Yours for £1 (not really)

It was an eye-catching gimmick, and it did the job, getting media coverage (and me onto the radio (again)). In early February, at a London auction The Postings shopping centre in Kirkcaldy was put up for sale with a reserve of only £1.    Was it outrage, amusement or a wry shaking of the head that followed?  Or simply, well that’s Kirkcaldy  perhaps?

But, as the pension fund sellers were quoted: “The reserve price of £1 is generating significant attention and we expect to get a considerable amount at the auction.”

The fact it was Kirkcaldy does not really matter though and there are good and less good things about Kirkcaldy, as there are with all towns.  And this shopping sale was being sold as a development opportunity that could help the town centre strategy. The point really was about another milestone in the change sweeping retailing – a 1980s shopping centre for £1.  In the event of course it went for a lot more than that (£310,000 with apparently 12 bidders interested), which suggests someone has an eye for an opportunity in Kirkcaldy, even though the same day the Marks and Spencer in the town closed.

More interesting though was the story of another retail sale at the same auction.  This time in Dumfries where the Midsteeple Quarter project are hell-bent on taking over what they can in the town centre and reinventing and running it for the good of the local community.

Fed up with absentee and/or indifferent landlords, the plan has been to buy back the high street and establish a properly based mixed economy on local talents and needs.  Negotiations with the owners of two high street buildings in the Midsteeple Quarter had apparently been well under way, but suddenly the site was put up for auction. Yes, the sellers were the same pension fund as in Kirkcaldy.

With only a week or so’s notice, the Dumfries folk set about building a fund to bid at the auction.  Perhaps this was always doomed to fail, but the energy it released will build momentum for other things of a similar ilk.  In less than a week, a crowdfunder raised over £23,000.  This proved to be insufficient as bidding quickly rose over £100,000, settling on £142,000. A currently mystery bidder now owns these two buildings.  It is to be wished they have the good of Dumfries at heart, but there is something more important underneath this as well.

At one level this story is a failure – the idea for the community to buy these buildings did not work.  But, such energy and enthusiasm (and money) in such a short space of time bodes well for the future.  The funds will be repurposed to another community venture in the high street. The whole saga (can sagas be 5 days?) demonstrates the local desire to see places reinvigorated by and for the local community.  We need to make it easier to do this and to ensure town assets are actively used for the good of the local community.

But more than that, landlords and property need to begin to work more closely with local community groups and understand the desires and talents that are around in all of our towns. We are not short of ideas, but are often short of the right opportunities. Community involvement, and community ownership are vital components of the future of our places – but that sense of pride and energy to do things also underpins existing owners and operations, and it needs to be engaged with and not fought.

Go and take a look at the Midsteeple Quarter Project and what they want to do for Dumfries. And if you are local think about getting involved. If you are not local then seek out what is happening in your town.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Internationalisation and Graduate Studies.
This entry was posted in Buildings, Community, Community Development, Creative Places, Dumfries, High Streets, Kirkcaldy, Landlords, Localisation, Places, Property, Regeneration, Retail Change, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Shopping Centres, Town Centre Living, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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