Like every other town in Scotland, Kilmarnock is constantly evolving, and with the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit, the energy crisis and the effects of an economic downturn all having an effect on work patterns and shopping habits, demand for, and use of, buildings and public spaces has changed dramatically in the last few years.
In East Ayrshire, the Council has long recognised that change and development works best when communities and organisations work together to find solutions to issues and find inspiration and enthusiasm to carry out community led regeneration.
Pooling knowledge, expertise and funding has led to some great successes for Kilmarnock. These include the newly created and very popular mural depicting Lady Ann Boyd, Countess of Kilmarnock, the improved links between the town centre and the Cultural Quarter via the newly revamped Academy Steps and the recent award of £20m Levelling Up funding for its “Cultural Kilmarnock” project which will renovate and create new facilities at the Grand Hall and Palace Theatre and surrounding green spaces.
Working with Kilmarnock and Cumnock Business Associations and Celebrate Kilmarnock the council’s Community Led Regeneration Team recently picked up the Visa Let's Celebrate Towns Award in recognition of their successful partnership working to encourage the Shop Local message and support the business community through some very challenging times.
To build on this success, and recognising the vital contribution of collaboration in meeting future challenges, the Council has now instigated a Kilmarnock Strategic Group which brings together business, the local community, key partners and elected members to lead on regeneration decision making to manage change in an economically challenging environment.
Members of the new group have been selected for their passion, vision and specific knowledge and experience, coming from a variety of backgrounds to make innovative decisions to help carry the town centre into a more prosperous and eco-friendly future.
Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of the Council and chair of the new Kilmarnock Strategic Group said: “When Council agreed its Kilmarnock Strategic Vision 2022 – 2027 forming this new group was an integral part of our action plan. I was delighted to pick up the Town Champion award on behalf of the partners who have worked hard together to support local businesses and this new group builds on that success.
“With our aims of building wealth in our communities we know that repurposing buildings and investing in people and places go hand in hand in boosting economic, physical and mental wellbeing in our communities.
“We all recognise that the world has changed substantially since covid, brexit, rocketing inflation, energy and materials costs have taken effect. What we need, the way we shop and work and our priorities as a town have all changed. So the first remit of the new Strategic Group will be to come up with things that can achieve small, quick, and important changes and look at our previous ideas to assess whether they are still viable and achievable with our current budgets and capabilities.
“We’re confident that with the level of expertise and experience of the new board members, we’ll quickly be able to start making a difference to the Kilmarnock townscape.”
Peter Telfer, current chair of the Kilmarnock Business Association and Managing Director of Urquhart Opticians has already worked successfully with the Council’s Community Led Regeneration team. He says: “While I come from Mauchline, Kilmarnock has always been our main town, and I am a supporter of Kilmarnock Football Club.
“I am keen to be involved in the group to create meaningful action to develop our town and to support the industry across our local businesses.
Councillor Elaine Cowan, one of five elected members of the group selected to represent the political makeup of the Council, was also asked how she saw her role on the board. She said: “There’s no place like home”, and my home is Kilmarnock – and I love it! Its people, green spaces, built environment, history, and traditions. I truly believe we have something special here and we should cherish it.
Another member of the new group is Rev David Cameron, Church of Scotland Minister New Laigh Kirk Kilmarnock since 2001, who has a passion for the health and wellbeing of Kilmarnock’s people and place. He represents Celebrate Kilmarnock on the new Strategic Group.
He says: “I love Kilmarnock but I’ve seen the negative erosion of what people love about our town and I believe I bring a voice to what matters to them. Kilmarnock matters - for life, work and leisure.
“I was invited by EAC to participate in this Strategic Group because of what Celebrate Kilmarnock brings to the table, our ‘A Common Agenda.’ This points the way for those wishing to implement change and highlights the key themes that need to be addressed both now and in the future.
Local elected member Councillor Graham Boyd brings an historical perspective to the group. He says: “I’ve lived in Killie all my life and have always had an interest in the history and heritage of the town.
“As an active member of Kilmarnock and District History Group I’ve supported the community and council through many consultations including Conservation Area Regeneration Schemes, Townscape Heritage Initiative, Heritage Lottery Fund bids and local history exhibitions and I’ve assisted Celebrate Kilmarnock with events such as “Killieween”.
“I hope we will help create a town to be proud of, which will attract new visitors through inward investment to provide a lively mix of cultural, shopping, personal service and café society.
Councillor Douglas Reid concludes “we also know that there will be tough decisions to make ahead as we tackle the increasing problem of empty and neglected buildings coupled with soaring construction costs. Some of the planned projects delayed by the pandemic may no longer be financially viable with the funding available and indeed their intended uses may also have changed – but with innovative thinking, re-prioritising and skilful negotiating we’re sure this group can help deliver a vision for Kilmarnock of which we can all be proud.”
Look out for more information about all the new Kilmarnock Strategic Group members in the coming weeks.
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