Over 800 people have completed an online survey which asked for views on the future of the town centre. From the sign-up on the survey and the two consultation events held since November 2016 there is now a group 0f 483 people in a mailing group to support this local project to re-populate Dumfries High Street as part of efforts to revitalise the town.
Melissa Gunn (University of the West of Scotland – who are members of the community partnership leading the project) says, “We have been overwhelmed by the response from people; we were not expecting to receive as many as we did, considering the number of people we had through the doors during our Bakers Oven event. Online surveys often bring out more negative responses, but here the opposite was true. We were particularly surprised by 40% of people saying they themselves would be keen to live in the town centre.”
The Midsteeple Quarter survey was completed by a wide age range of people with 20% of respondents under 35, the majority between 35 and 60 and 23% over 60. People felt that a populated High Street was important for a vibrant town centre. There was also strong support for a mix of accommodation from affordable tenancies to student accommodation and private flats available in the upper floors above the shops.
Confirming previous work conducted by The Stove Network, the consultations revealed support for a more diverse approach to the future of the town centre with a very positive response to ideas of enterprise, education, live-work, health services and restaurants/nightlife all being available as well as more events, festivals and markets to encourage more footfall in the town centre.
The Midsteeple Quarter project is developing fast including progress with:
Transferring the Bakers Oven building to community ownership to be developed as a business/education innovation hub with residential accommodation above.
Dumfries & Galloway NHS have joined the community partnership as part of their plans to re-locate services and staff as part of the changes connected with the new hospital.
We are moving forward with the formation of a new community company called ‘Dumfries High Street’ to steward the Midsteeple Quarter project for the benefit of local people.
Preparations are underway for a national architectural competition to test out the public’s ideas and shape a vision for the project that can be delivered by the community partnership.
Working with DGC Planners to embed Midsteeple Quarter within the new Local Development Plan.
All in all there is very encouraging progress around the project – the local media are reporting very positively (see BBC here) and we have cross-party political support. If you would like to know more detail or get more actively involved please reply to this email or drop into The Stove Cafe for a chat.
We have received some great news to end the year – The Stove Network has been awarded the best Creative Regeneration Project in Scotland 2016! The prestigious Scottish Urban Regeneration Form (SURF) Awards took place in Glasgow last week, at the Award presentation dinner. Launched in 2003, these awards have become the benchmark for best practice and innovation in community regeneration in Scotland. This is an award for everyone connected to The Stove. We’ve all been a part of making a new momentum of change in Dumfries – whether taking part in projects, attending events, or simply being a member and telling others that The Stove is something worth checking out.
During their visit to the Stove back in October, the judges of the SURF Awards noticed a buzz about the town and could see that a big part of that was down to The Stove. It’s fantastic that other people are looking at Dumfries as somewhere that is trying out new ideas. The SURF Awards are a way of profiling and sharing these ideas. It’s been great to find out about other projects across Scotland as well, and we’re really pleased to be have been nominated alongside them
The judges commented, “The Stove Network demonstrates that a strong and uncompromising creative vision stimulates debate, giving the local community a greater voice in issues affecting Dumfries, from frequent flooding to high street regeneration. It was clear that The Stove Network has had a significant and transformational impact on Dumfries, and that the energy and drive demonstrated by the creative team, their partners and the wider community will continue to revitalise Dumfries and make a real difference to the place and to people’s lives.”
The SURF Awards identifies and celebrates success in revitalising Scottish communities. The other projects shortlisted alongside Dumfries were from Easterhouse in Glasgow and Falkirk. Since 1998, the SURF Awards have promoted regeneration initiatives, large and small from across Scotland. Town centres are now looking at different ways of sustaining themselves, and creativity and the arts have a big part to play in this.
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
We asked ourselves a question: “Can a sign above a High Street building ever do anything other than promote and brand; can it ask questions, be part of a conversation with other signs… can our High Street ever be a space that prioritises people as well as sales?”
Whose downturn is this?
As a species we show ourselves to be resilient and forever adaptable, but what true opportunities are there between the moss and the ‘for sale’ signs? How do we re-make the spaces between the High Streets we remember and what is left when our High Street no longer meets the bottom line of the multinationals?
Our town centres have grown out of a need to gather, connect, meet, barter and exchange. Dumfries owes its place to the river, the cattle marts and the passage of people. But from our largely rural context, Dumfries has also been the gathering point, the melting pot of communities meeting and exchanging, not just economically but socially, our connection out into the world.
‘A marketplace (rather than ‘market’) is a sociable space in which buying and selling take place surrounded by other activities, a place you come to see friends, to hear stories, to argue about ideas. Crucially, unlike a Starbucks or a department store, it is a space where your welcome is not determined purely by your abilities to spend money.’*
Dumfries stands at a point questioning its identity, and it’s place within the world. Primark may not have arrived, but there is an air of anticipation and change whispering quietly amongst a growing number of the town’s communities. Now is the time to search for the new role we can play in creating the future of Dumfries, to reach out for a possible Dumfries.
