The Midsteeple Quarter Project is looking for members of the public to join them in taking back control of the High Street and be part of practical projects and practical improvements for the town by joining the ‘Doon Toon Army’.
Kevin Reid, Creative Producer for the Midsteeple Quarter Project, is hoping that all the various community groups working hard around Dumfries will join together and form a civic army which we are calling the ‘Doon Toon Army’. Power in numbers as it were, with the outlook of working together to rejuvenate the failing High Street through events, street cleans, painting and redevelopment.
The Midsteeple Quarter is a means by which local people can once more create a town centre that brings opportunity and prosperity for everyone in our community. Everyone can join – it is something that everyone will own and be able to have an equal say in directing. Kevin Reid and the Midsteeple Quarter team are looking for support from the people of Dumfries to volunteer and be part of their community army, making practical improvements in the town and putting pressure on building owners and the government to ‘Do Right by Dumfries’.
A Community Benefit Launch for the Midsteeple Quarter Project will take place on Saturday 7th April around the Plainstanes by the Midsteeple from 11am -3pm, where members of the public will have the opportunity to learn more about the project or sign up to help in any way they can. They encourage people to get involved, spread the word and be part of making a town we can all be proud of once more.
The Midsteeple Quarter idea was built on five years of research and consultation with the local community carried out by the local community. Long-term and careful consultation facilitated by The Stove Network, Dumfries High Street Limited and other partners found that there is a wide range of different ideas for what the town needs, but the majority of the responses highlighted the need to bring more people to live back in the town centre. This will create more life during the evenings, make greater demand for services and shops and bring a greater variety and richness to the place.
Over 15th and 16th November, The Stove Network led a two-day event in the Bakers Oven on Dumfries High Street to talk to people about bold new plans for the town centre. Midsteeple Quarter is an innovative way to encourage people to live back in the town through a community-led company developing a section of the High Street as a live/work quarter. Over the past year The Stove has consulted with members of the community and a consensus has emerged that re-populating the town centre is a major part of any plan to bring new life back to the High Street.
Over the last year we have noticed a real shift in attitudes – in the past people tended to look to the Council to do everything. Now the conversation has changed to ‘what can we do ourselves?’. This is a very positive change and one that has been confirmed by the number of local groups becoming part of the Midsteeple Quarter project – these include: Loreburn Community Council, Third Sector D&G, Unviversity of West of Scotland, NHS D&G, Crichton Institute, Upland, MakLab Dumfries and many more including the Council.
The Bakers Oven became a lively project hub over the 15th and 16th November, featuring a pop up living room, discussions and workshops. It also featured the exhibition, ‘People’s Dumfries’; a collection of Dumfries inspired artworks, including models of buildings within the town by Frank Brown. The Bakers Oven also played host to in house writer and Stove Curatorial Team Member, Martin Joseph O’Neill. Through the night of the 15th November, Martin spent 12 hours writing as part of ongoing project – Midnight Moonlight Smalltown Rain. Words and thoughts appeared in real time on the windows of the Bakers Oven. Come dawn, the story was complete.
Over 100 people signed up to ‘The Dumfries Pledge’ in support of community development in the town and people also shared their stories of old Dumfries and contributed to the vision for a Midsteeple Quarter. Suggestions included a focus on the Whitesands as a tourist destination and entry point to the town, affordable live/work premises in the town centre to encourage new enterprises, bringing services like healthcare and education into the town centre and more of a focus on the history of the town, with Tour Guides and History Tours throughout the region.
People’s comments and plans from the exhibition will be on show in the Stove Café from Tuesday 29th November for the town to continue to comment and get involved. The project recently received a boost at the beginning of this week with news of seed funding from The Scottish Government’s Activating Ideas Fund. This will allow the local community’s ideas to be taken to the next stage of reality and The Stove building will continue to be the information point for the project. Anyone interested in contributing or signing up to the Dumfries Pledge is encouraged to drop in or get in touch with The Stove – [email protected].
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