The Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries is a grassroots initiative to regenerate the town centre through community ownership of the high street. Formed in 2017, the project arose out of a desire to repopulate the heart of the town and breathe new life into derelict shops.
In the early 2000’s, there was a feeling amongst the community in Dumfries that their town had fallen into a state of disrepair. Once known as ‘the Queen of the South’ for its prosperity, the former market town was now struggling to retain both businesses and residents, as competition from online retailers and excessively high rent prompted stores to close. Many of the local shops lay abandoned, and the high street had one of the lowest residential rates in Scotland.
Initial attempts at rectifying the situation were led by the council in a top down approach which ultimately failed. In 2007, Dumfries and Galloway’s Chamber of Commerce purchased 100 High Street, an empty shop in the middle of the town, using a grant from the Scottish Government.
Their aim was to create a cultural attraction to bring visitors to the area; however, the nature of the grant meant it could only be used for the purchase and refurbishment of the building. Without money for staffing or running costs, the council lacked a delivery plan and the building remained empty. It likely would have remained this way if it were not for a local arts collective called the Stove Network.
In 2011, the Stove leased the building from the council and transformed it into an arts centre with an exhibition space and café. They began holding public events which centred on the town’s identity and the future of the high street. What emerged from these discussions was a collective desire to improve the high street as a way of regenerating the town as a whole.
From these consultations, several principals emerged to form a masterplan. The first stipulated that any redevelopment changes should be led by the community.
The second centred on a vision of the town as an inclusive area which provided opportunities not only for retail, but leisure, culture and learning. This would help create a mixed economy which balanced the needs of residents with retailers.
Lastly, affordable rented accommodation was needed to repopulate the high street. The decline of the town centre had led to only one family living there long term, draining the local economy of talent and resources.
Using these principles as a guide, the Stove Network helped to found Dumfries High Street Limited (DHSL), a community benefit society which trades under the name Midsteeple Quarter. An independent organisation, Midsteeple Quarter is the the only artist-led Community Development Trust in the UK, and is run by a board chosen by residents.
Its aim is to redevelop a block of eight buildings on the high street, many of which are listed or have a historic significance to the town. As well as diversifying the town centre, Midsteeple Quarter will also allow for affordable accommodation to be created by redeveloping the flats above the properties.
The project has been embraced as a template for regeneration by both the Scottish Government and the local council, who have contributed £100,000 from their Town Centre Living Fund to support its development.