West Kilbride was once a thriving coastal town, with a boast that the needs of residents could be catered for from the cradle to the grave. A popular holiday destination for Glaswegians holidaying 'doon the water', at its peak local bus companies had to lay on additional buses during the Glasgow Fair.
By the mid 1990's the town's fortunes had taken a serious dip, with 21 out of 40 retail businesses having ceased trading. A local tragedy galvanised West Kilbride residents and politicians alike, a public meeting was organised in 1996 by the area's MP, local independent Councillor and other local activists. The area's assets were explored and, as tourism was a key industry in the area, it was agreed that the town would add to this by developing a specialised theme to help revitalise itself. Since the idea was first developed and WKCIL was formed in 1998, the creation of Scotland’s only designated Craft and Design town has underpinned a remarkable renaissance in the retail and community hub of West Kilbride.
The Moffat Charitable Trust purchased and refurbished the first two studios on behalf of WKCIL, currently eight studios, a contemporary exhibition gallery and a gift shop operate from the town. The main retail centre has changed from an almost derelict site to a lively town centre once more.
With limited public funding available (Scottish Enterprise Ayrshire contributed £115,000 over a 4 year period), WKCIL has raised significant sums of match funding and additional money to support the development of the craft town through local activities, notably collecting, selling and delivering second hand furniture, rental from craft studios and commission earned from exhibitions and retail craft sales. AirTrcity and British Nuclear Group also sponsored some development and promotion activities.
Despite limited resources and against a national tide of town centre decline, the retail heart of the town has been preserved. To date, this has been achieved at a relatively low cost to the public purse and a significant amount of community fundraising. Recognised nationally as an exemplar of enterprise, the pivotal role of the craft and design studios as West Kilbride’s “unique selling point” has been the driver of the town’s economic regeneration.
This innovative community led project is an inspiration to North Ayrshire and its people because the creation of Craft Town Scotland has managed to turn local economic problems into positive enterprising action. It may not be a huge commercial project, but the Craft Town has added real artistic and cultural value to the area, bringing long-term and deeply felt changes to the local economy. Jobs have been created and secured, and the quality of life for the people of West Kilbride is better.