Where are they & what's stopping them being used?
"Our city centres are dying." We start this episode with a passionate statement from Architect Gary Kennedy who talks about the fact that we have a creative community with the drive and desire to make things happen but we just can't find a way of pairing them up with empty spaces. We also speak to Annie Marrs and Gillian Easson about the challenges of empty space and Scott Mackay shares the story of Misteeple Quarter and how they have developed their model for community ownership in Dumfries.
There are many complex reasons as to why we have big gaping holes in our high street. Businesses closing down during the pandemic, rising costs, the move to online retail and changing shopping habits are all contributing factors. Ultimately landlords and property owners have control over who fills the spaces and if they have a big enough portfolio they are happy to leave properties empty waiting on a tenant that will pay full market rate.
We also spoke to Annie Marrs Lead Officer of the UNESCO City of Design Dundee and Gillian Easson Director of Creative Dundee. They have been trying to work with the local authority and private landlords for many years but they still identify space as the number one issue facing the creative community. It's also the biggest area that hasn't been addressed from Dundee's Creative Industries Strategy released in 2017.
Gillian highlights the challenge of the creative sector often being offered short term opportunities and that's not what we need or deserve. Annie goes on to talk about the practical issues of occupying a space. Often properties that have been left empty are in disrepair and don't actually have the basics such as running water, lighting, heating etc. These factor and more lead to a lot of difficulties utilising empty space.
There are projects out there trying to utilise empty space, particularly empty retail space, such as Edinburgh Printmakers EP Spaces and Outerspaces. These projects create relationships with landlords and allow artists and creatives to set up and use empty spaces on a temporary basis. The problem is that these are only temporary until a full fee paying tenant comes along so unfortunately they don't offer a long term sustainable solution to space.
Another issue we discuss is rates. Annie Marrs helps give a simple and straightforward explanation of how they work and we discuss why demanding such high rates can lead to city centres being filled with fast food chains and large corporates who aren't committed to the local community.
The final guest for this episode is Scott Mackay Executive Director of Midsteeple Quarter. He talks us through the history of Dumfries' city centre and how it has become largely owned by pension funds, which has led to the decline of spaces and no one actually living in the city centre.
The activity to change this was initially driven by the creative community and the Stove Network to create a vision. Midsteeple Quarter was formalised as a community benefit society with each person paying £1 to become a member and having a stake. The membership then own the properties that Midsteeple Quarter purchases and it is truly a community ownership model. As an organisation they have utilised various different methods to acquire buildings from asset transfer from the local council to a kickstarter campaign.
Overall this approach works fantastically well and community ownership puts the city centre back in control of those who live and work there. That said, a project like this does still require significant capital investment to renovate and run the buildings. Midsteeple Quarter have shown that it is a lot of work but it is possible to raise it through various funding applications, trust fund backing and local community funds.
Kennedy Twaddle - https://www.kennedytwaddle.com/
UNESCO City of Design Dundee - https://cityofdesigndundee.com/
Annie Marrs - https://twitter.com/anniemarrs
Gillian Easson - https://twitter.com/GillianEasson
Creative Dundee - https://creativedundee.com/
Dundee's Creative Industries Strategy - https://dundeecreates.creativedundee.com/
Scott Mackay - https://twitter.com/mackayplanning
Midsteeple Quarter - https://www.midsteeplequarter.org/
The Stove Network - https://thestove.org/
Agency of None - https://twitter.com/agencyofnone
This podcast series is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.