local resident John Dowson to convene a meeting of stakeholders in the town centre to see if a practical action plan could be agreed to take forward the ‘re-populating’ idea. NB ‘slum’ clearances in the 1960’s emptied the centre of Dumfries with people re-locating to the housing estates at the edges of the town – now less than 1000 people of a total town population of 40,000 live in the town centre and John and his wife are effectively the last remaining residents of the High Street itself.
The initial meeting identified the run of empty buildings on the High Street starting from Bank Street and running up past the Midsteeple as the location for a core ‘block’ that could establish a new pattern of inhabitation and uses for the High Street and start the re-population of the centre.
A core aspect of the project is for local people to literally take back ownership of their town centre. Currently most of the buildings are owned by Pension Funds and other corporate ‘absentee landlords’ – these owners have no stake in the town beyond the relative value of the assets on their balance sheet. New legislation is being passed by the Scottish Government that will grant powers to community groups to take ownership of underused assets in their area – the Dumfries initiative was written up on the Common Space web platform as part of the Common Weal’s ‘Our Land’ festival in August 2016
Around this time The Stove Network established itself as the Community Development Trust for the town centre of Dumfries and was accepted as a full member of Development Trust Association of Scotland – see here for the definition of a Development Trust. The Stove then became the gathering point and lead organisation for a diverse community partnership that supported the idea of the Midsteeple Quarter and were playing a positive part in making the project a reality:
The Stove Network, Loreburn Community Council, Third Sector Dumfries and Galloway, University of the West of Scotland, Crichton Institute, Dumfries and Galloway Chamber of Commerce, MakLab, Dumfries and Galloway Council, D+G College, Loreburn Housing Assc, NHS, South Scotland MSPs, Dumfries and Galloway MP, Prominent local individuals and professionals
The vision for the project was further developed through a Visioning Session attended by 28 people representing the stakeholders listed above.
The Stove Network then circulated and action plan for group which had the priorities of:
- Interacting with the Local Plan being developed by Dumfries and Galloway Council for Dumfries – to build in special conditions for the Midsteeple Quarter, enabling mixed development to be supported by statutory processes
- Holding an national Architectural ‘ideas competition’ for Midsteeple Quarter to shape an identity for the project that local people and other stakeholders could get behind
- Formation of a Community Benefit Company for the project that would be able to offer Community Shares to local people to fund the purchase and development of under-used properties in Midsteeple Quarter
- Taking ownership of the ‘Bakers Oven’ building (from Dumfries and Galloway Council) in the Midsteeple Quarter and developing this in partnership with University of West of Scotland as an enterprise and education hub with residential accommodation above
The Stove Network has created drawings to define the idea of the Midsteeple Quarter – these have been shortlisted in the Futuretown Scotland competition run by Scotlands Towns Partnership. The drawing were done by Dion Corbett an recent graduate of Strathclyde University who has returned home to Dumfries to build her career here and is working at The Stove.
On 15th and 16th November, the Midsteeple Quarter project will be occupying the Bakers Oven building for local people to see progress and talk about their ideas and ways to be involved in making this vital project for the town come to fruition. Details about this ‘Chapter One’ event are – here
For more info about the project, and/or you’d like to get involved, please contact Matt Baker at matt<at>thestove.org