Some 800 years after its formation in the 13th century by King William the Lion, Ayr is undergoing a wide-ranging and energetic transformation. While this includes, of course, a raft of enterprising initiatives aimed at rejuvenating and sustaining the town as a business centre, it's also underpinned by a determination to capitalise on the town's inspiring historical and cultural legacy.

The visit of the Great Tapestry of Scotland to Ayr Town Hall during April and May, attracted some 19,000 people to view the imposing artwork that features 160 historical panels, each depicting a moment in Scotland's scientific, cultural, industrial and political history up to the present century.

The event - a partnership between South Ayrshire Council and Ayr Renaissance, the company responsible for the council's regeneration strategy for Ayr town centre - had other welcome effects. David Bell, Chief Executive of Ayr Renaissance says that it had "demonstrable impacts on local businesses, many of which reported an increase in trade during the event."

A potent history can help inform a dynamic present and future. With a common fund of £2.7 million, Ayr Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) is funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and South Ayrshire Council. Townscape Heritage schemes exist across the country and, says the body, "aim to reverse the decline of our best-loved historic townscapes. Local, regional and national organisations work together to repair buildings in conservation areas and bring them back to life".

"These schemes don't just help to create attractive, vibrant places that people want to live, work, visit and invest in. They also inspire communities to find out more about their townscape heritage, and give local people the chance to learn new skills," explains David Bell.

Ayr THI's priority projects have been the landmark buildings on New Bridge Street. The most prominent of these is at number 1-3, constructed in 1786-87 by Alexander Stevens based on a design by Robert Adam, who oversaw the remodelling and expansion of Culzean Castle. Stevens acquired the land adjacent to the bridge and requested permission to build himself a house there, proposing it would be built in an "elegant manner which would tend to ornament the bridge".

The council (even then with a keen appreciation of the importance of commerce) approved, on condition that he maintained access to the yard of the King's Arms Hotel.

The style set the standard for the street and when 2-6 New Bridge Street was constructed for a banker in 1834 it was designed to complement and mirror its neighbour, now A-listed. Combined with 6-10 New Bridge Street these came to be known as "The Pink buildings" after being painted pink in recent years and recent restoration led by the Ayr THI saw centuries of paint stripped away to reveal the original dressed ashlar sandstone.

"The Ayr THI also works to meet its aims through assisting in the repair of other properties within the Ayr conservation area by making grant funding available to owners of other buildings within the area for conservation and refurbishment works," says Bell.

"We also aim to promote the architectural heritage of Ayr town centre through informative events and projects for all ages."

Phil Prentice, Chief Officer of Scotland's Towns Partnership is in no doubt about the value of recognising and promoting a remarkable history.

"Much of our rich heritage lies within our town centres," he stresses. "Our monuments, parks, churches, and historic buildings provide us with a living legacy of our past. These assets need to be nurtured, protected and promoted as they tell our children and our visitors an important story about Scotland's journey as a nation, and the value of that cannot be measured in bricks and mortar."

Source: Sunday Herald

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