Johnnie Walker strides home for 200th anniversary

Kilmarnock has its place in history as the home of one of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs, Johnnie Walker. In 1820, at just 14 years of age, John Walker opened a small shop in Sandbed Street, Kilmarnock, selling groceries, wines and spirits. And from these humble beginnings, emerged a global icon who is still recognised and celebrated to this day.

And this local legacy will be further extended in 2020 as East Ayrshire Council reveals plans to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the origins of the famous Striding Man.

New figures released last week revealed that whisky tourism is worth around £60m to the Scottish economy and earlier this year Diageo announced plans to invest £150m to transform whisky tourism in Scotland, including a new state-of-the-art Johnnie Walker visitor experience in Edinburgh and the creation of a scholarship and mentoring programme to inspire young entrepreneurs.

On the back of this announcement, the Leader of East Ayrshire Council, Councillor Douglas Reid met with representatives from Diageo to discuss opportunities for collaborative working to encourage more visitors to the area and boost entrepreneurship prospects for young people.

Under the banner of #StridingHome2020, the Council plans to involve local businesses, residents and communities in a series of activities to promote the true origins of the Johnnie Walker legend, particularly in relation to entrepreneurship and tourism.

An interactive heritage trail is currently being mapped out, highlighting locations of key significance in the Walker family history in the town including John Walker’s shop – Sandbed Street, Sir Alexander Walker’s office, the site of the former bottling plant at Hill Street, The Johnnie Walker Bond and John Walker’s grave in St Andrews cemetery.

And plans are being scoped out for an exciting exhibition at the Dick Institute featuring many paintings donated by the Walker family themselves and artefacts from the Hill Street legacy.

Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council, is enthusiastic about Stridinghome2020. He said:

“Johnnie Walker’s legacy runs through the veins of this town. Generations of families were employed locally in the Johnnie Walker whisky trade over the years, and there’s many a tale to be told about the Walker family and how the business went from strength to strength, to become the brand giant it is today.

“#Stridinghome2020 is all about remembering and celebrating the life of one of the world’s first and greatest entrepreneurs.

“At the tender age of 14 John Walker set up his own business in the town and he remains an inspiration to young budding entrepreneurs to this day.

“We recently opened the Ingram Business Centre – a unique facility in the heart of the town centre offering office space for start-up and expanding businesses; and we are presently looking at a number of proposals for the adjoining premises on Dunlop Street which – as the oldest building in Kilmarnock – sits in the heart of the quarter where Walker’s business premises were located, including the cooperage on Strand Street (now the Johnnie Walker Bond).

“I very much look forward to working with Diageo, local businesses and communities to ensure we harness this legacy and entrepreneurial spirit for future generations.

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