Read on for Christie Frail's third and final blog in the 'Forth Valley Chronicles'.
Thanks for tuning in.
Last but certainly not least, I present you with my view of...Alloa.
The final piece of my Forth Valley chronicles, and arguably the most challenging.
To write this, a day trip to Alloa’s High Street was needed. And that sense of ‘the unknown’ was soon replaced with trepidation. I see this small county town and it reminds me of Falkirk, hitting the mark on many of the issues I spoke about in my very first article – the dying high street, empty premises and a general sense of decline of the Town Centre. We need to save this very important aspect of our towns, the lifeblood of our communities before it is too late.
Alloa, like Stirling, has the promise of a better future based on the actions that are being taken right now.
Thankfully, there is already a lot of activity and momentum surrounding Alloa, with the Stirling and Clacks City Region Deal and also from utilising its role as a player in the Forth Valley Region. The Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Growth Deal bagged a joint amount of £214 million from the Scottish and UK Governments and partner sponsors – Stirling Council, Clackmannanshire Council and the University of Stirling. The City Region Deal focuses on four strategic outcomes – Inclusive economic growth, higher value jobs, shared prosperity and an inclusive skills ecosystem. What does that mean for those living in Alloa?
With a population of 19,000, Alloa is a town in Clackmannanshire. A county known for its rolling hills and beautiful landscape setting. Historically, Alloa’s economy was reliant upon trade between Glasgow and Europe through its port due to its strategic position on the Forth Estuary. Like many other small towns across Scotland, their leading form of employment at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution now ceases, and the breweries have left.
For a place which boasted Scotland’s first commercial whiskey distillery, at Kennetpans, just along the coast, this area has suffered grievously from de-industrialisation. Thankfully, the huge Diageo Whiskey Bond on the edge of Alloa retains that link to a glorious past. Although, today the local economy is more heavily focused on retail and leisure.
As stated in the Town Audit, Alloa’s leisure and other key services are on the periphery of the Town Centre. Additionally, it was recently released that Alloa’s Greenfield House is back in the hands of the Council, and Council Leader, Ellen Forson is ambitious that the property will be at the centre of the City Deal going forward.
Through the implementation of the growth deal, and the place transformation projects, businesses will be able to thrive with improved access to support. Alloa will witness an increase in job density and the maximisation of regional assets. Investment will be plugged into the creation of green, clean innovation and digital entrepreneurship to help drive the diverse regional economy. This funding will allow for barriers to engagement to be removed, supporting inclusion and delivering prosperity, wider opportunities and wellbeing for everyone. For those living, working, investing and just visiting - Alloa will be memorable, for all the right reasons.
The ‘Alloa First’ team – made up of local business owners, managers and people with a vested interest in the town centre -have been at the forefront of delivering change - at which they have been very successful in taking BIG action. It is a business-led initiative with the sole objective of attracting collective investment in the town centre to create a brighter, better future for the business environment in Alloa. Their website is full of information, events, contacts and history for locals and visitors to engage with. And similarly, to Stirling and Falkirk – Alloa is looking to the future. The importance and impact of history on our towns as they are today is undeniable, but that is not all we have to offer. Beyond Alloa Tower and the burgh motto since 1853: “In the Forefront”, Clackmannanshire is taking the lead on one of the three pillars to achieve the goals of the Regional Economic Strategy: Net Zero, Productive People and Place, and Inclusive Growth.
On the road to Net Zero: Clackmannanshire Council is committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, and just last week (August 2021) they declared a Climate Change Emergency. They have pledged to reach NZ emissions by 2045 through a range of initiatives such as improved energy efficiency, the development of a green travel plan, reduction of waste, and increased recycling. Alloa has also been placed in the spotlight for Scotland’s journey to achieving Net Zero as the home of Scotland’s International Environment Centre.
Productive People and Place initiatives can be seen in the Innovative Place propositions, showcasing the vibrant and vital places that will attract work, residence and investment, the re-purposing of vacant and derelict land and buildings (of which accounts for 10% of Alloa’s town centre), and the advancement and modernisation of transport and connectivity.
Building on the rail network which opened in Alloa in 2008. Inclusive Growth means that no one is left behind in the ‘Just Transition’, therefore food and fuel poverty will be tackled, community wealth building will be at the centre of decision making and Intergenerational Living to support the ageing population will be developed. All of these things will help tackle low educational attainment and high levels of unemployment.
Clacks has the natural beauty and the famous Ochil hills – something which has been a true Saviour over the past two years. A common feature that I have noticed throughout the Forth Valley Chronicles is the quality of active outdoor spaces to exercise, socialise and relax in all three council areas. Throughout the pandemic, Alloa has also played its part in helping facilitate the roll out of the vaccine at the Forth Valley College campus.
I remark Alloa on its excellent array of diverse eateries – something we should be taking advantage of, particularly to support the Shop Local initiatives. It is easy to navigate between these in the town centre due to the lovely physical streetscape - however the town centre is screaming out to be pedestrianised! If we close our eyes and view Alloa as an ‘open air shopping centre’ we can see how to best organise its assets and make use of its accessibility, as it becomes livelier and more attractive from Alloa in Bloom.
The town centre is already undergoing regeneration surrounding Primrose Street, right at the heart of the town. With lots of ongoing town centre activity (including the recent visit from a 10-metre-tall sea goddess), Alloa is certainly taking control of its future. With what we are referring to as ‘transformation zones’, Alloa is focusing on its wellbeing economy by replacing an old sports centre with a Wellbeing Centre, creating Demetia designed accessible town centres and forming a Culture Quarter for recreation and socialising.
All Alloa needs now is support. Support to deliver these aims and make the town more active, accessible and attractive for work, residence and investment. I have faith that Alloa can bounce back and beyond from the challenges its town centre has faced, retaining local and attracting neighbouring footfall and reinvigorating itself as a tourist destination and powerhouse for Net Zero change...All in Alloa.
Alloa could be Scotland’s best small town – what’s stopping it? It is as good a player as its bigger counterparts.
This third part of the Forth Valley Chronicles is not the Conclusion, for Alloa, Stirling and Falkirk – this is only the beginning.
Don’t worry readers, I'll keep you posted.