West Kilbride Community Initiative Limited
In the mid 1990’s the centre of West Kilbride was in serious economic decline with over half of the retail premises boarded up and empty. The community was demoralised and vandalism and disrepair was evident throughout the village.
In 1998 a group of community activists and elected representatives, supported by the community, launched West Kilbride Community Initiative Limited (WKCIL) as a vehicle to regenerate the community by creating Scotland’s only designated Craft and Design town.
The ethos of the organisation was to use crafts in the social, economic, cultural and environmental regeneration of the community. In doing so, the underlying principle was that craft was at the centre of the activities of Craft Town Scotland
Over the subsequent years, the Initiative with support from funders has bought or been gifted a total 9 studios along the main streets which offer affordable rents to a wide range of makers.
In May 2012 the Barony Centre was opened creating a focal point and showcase for the Craft Town Scotland initiative. This is housed in a multi-award winning redevelopment of a 19th Century Grade ‘C’ listed church. The derelict church was renovated with the support of £1.7 million cocktail of grants from a number of funders including the Big Lottery Scotland.
The creative programme and specialist focus rapidly established the facility as a pre-eminent Exhibition, Education and Events venue for Craft and Design in Scotland. The Centre itself was open 7 days a week throughout the year and attracted 20,000 visitors per annum since opening in 2012.
However despite significant national recognition and a determined creative team the Barony Centre was unable to achieve sustainability and could not continue without significant grant aid or core funding. This situation was not acceptable and with the support of our stakeholders two in depth reviews were carried out in May 2017. Between January and July 2017 the Board explored other models and in August 2017 a new community based focus was introduce which has brought a lively and dynamic new approach to the business.
Working with various business support agencies and North Ayrshire Council in the following months changes were made and progress could be observed:
- Finances carefully analysed, managed and closely monitored by the Board
- Communication improved at all levels eg with volunteers, makers, members
- Cafe, Exhibition and Retail income improved and along with the
Studios will help to meet the target of 80% income from trading
- Gift shop now includes more affordable item that will appeal to the locals
- Exhibition area now has a selling focus rather than being bought in
- The recent Grass Roots and Photoshots event was a great success and with the Cunningham Art Club introduced a range of new people to The Barony.
- Local consultation was a great success and highlighted the support from
the community – a number of projects have been planned as a result of the consultation
- Investigating new outreach programme with the Fullerton Community in Irvine and Creative Works
- Still have £30k shortfall which is being addressed with a multifaceted approach
The difference that Craft Town Scotland makes
CTS seeks to use crafts as both an attractor and a vehicle for the regeneration of the local community. It looks to work in partnership with other local, regional and national organisations that share their objectives.
- CTS aims to make a positive difference by:
Engaging with makers and audiences in the crafting community
- Using craft as a vehicle to improve social wellbeing and reduce social isolation
- Building community cohesion through activities that inspire personal and community confidence
- Creating a critical mass of activity associated with crafts that leads to the social, economic, cultural and environmental regeneration of the community
CTS is a 4-star VisitScotland Visitor Attraction currently operating 8 Craft studios and the Barony Centre. The Craft Town initiative has underpinned West Kilbride’s recognition as one of Scotland’s most creative communities, winning a Year of Creative Scotland Creative Place Award in 2012.
The Craft Studios
The Craft studios are open to the public 3 days a week throughout the year, where visitors can buy work direct from makers and experience the making process first hand. In addition, a small gallery exhibition space and a community gift shop complement the range of work on show in the studios.
Growing Our Creative Enterprises and Entrepreneurs
The support offered by WKCIL has enabled makers to grow their business and to be able to move on to purchase their own studios or to rent larger accommodation for the increased demand. This has released WKCIL studios for new creative entrepreneurs and has stimulated in our village and is contributing to economic growth.
We are cultivating creativity, culture, history and heritage and creating a vibrant and interesting place in which to live, work and socialise. An increasing number of people are choosing to move in to this community as its reputation is growing in all aspects of the Creative Arts.
We are also aware of the contribution we may make to extended communities throughout North Ayrshire and have shared initial ideas for ideas for twinning with areas which are experiencing increasing high levels of deprivation. We will share our projects with them and this ideas have been welcomed by local community leaders and workers.
Our entrepreneurs – developing richness and economic growth
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. AirTricity 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.