Cllr Vaughan Moody and Cllr Andrew Polson, Joint Leaders of East Dunbartonshire Council, highlight the successes of the Scotland Loves Local campaign and other local initiatives in the region in supporting town and village centres.
What is the future of our town and village centres?
That’s a question which was on our minds – and a key part of our decision-making – long before words such as coronavirus, Covid-19 and pandemic entered the lexicon of everyday life.
However, the health crisis unfolding across the world has made that question, and the challenges which accompany it, even more urgent. The wellbeing of our residents will always come first, but part of that wellbeing relies on the availability of shops, services, businesses, culture and leisure venues, and facilities at the heart of our communities. It also relies on the jobs and economic opportunities which they afford. When we emerge from the shadow of Covid-19, and we will, it will be into a world forever changed.
That is why campaigns such as Scotland Loves Local, and ongoing work being carried out by East Dunbartonshire Council and partners across the economic and social spectrum, are so essential. The aim of the initiative – from Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP), supported by the Scottish Government – is to highlight the fact that it’s the people behind the businesses which make town centres special, not simply the buildings.
A collaborative group including the Council, Business Gateway East Dunbartonshire, Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and community organisations has been working together to develop and deliver practical proposals to support town centre and business recovery.
In Milngavie, for example, the BID has been successfully supporting the continuation of business activity in the town centre and promoting the work of community organisations, particularly online. Earlier this year, it secured STP funding to help develop digital marketing.
In Kirkintilloch, the community council – Your Kirky – is working with business partners to promote town centre and economic activity. The Council recently passed a motion praising the positive progress made, including a detailed survey, and pledged to continue the collaborative work. Kirkintilloch BID Steering Group also secured STP funding, supported by the Council, with plans to provide PPE, signage and advice on digital marketing.
In Bishopbriggs and Bearsden, meanwhile, Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce has joined forces with the Council, Business Gateway East Dunbartonshire, and business and community champions. STP funding has been secured to create a campaign to encourage communities to shop and trade locally and safely.
For smaller centres, such as Lenzie and Lennoxtown, a more community-based approach is being taken. The Council supported Lenzie Community Council in its successful bid for STP funding, working with a local champion to provide PPE, signage and digital marketing.
It also worked with Sustrans Scotland and partners on the Lenzie Station Improvement Project, which included a range of public realm enhancements benefiting residents, traders and visitors. The initiative has been shortlisted for a Scottish Transport Award.
Meanwhile, officers also supported Campsie Community Council as it secured STP funding to work with a champion on PPE, distance markings and digital marketing.
As well as processing and paying out Scottish Government business grants – more than £12.5 million locally from over 1,400 applications – the Council has also provided advice and support in areas such as trading standards, Environmental health, licensing and planning.
So what does this all mean? That our town and village centres are inoculated against the effects of Covid-19? Sadly not. However, this important work – much of it taking place behind the scenes – signifies an ongoing willingness, and determination, to support our centres. Yes, there are challenges, but there are also opportunities – for example, more people working from home potentially creates greater demand for local businesses and services.
We owe it to the people of East Dunbartonshire to work together, through this crisis and beyond, to ensure our shops, businesses and services not only survive but thrive.
And, more than ever, that is going to take continued teamwork – at a local, regional and national level.
* For more information about Scotland Loves Local and how to get involved, visit lovelocal.scot
* To read more of LGiU’s work on towns visit: https://lgiu.org/publication/bundle-lessons-for-ireland-from-scottish-and-english-town-centre-regeneration/