Community ownership of assets breathing new life into centres across Scotland has been a theme, and a success of recent years. There is still much more to be done, and it needs to be made easier and simpler, but we are, I believe on the right path. But this is not cheap and often community organisations and volunteers struggle to find the money needed to purchase and then to run these assets for the community.
One of these success stories that is held up as showing the way forward is Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries. It is often seen as pioneering and a model to emulate across Scotland. The evidence sessions for the Town Centre Action Plan Review heard of the energy and life that the Midsteeple Quarter project has successfully brought to Dumfries, though we also heard that it has not always been a smooth straight path, partly due to its ambition and innovation.
If you don’t know about Midsteeple Quarter and their approach then there is a short Carnegie Trust Case Study available, and the Midsteeple Quarter website tells their story through words and videos. They also featured in the December 2020 edition of Scottish Planner, which concentrated on ideas for the future of town and city centres. The approach in part has been to purchase and repurpose high street buildings to develop a new heart for Dumfries based around local asset owning and local resilience.
Well, Midsteeple Quarter want to buy some more buildings and need some help in doing this. I had become aware of their new ambitions and need early last week, but then on Friday, Scott Mackay, the Manager of Midsteeple Quarter got in touch directly to tell me about what they were trying to do in this new phase.
And so I thought I would turn this post over to him and what follows is a brief summary from Scott – more details are available on their website:
“Midsteeple Quarter is a community benefit society founded in 2017 set up and run by the people of Dumfries. Our aim is to breathe new life into Dumfries town centre. We are doing this by bringing underused High Street properties under community control and refurbishing these as a new neighbourhood to create a thriving new heart for Dumfries built on principles of local prosperity and well-being. MSQ already own three buildings, Nos. 113-115, 117 and 135-139, renamed The Smithy, The Press and The Oven.
The Covid pandemic has intensified the pressures on High Streets around the country with stores closing practically every week – this situation amplifies the need for a fresh approach, and we are (for once!) fortunate in Dumfries to be ahead of the curve by having the Midsteeple Quarter vision in place and underway. The pandemic is also encouraging previously reluctant owners to sell their properties and part of the recovery from Covid must be the re-use of vacant retail spaces for new local businesses and social enterprises to start up.
Essentially, we are in the process of redeveloping the three buildings we own already and have already raised c.£3m towards our Phase One redevelopment (from RCGF, SOSE, etc). In the meantime, we have negotiated the exclusive off-market purchase of the 3 remaining long term empty buildings in the Midsteeple Quarter core of the high street at a highly reduced value (all owners are taking a significant financial hit). The combination of this opportunity together with a Scottish Land Fund grant (must be spent by March 31 2021) towards part of the purchases, creates an immediate need for additional funds to complete the deals.
We are therefore reaching out for support to purchase the remaining three empty buildings within the Midsteeple Quarter – Nos.109, 111 and 121 High Street. Our target is to raise £450,000 which will enable us to buy all three buildings and make them usable again by making immediate repairs and covering initial costs such as buildings insurance.
To do this Midsteeple Quarter have launched a Crowdfunder – details of which can be accessed here. This is an ambitious target in a short time scale. However, every penny donated will count as even if we don’t meet the total, any money raised will enable us to purchase one or two of the buildings immediately.”
Please consider helping them, both for Dumfries, but also as another pioneering step showing locally owned assets driving recovery in towns across Scotland.