Kilmarnock – the future’s bright!

“Everybody has a role to play in Kilmarnock’s regeneration” – That was the clear message as a much anticipated, bold vision for the future of Kilmarnock Town Centre was unveiled at East Ayrshire Council’s final Cabinet meeting before the summer recess.

The report puts the emphasis very much on everyone working together to bring about improvements in the built environment to benefit businesses, voluntary sector, community groups and people of all ages, outlining a way to bring new life and footfall to the town centre, regenerate and re-purpose buildings to reflect changing usage.

As a result, people who work, shop and live in Kilmarnock will soon see a number of projects taking shape, from small scale alterations to the street scape, making life easier for those with disabilities, to a large scale refurbishment of the Galleon Centre and an exciting new town centre health and wellbeing hub and spa.

Councillor Elena Whitham, Depute Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities, East Ayrshire Council explained the ethos behind the strategy: “We’ve engaged widely, and held many meetings with local groups, businesses and interested parties. Putting together everything we’ve learned from these we’ve come up with some specific aims for the strategy.

“Firstly, we recognise it’s vital that people should be at the heart of this strategy, with the health and wealth of the people of Kilmarnock and East Ayrshire being a key driver. We want people to be reassured that we’ve been listening, we can deliver on this but we need the people of Kilmarnock to be onboard with us.

“It should make community led regeneration central to the process. We’re making a shift from focusing on buildings to focusing on people, making changes that will help put money in people’s pockets, because if we can put money into pockets, particularly the poorest, we will see a difference. If Kilmarnock town benefits, the communities round about will flourish.

“To be a success, it needs to harness the skills and talents of those who live, work and visit Kilmarnock and we will focus on a town centre first planning principle when important decisions are made.

“We all know that there are nationwide issues with the decline of retail on the high street, and many retailers are struggling individually, but we’re delighted that in recent months we’ve got them all engaged. The Kilmarnock Business Association is back up and running, the Kilmarnock Town Centre Liaison Group working with us on a regular basis and organisations such as Celebrate Kilmarnock, our local schools and Children and Young Person’s Cabinet all have a major role to play in driving forward these plans for the the future.”

“We recognise that to achieve our aims, we need to address some vital issues. The way we all use our town centres is changing rapidly. While shopping will always be a big draw we recognise that we must offer other reasons to visit the town centre. This is why we’re looking at repurposing the Galleon Centre to reflect the needs of the population and trends in exercise, and also working with Ayrshire and Arran Health Board and East Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership to provide a one stop health and wellbeing hub and spa which will offer people a holistic approach to healthcare.

“We need to attract children, young people and families to the town centre on a regular basis, giving them more to do once they get here. As part of the process we have been engaging with young people, seeking their opinions and giving them a voice in the planning and design of future facilities. We’ve been highly impressed by the levels of enthusiasm and quality of ideas presented when we’ve met with our young people, so we recognise it’s essential that they’re involved – after all they are the future of this town.

“At the same time, we will be taking steps to make Kilmarnock as disabled friendly as possible. Looking at simple accessibility issues such as ramps and covered seating areas and making sure we look at the implications of any innovations for people with mobility issues.

We will also be tackling anti-social behaviour, making the town centre feel more attractive and safe for everyday use.

“And we’ll be making better use of our parks and cultural assets, continuing our already successful policy of tidying up regenerating old buildings and looking at clearing buildings which are past their use and redeveloping and repurposing areas outwith the main shopping area.

“At the end of the day, this isn’t something we can do alone. The overwhelming message here is that everyone has a role in regenerating Kilmarnock Town Centre.

Cabinet agreed a number of initiatives on 1 May this year including refurbishment of Kilmarnock Academy Stairs, improving connectivity in the town, the redevelopment of Sandbed Street and repurposing of buildings in the Foregate and Bank Street.

Together with enhanced CCTV capability in the centre, these initiatives are all now underway, and it’s hoped that there will be a tangible improvement visible by the end of March 2020.

The health and wellbeing hub proposed for the centre will provide people with a full range of medical care, from practitioners such as GPs, practice nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacists, dentists, optometrists. It will function in line with the East Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership’s aims to make prevention and health improvement a priority, addressing social isolation and integrating social work and specialist nursing functions.

“It’s all about helping to make life easier and better for people” continues Cllr Whitham. “With a one stop shop for health care, it will also include facilities for complimentary therapies, soft play and a spa, addressing both physical and mental wellbeing”

Councillor Jim Roberts a member of the Galleon Trust agrees: “Physical and mental wellbeing go hand in hand, and having good, easily accessible sport and leisure facilities can go a long way to improve both.

“Since the Galleon was built much has changed in Kilmarnock. We’ve now got top class community sports facilities in our new school campuses and exercise trends have also moved on, so we’re carrying out a detailed survey of the fabric of the building in conjunction with a study and public consultation as to its future use which will look at how the Galleon sits in the context of East Ayrshire’s wider sport and leisure portfolio. We recognise that some areas of the building are more widely used than others, and looking at the age and profile of our population we’ll be doing a redesign to encourage more people to engage with sport and leisure activities no matter their age or fitness level.”

Councillor Whitham concludes. “Speaking to all the organisations and individuals concerned with Kilmarnock Town Centre, I’m excited that there is a vibe building within the town. People have a real pride in the area and there is a huge will there to make the changes, big and small, which will give us a centre we’ll all enjoy using more than ever. Team work is key, with everyone on board the future is looking very bright”