AN AYRSHIRE town blighted by factory closures, high unemployment and the nightmare of being featured in the highly controversial reality TV series The Scheme is fighting back with a multi-million 21st-century regeneration.

Several years ago Kilmarnock, famed for its links to Robert Burns and Johnnie Walker whisky, was dealt another body blow after it was named as Scotland’s least desirable place to live in a book that names and shames the “crappiest towns” in the UK.

Despite the hard knocks over the years and the loss of its mining, engineering, textiles and whisky industries, Kilmarnock residents insist it has only made them stronger and more determined to save their town.

The hard work of East Ayrshire Council and the community to breathe new life into their town has finally been recognised after Kilmarnock was nominated for the most improved town in Scotland awards.

Kilmarnock’s only competition for the large town gong at the SURF – Scotland Independent Regeneration Network awards next month, is Irvine, another Ayrshire town.

Judges visited the town centre this week to see all the regeneration projects and meet the key players in the process from the local authority, business and voluntary organisations.

SURF was established in 1992 as a not-for-profit company to improve the health and wellbeing of residents in Scotland’s disadvantaged communities and the awards recognise excellence in areas where community, business and the private sector have worked together to bring about positive change.

East Ayrshire Council’s provost Jim Todd said: “Whatever the outcome, it’s a great thing for Ayrshire as a whole that we’ve been nominated alongside Irvine.

“It’s showing the rest of Scotland that there are great things going on here.

“We can all work together in our communities to bring about positive change. 

“The nomination has made us all look closely at just what we’ve already achieved. The community, social media and local businesses have been taking stock and it’s great to see so many people opening their eyes, supporting us and celebrating what’s so good about our town.” 

A cash injection of £12.4 million was plunged into the former Opera House, destroyed by fire over 20 years ago, and is one of 23 historic buildings in the town which have been fully restored.

They now house over 200 council and 900 private and public-sector workers, with 300 working in the former whisky warehouse, the Johnnie Walker Bond, which cost £22m, paid for by the Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme. This has increased the footfall in the town centre and in turn has boosted the huge number of independent retailers, restaurants and bars.

A further £3.1m was plunged into renovating the Palace Theatre and Grand Hall, and almost £1m went into upgrading the Dick Institute. 

Almost £5m was secured to set up the Kilmarnock Town Centre Business Hub in the heart of the town in John Finnie Street. 

The construction of the £53m Ayrshire College Campus, due for completion in 2016, has created 170 construction jobs and is being built next to the town’s upgraded railway station. At the top of John Finnie Street is the innovative station clock constructed with £250,000 of Heritage Lottery and council funding. 

Meanwhile, over the past few months, the train station has been refurbished and turned into a bustling commuter shopping and cafe hub.

Councillor Jim Buchanan said: “Regeneration is not just about a few old buildings – it’s about people, confidence, building skills and encouraging entrepreneurship.”

SOURCE: The National

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