Town Toolkit | Community led: Midsteeple, Dumfries
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Community led: Midsteeple, Dumfries

Like many towns throughout Scotland, Dumfries town centre has its fair share of empty and poorly maintained buildings. But rather than simply accepting that as a given, the local community is doing something about it. They are buying up buildings and redeveloping them for new businesses and homes, to bring new life into the town centre. How are they going about it?

Midsteeple Quarter is a response to what emerged from community engagement led by The Stove Network, a community-led social enterprise in the town centre, which revealed a consensus amongst local people, businesses, groups and agencies for a more diverse town centre with more residents, a mix of new businesses/shops, and culture, leisure and services. The project focuses on a section of the High Street, adjacent to the Midsteeple, where almost all the properties have been empty or disused for some time. Many are significantly decayed as a result of neglect by absentee owners: a familiar story for many towns across Scotland.

The Midsteeple Quarter project will see the local community take back control of this group of underused and neglected High Street buildings and refurbish them as a contemporary living, working, socialising, learning and enterprising quarter: “a new beating heart for the town that could be a catalyst to grow a new thriving and resilient town”. The intention is to create over 60 new homes and 50 commercial spaces.

The project is being delivered by a community-led property development company (a community benefit society called Dumfries High Street Limited, trading as Midsteeple Quarter). Voting membership is open to everyone in Dumfries; its 400 members elect a board annually, who employ a project team for day-to-day delivery. The Blueprint for the Quarter contains the economic case for the project and a phased and costed masterplan for its delivery. It is intended to be a tool to bring in other stakeholders: the local community, local authority, housing organisations and other funders.

Midsteeple Quarter, the organisation, is wholly independent. It continues to work in partnership with The Stove Network and other organisations. Funding has been sourced from the local community, Dumfries and Galloway Council (Town Centre Living Fund), The Holywood Trust (which is focussed on young people in Dumfries and Galloway), Scottish Government (Regeneration Capital Grant Fund), South of Scotland Economic Partnership and Creative Scotland in order to help get the project up and running with solid foundations. As the project progresses, it will tap into other sources of funding as well as building commercial elements into the overall project.

The eight buildings in the project area are owned by a mixture of public and private investors. One of the most prominent buildings, 135-139 High Street, was owned by the local authority and transferred to the community development company through a Community Asset Transfer. Plans are at an advanced stage to completely redevelop this property by 2022 as a creative enterprise centre at street level and six new flats for rent on upper floors. The ground floor has operated as The Oven, a pop-up community and creative space, since late 2018. The Oven kept simmering even during the coronavirus lockdown in 2020 as an experimental and prototyping contemporary art space with online shows and events.

Check out the blueprint for Midsteeple Quarter for more details, and the Inspiration section of this Toolkit to learn more about the exciting collaborations that are happening in Dumfries town centre.

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