Dumfries is not dead, only sleeping. Hidden Dumfries is in plain sight, behind the sagging bus stances and single occupancy street furniture.
Now is the time to act.
This action does not require grand master planners, or large scale redevelopment, but a little collective energy and small positive acts. Testing and experimentation, problem solving and lightweight interventions can lead the way to a more active high street, looking forward to a more valuable town centre. Small actions can highlight, question, explore and initiate discussion, growing from an inquisitive response to our everyday.
This is a call for new distractions.
Can we create a new visual language for our high streets?
*Dougald Hine, Space Makers. Quoted in how to save our town centres, by Julian Dobson.
Dumfries is a town at the gateway to Scotland. Famous for its relationship with Rabbie Burns, the town is the nodal point of the region (Dumfries and Galloway) and has a strong heritage past, and an even stronger cultural potential.
Cities, towns and villages throughout Scotland are reimagining their centres and what function they serve within their urban setting.
Inverness is creating different artworks along its River Ness ranging from simple signage installations through to engineered viewing platforms; Oban is reinventing its waterfront and becoming a hub for the Hebrides; Helmsdale has centred its village around arts and heritage with a wonderful cultural centre that is growing leaps and bounds; and even rural Scotland is getting involved in the act with initiatives such as the Scottish Scenic Routes, Spring Fling and the North Coast 500 aiming to reinvent the landscape that they find themselves within.
Dumfries has a similar ambition to reinvent, reimagine and reactivate its high street, its town centre and its entire region. The Stove Network working in collaboration with Lateral North and creative organisations throughout Dumfries would like to invite you to contribute your ideas for a future Dumfries and ultimately towards creating new ideas within the town to showcase the heritage, cultural, environmental, industrial and creative communities that thrive within Dumfries.
Join us to design these interventions, contribute your ideas and find out about the Dumfries you don’t know; yet. If you’re someone with a passion for the town of Dumfries, and a commitment to being part of its future, then join us for the Cultural Wayfinding Workshop on the 15th July at The Stove. Full information about the event can be found here.
High streets across Britain are fundamentally changing, and Dumfries is no exception. The combined impact of the economic downturn, out of town complexes and online shopping is leading to more and more town centre closures. The effect on Dumfries is unmistakable, from the closure of national chains stores, to long established family-owned businesses, each leaving behind empty husks in what once were regarded prime locations. With their empty displays these unwanted buildings contribute to a worrying sense that the town is in perpetual decline.
However there have also been signs of different life; the Electric Theatre Workshop has turned a disused shop into a space for practicing and performing theatre, as well as the central hub for winter festival, Big Burns Supper. Although shops have struggled, cafes and restaurants are continuing to generate business, prompting a number of new openings and refurbishments. These changes remind us that high streets have historically been places to “debate and meet”, as retail-consultant Mary Portas stated in her 2011 report for the UK Government. It is her opinion that high streets must return to this role as “multifunctional, social spaces” if they are to serve any purpose in the future, commerce forming just a part of their civic service rather than dictating it.
The Stove Network shares this vision – it aims to demonstrate that rethinking the way we use the vacant buildings on the high street can have a profound and beneficial impact on the local community. By opening it’s new accessible public arts space at 100 High Street, it will be placing creativity and risk taking right at the centre of local efforts to re-imagine Dumfries as a contemporary regional capital.
The retail chains that previously occupied these spaces were concerned with telling us what we want. The Stove will instead respond to what we need, a collaborative effort between artists and others in the town to cultivate a place that will serve us as citizens rather than consumers. This means including the public in the operation of the Stove itself and the Tuesday Drop-In sessions are one example. These weekly meetings will invite one and all to discuss the Stove’s operation, and to voice their own ideas about what it should be doing more of to contribute towards the regeneration of Dumfries town centre. The Charter14 event held during last year’s Guid Nychburris festival, asked Doonhamers to put forward their own ambitions for the town’s future as part of a new “People’s Charter”, and is another example of The Stove Network’s approach.
By offering ready access to art and the tools of its creation in the very centre of the town, the Stove stands to thoroughly involve the people of Dumfries in bringing about constructive change to the place we call hame, turning an otherwise forlorn relic of times gone by into a symbol for a new future for Dumfries – one conducted on our own terms. “High streets will thrive if we re-imagine them”, Mary Portas suggests, and what better way could there be to inspire new ways of thinking about the high street than through art?
All images are of Charter14, Guid Nychburris Day Festival June 2014. All images: Colin Tennant