When we had just moved to Dumfries I noticed how many shops here were either boarded up or had their windows whitewashed. High rents and new industrial estate shopping habits ousted businesses from their traditional High Street stronghold. Like in Glasgow, artists were commissioned murals depicting vibrant street life scenes to cover up the dereliction, but Doonhamers started to call Dumfries a “ghost town”.
This frustration and failure to improve the situation via conventional channels provoked a five-year long community consultation about the future of High Street led by the Stove Network and gave rise to Midsteeple Quarter project and the community society of like-minded people who are willing to invest time and effort into the future of their town.
As far as I understood, the MSQ project aims to take ownership of disused buildings, refurbish them and create affordable business and accommodation space for the benefit of the community.
It was amazing to feel such a positive buzz at the launch of Midsteeple Quarter Community Society and see all those people who came up to express their approval and to fill in membership forms. There were over 150 applications on the day!
The Stovies as the backbone of the Doon Toon Army of community activists were busy spreading the information to passers by. I could only imagine how much work was put into preparing installations for the Plainstanes stage, designing and making T-Shirts, and painting all those peaceful protest signs that spilled out the angst about the town centre present state!
Local politicians, such as Provost Tracy Little and members of Scottish Parliament Colin Smyth and Joan McAlpine, stepped onto the “Midsteeple Soapbox” to praise the project and pledge their support. There were live music acts and a bed-of-nails street performer to be enjoyed by the MSQ launch participants. Illustrator Emily Tough captured the atmosphere of community empowerment in a series of on-the-spot watercolour drawings.
Would the first stage of the project – taking over and refurbishing the former Bakers Oven premises into a successful business premises with some affordable flats above – be a success? I sincerely hope so…