Online shopping, out-of-town retail parks and a cost-of-living crisis have hit many high streets across Scotland hard.
Paisley in Renfrewshire was one of the worst affected, as big name brands like M&S, McDonalds and Argos left the town centre.
But the town is starting to feel the impact of huge investment in its high street, worth a total of about £100m.
Paisley Town Hall has been refurbished as an entertainment venue, and a new central library has opened on the former site of a derelict shop.
Later this year a refurbished arts centre will open, and next year will bring a redeveloped Paisley Museum, with Renfrewshire Council estimating it will attract 125,000 visitors a year.
It is hoped the investment could help tempt more people to visit or even live in the town centre.
BBC Scotland News has spoken to the people involved in Paisley’s revival, including architects, planners and local business owners.
‘We want Paisley to succeed’
Elaine Fulton’s family-owned business Paisley Gift Cart is on the town’s High Street.
« It’s been quite hard dragging people into Paisley. The biggest blow was losing the Marks & Spencer’s outlet store to the new retail park, » Elaine said.
« But we’re very positive, we work really hard and we want Paisley to succeed.
« So having the museum? Amazing. Having the library? Amazing, » Elaine added.
« But we’re worried the council might get rid of free parking for three hours to pay for these projects and that’d be crazy, » she said.
Elaine is passionate about Paisley and called for local people to come and support local businesses.
« Buy local or bye bye local, » a sign reads in her store.
But she’s realistic that Paisley cannot fight for the same customers as huge shopping centres like Silverburn and Braehead.
« Paisley’s ideal to become a craft town like West Kilbride, we can’t compete with Braehead, » she added.
‘I think 2025 will be our year’
Houston Kiltmakers has been in Paisley for more than a century and has passed through four generations. It is now run by Ewan Macdonald and his father, Ken.
« Paisley used to be a booming and buoyant town, but then out-of-town shopping centres killed it, » Ewan said.
« But now all this restoration is bringing Paisley back, so there’s definitely hope.
« We haven’t seen business pick up yet, but I think when the museum opens across the road, it’ll pick up a wee bit – I think 2025 will be our year, » he said.
Both Houston Kiltmakers and Paisley Gift Cart received direct investment as part of a council project to restore storefronts and pavements.
The townscape and heritage project paid for up to 90% of the cost of restoring the original architecture of Paisley shopfronts.
« It made a huge difference, we need more of that, » Elaine Fulton said.
Replacing shops with homes
In 2020, Threesixty Architecture worked with Renfrewshire Council to produce a town-centre vision showing how the area could change by 2030.
Their research found that Paisley had too many shops and that they could be replaced with new flats and services, like health centres.
It proposed that the Paisley Centre – a declining shopping centre on the High Street – be redeveloped into residential flats, a hotel and a health centre.
Beyond Retail, which purchased the centre in 2021, is now developing on the plans with Threesixty and Renfrewshire Council.
Similar schemes are now under way in East Kilbride, Falkirk and Clydebank.
« These projects are long-term, we’ve spent 50 years destroying high streets so it takes time to build them back up », said Alan Anthony, the architecture firm’s director.
He said there were four ways to revive high streets:
Redevelop stores – empty shops can be repurposed or redeveloped into new services or homes
Build attractions – town centres should have a mixture of things that residents need and want to go to, like schools, museums, cinemas, health and leisure services
Bring back nightlife – more pubs and restaurants in central areas keep town centres busier and safer when combined with town-centre repopulation
Community-led development – businesses, arts groups, schools and residents should work with the council to decide what is best for the area
‘Make it a nicer place to live’
Prof James White, an urban studies professor at the University of Glasgow, said the proposed plan for the Paisley centre was a « really progressive, sensible and exciting proposal ».
A similar plan is happening with the St Enoch’s Centre in Glasgow.
« If you want people to live on the high street, you need to make it a nicer place to live, » he said.
« That starts with small things, improving the built environment with good lighting, attractive shopfronts, and adding trees and greenery. »
There is excitement among neighbouring business owners who could benefit from the development, like Elaine Fairfull.
Her business, Fairfull Cafe, has been on the High Street for 12 years and sits across the road from the proposed Paisley Centre site.
« I’m not excited for disruptive construction but we feel unbelievably positive, » she said.
« New developments have already made a difference, so any kind of housing is great. »
Of the £100m to be invested in Paisley, about £59m is coming from Renfrewshire Council, with the rest coming from various funds like the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and from the Scottish government.
Renfrewshire councillor Lisa-Marie Hughes said she wanted Paisley to « be the blueprint for how you change things ».
But a « one-size-fits-all » solution to town centre development cannot work, according to Prof White, a sentiment that Mr Anthony also agreed with.
« Councils need leadership and vision, someone who will stand up and stop the production of any more out-of-town retail parks, » Prof White said.
Both Prof White and Mr Anthony said there was no way to revitalise a town centre without engaging the local community – and local business owners agree.
« The council should come and speak to local businesses and find out what we need, » said Elaine Fulton.
« Local business is what makes this town, if department stores leave, local businesses will still be there, » she added.
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