This is a blog article written by Christie Frail, a pupil at St. Mungo’s High School, about changes in her hometown of Falkirk. She recently undertook a work placement with Ross Martin, advisor to the Scottish Government on Regional Economies.
I am 16 years old; born and raised in Falkirk, home of the World’s first and only rotating boat-lift, connecting the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals. Boating heaven.
With a population of just over 35,000 ‘Bairns’, and what can seem like an equivalent number of charity shops (all doing well) Falkirk is full of potential, of its place and its people, and it has a big heart.
I live in a neighbourhood of Falkirk called Lionthorn, up on the hill , nearby the Milk Barn ice cream parlour, where I recently celebrated ‘support a small business day’, walking there in 10 mins, scoffing down a 2 scoop tub of Scottish tablet ice-cream, back home in half an hour. On each of these short trips I’m given food for thought.
I attend St. Mungo’s High School. The ones with the bottle green blazer, always dressed immaculately from head-to-toe. I enjoy school, I love being with my friends and the teachers are great. And who doesn’t love learning about Pythagoras’ theorem and Scottish Literature?! Am I right?
But as part of our Curriculum for Excellence and SQA qualifications we were advised to do a week of work placement. I was very lucky to do mine with a local guy who knows a thing or two about town centres, Ross Martin. He is an advisor to the Scottish Government on Regional Economies, oh and by the way if you’ve ever been caught speeding on the cameras then you can blame this guy (long story!).
On my final day of placement, after a jam-packed, whirl-wind week of “Growth and Productivity”, we spoke about something a little bit closer to home and a lot more familiar to me. Falkirk. On a stroll along the High Street, looking up as much as to the front or the sides of us, it became clear to me why there had been such a decline in the town’s activity, why the retail park had become the new focal point for Falkirk’s shopping community and why on earth we have quite so many Charity shops! It’s ridiculous, the amount we could have counted without moving 10 steps. This cultural, wonderful little town was dying around us. Why?
I love my town and the area where it sits; there’s something calming about the way the light shines through the trees en route to the town centre. But for a long while, the moment your eyes focused upon that destination, the calm turned to discomfort. An increasing number of empty shops made it look sad and depressing. It hurt me too see it like this, but help is now at hand!
In the town, originally located on the edge of civilisation (it was the Northern boundary of the Roman Empire) a new frontier is opening - tourism. Instead of Centurions standing guard over the entrance to our place, it’s now the 30m high Kelpies, strategically positioned where the canal network faces out to the sea.
Ancient history. New heritage. Falkirk leading the way (again), and our Town Centre is a key battle site upon which this new future will be forged.
Recently devastating was the closure of the massive Marks & Spencer’s right in its heart. A huge blow. Not helped by big mistakes of the past, such as the sanctioning of the edge of town Retail Park with its free parking and better amenities, even including an M&S Food shop! Shops in the High Street simply can’t compete with that. We need a level playing field. The town centre’s life-blood, its people, has been getting sucked away.
Our town, like so many across Scotland, urgently needs to change, and it is doing so with new café’s, bars and restaurants. Shifting its emphasis from the old day-time to an exciting evening economy.
Our wonderful town is re-inventing itself, with a quiet revolution of independent businesses, attracting other growth companies out from the cities, who all see the potential for change and growth, e.g. to flourish in art and history. A new ‘Public sector Hub’ is coming, alongside a new Town Hall, we have a new College Campus within walking distance and brand new trains on both rail lines which run through the town connecting Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Falkirk is a good town with good people and good intentions that is becoming great again. Trust me, it just needs some more of these stabilisers to get itself back on track, and become once again, a great place for families, the young and the old alike.
All around, it’s on the march, like those old Roman Legions currently being celebrated along the nearby Antonine Wall. With lots of attractions, Falkirk is writing its next chapter and I’m certainly going to be part of it!
Christie Frail is a pupil at St. Mungo’s High School, Falkirk.