This is part two of my Forth Valley Chronicles, and as I sat down at my desk just a 30-minute journey from Stirling’s City Centre - I posed myself the question: ‘Why does it matter to me?’
And the answer is, it's a childhood memory - and a current work challenge.
Back to the beginning. I remember the excitement of my first shopping trip with my friends. And no parents. Would you believe it? That was my perception of “Freedom” back then, not that depicted in Braveheart, or as Covid restrictions eased on July 19th.
First years at High School, 5ft 3 at a push (like Mel Gibson portraying William Wallace) – equally, we thought we were invincible.
Our parents waved us off from Falkirk Grahamston Station the freedom we felt as we headed towards Stirling. All 9 of us.
The sheer joy of entering the Thistles Centre to browse the shops, grabbed a smoothie and stop for lunch. Literally covering every square inch of the shops that we had no intention of purchasing from.
And now that seems like a fantasy. Just like the movie...
I am nineteen now, stretched to 5ft 9 and in that time, Stirling seems to have shrunk in its attractiveness to my generation. I find my friends and I walking around thinking ‘What has happened to this place?’ The shops are empty, and their windows are filled with ‘To Let’ stickers that are peeling at the edge, obviously they have been there for quite some time. The once busy benches and stalls are now free to sit on simply because there is no competition for them now. We’re realising that as time has passed we have been slowly watching our town centres retreat into an abyss.
We really must consider the future of town centre shopping and do something before it is too late. These facilities have faced major decline due to competition from online shopping and ubiquitous retail parks, both trends accelerated by the pandemic.
As the Gateway to the Highlands – Stirling has so much potential. It is such a gorgeous place with brilliant people – and now my visits to Stirling consist mainly of climbing the rolling hills, searching for all the tiny little specks of people from my view at the top of Dumyat. A true Saviour through hard times. Getting outdoors. And from the top there are stunning views of the River Forth. So, what does Stirling really have to offer, and how will it survive sustainably post-Covid?
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.
So, what does this mean for the people living in the Stirling (and Clackmannanshire) area?
Businesses will be able to thrive with improved access to support. Stirling 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 - Stirling will be memorable, for all the right reasons.
And there’s a lot of visitors - Stirling is a town of tourism. That comes as no surprise with all of its history, a global footprint from the Scottish Wars of Independence at Stirling and Bannockburn. Stirling Castle received more than 605,000 visits in 2019, the second most visited attraction in Scotland – second only to Edinburgh Castle. In 2014, £463million was the total economic impact of tourism in Stirling. One can only imagine the positive impacts the City Region Deal will have on tourism. Including a special fund of £15 million for the Culture, Heritage and Tourism programme.
It is a reassuring investment, particularly after the 17 months of lockdowns, furlough, and challenge to overall productivity. In Stirling, 11.6% of people were on furlough in June 2020, compared to 8.2% nationally. And not to forget mentioning that Stirling is one of the most polarised places on the SIMD, with areas of extreme poverty and areas of extreme wealth. I am confident that Stirling will be able to, not only survive, but improve its operations in the coming months by using the assets it has and being involved in the Regional Economic Partnership with Clackmannanshire and Falkirk.
Stirling is unique. With such strong cultural history notable in the Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle, great connectivity across the heart of Scotland and of course, its people. A huge asset is its position in the Forth Valley Region – it contributes to the wonderful cluster with its mobility and entrepreneur-ship: combined with Clacks natural beauty along and around the Ochils and the modern tourism of Falkirk as seen in the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies. The key strategic position provides the Forth Valley with excellent access to Glasgow and Edinburgh and encourages Staycations not just day visits.
But we should not be projecting history onto the present and certainly not the future. Stirling has so much to sing and dance about, and no I am not referring to the history lessons. There are incredible projects taking place in Stirling that are sustainable, future-forward and people-focused, such as, the Heat from Water Treatment Plan partnership with Scottish Water, Insulation and Housing Improvements, Scotland’s International Environmental Centre, Solar Panel powered Park and Rides, City fibred broadband which is the first such fully facilitated City in the UK.
Stirling is an entrepreneurial place – with one of the highest levels of start-ups in the UK. We must facilitate these businesses with hubs to grow and prosper. As a small city, which still has the homely feel of a large town – Stirling is punching well above its weight. But is there still a need for a change in mindset? What do we want Stirling’s future to look like?
Let’s not get bogged down about the closure of Thistles Centre stores, let’s re imagine this fine facility in the heart of the place – for people to use in different ways alongside a reshaped pattern of retail provision. We can future-proof our little gem.
So, Stirlingers (had to use Google to find that one out!) let’s not focus on the past. It’s time to look to the future folks.
Read Part 1 of Forth Valley Chronicles 'This will always be home' here.