The Future Paisley Partnership comprises 22 local and national organisations committed to driving forward Paisley’s cultural regeneration. In September 2019, the partnership went on a field trip to Glasgow’s East End to learn about the city’s place-based approaches to regeneration and the role of culture within them.
First stop was a meeting with Clyde Gateway at Red Tree Magenta, visiting the Athletes Village in Dalmarnock and the Cuningar Loop, where we learned that culture is woven through priorities of high quality jobs, homes, the environment, zero carbon, community and future. Next was a visit to the Baltic Street Adventure Playground in Dalmarnock, a community-led outdoor space where children can play on their own terms, grow and eat healthy food and learn skills for life.
We stopped at the Glasgow Women’s Library for lunch, getting an insight into their values, commitment to inclusion and artistic integrity as the only accredited museum in the UK dedicated to the history of women’s lives. Next, we visited David Dale Gallery and Studios and learned about its origins and development as an artist-led space. This was followed by a tour and discussion at Saint Luke’s and The Winged Ox Music and Arts Venue about its transformation from a church in a state of disrepair to a beautifully renovated and thriving venue.
Artists from Many Studios led the group on a walking tour of Barras area, visiting a number of creative businesses, from Glasgow Collective creative workspace, to Soul Food Sisters café, to 226 Gallowgate and Many Studios itself. Finally, at Barras Art and Design, we met with Cllr David MacDonald, Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council; Bridget McConnell and Jill Miller from Glasgow Life; and Prof Brian Evans, Glasgow’s City Urbanist.
The day provided many opportunities to learn from the dramatic physical transformations to have taken place in recent years – some event-led in relation to the 2014 Commonwealth Games, some following a different developmental trajectory.
We encountered debates about when the local authority should step in – and when it should take a step back and others should lead, whether local community members, artists or entrepreneurs (or those who might be all three).
A common thread through all of the sites we visited was the fundamental importance of partnership, whether in the establishment of the Clyde Gateway as a large-scale regeneration programme, or the story behind Soul Food Sisters as a café and catering social enterprise led by refugees, migrants and local women from diverse backgrounds. We found there was much for the Future Paisley Partnership to learn from Glasgow’s experience, just a few miles from our doorstep.
I was lucky enough to join Renfrewshire Council in autumn 2018 as part of a new Cultural Regeneration team established to build on the legacy of Paisley’s UK City of Culture bid. Our small team is responsible for developing an overarching, collaborative and unifying approach to cultural regeneration and renewal for Paisley and Renfrewshire more broadly.
For me, one of the exciting things about starting this new role was that Paisley hadn’t won the UK City of Culture 2021 competition, but had kick started a cultural regeneration process that could be developed on the town’s own terms. We don’t have to restrict our approach to one based on hosting a large-scale event and have the opportunity to focus on longer-term, sustainable transformation and change.
When I joined the team, so much had already been achieved by the bid. The foundation of Paisley’s bid was the town’s rich heritage, its radical and entrepreneurial spirit, its long history of creativity, innovation, making and industry. The bid journey built confidence in the town and envisioned new possibilities for Paisley’s future. It created a galvanising momentum for change across communities, which we can now build on as ‘UK City of Culture Bid Legacy’ becomes ‘Future Paisley’.
Future Paisley is based on a collaborative approach to cultural regeneration where culture can support as well as lead change. As we all know, culture is part of all our lives but is notoriously difficult to define. It can mean the arts (dance, music, literature, theatre and the visual arts), architecture, craft, design, museums, libraries, film and TV… and it can also mean everything that makes a place what it is: how people live in the present and understand their history, heritage and future. These broad ideas of culture shape Paisley’s approach to cultural regeneration.
In taking a broad view of culture, our approach promotes cultural change as a means of effecting economic and social change in Paisley, when it is integrated as part of a multi-disciplinary approach involving different views, areas of expertise and perspectives. It is a process in which culture can both lead and take a supporting role in other developments that could be led by health and social care, education or economic development.
Crucial to this is partnership. The Future Paisley Partnership Board, now comprising 22 local and national organisations, drove the bid and is committed to working together for Paisley’s future. The partnership is overseeing investment in culture to improve young people’s mental health and wellbeing, contribute to inclusive economic growth that benefits all our communities, and close the educational attainment gap, to name a few.
There are some very visible physical changes underway in the town, with the development of some fantastic new cultural venues. But cultural regeneration in Paisley is about much more than buildings and events. It is envisaged that by working in an integrated, collaborative way towards our shared priorities, Paisley’s cultural regeneration will have the maximum impact for all our communities in the future.