This year’s venue for A&DS’s Place Challenge (28-29 October) was Arbroath – a town of some 25,000 people on the coastal route from Dundee to Aberdeen.
It has a lot going for it: a compact centre around a characterful High Street curving sinuously from the (working) harbour right up to the 12th century Abbey, which sits right in the town not isolated outside it; pleasant housing areas conveniently close by; good rail and road links: so a distinctive place set between the sea and the Angus countryside.
It is, though, surprisingly little known. It has name recognition all right – Arbroath Smokies, with their EU designation, and the Declaration of Arbroath (“it is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom”), 1320’s ringing affirmation of Scottish independence. But as a place, few even among the many Scots at the event seemed to know it.
And of course it has, like most places, its own legacy of poor planning decisions that undermine its appeal and its potential strength: a dualled A92 which batters its way between the centre and the West Port / Station area; odd and overbearing flats with the telling nickname of ‘the skinny blocks’; out-of-town retail sucking spending from the heart of the town. Yet the High Street – which has its share of vacancy, right enough – is in better shape than many of our towns’ centres; and it was one of the focus points for our ‘Town Centre Living’ Place Challenge event.
Most of the two days were spent at another of Arbroath’s little-known gems: the wonderful Arts-&-Crafts-cum-Scottish-Baronial house at Hospitalfield. Between 1843 and 1890, the artist Patrick Allan Fraser and his wife Elizabeth used a mediaeval monastery site to create an estate which they then left in trust as a place of learning for artists – and, for a while, our A&DS delegates. The challenge to them was to understand what town centre living could mean, using Arbroath as a tool to bring learning back home. Inspiring examples of practice from all over Scotland came from twelve visiting project reps – including a scheme from nearby Kirriemuir, the imaginative and people-focussed social housing at Glengate. And we benefitted too from really positive and generous support from the team at Angus Council, with local background, site visits and exemplar projects.
One of the Place Challenge teams came up with the idea of a ‘Food Town’ approach. Some work needed, perhaps: the restaurant your correspondent went to had run out of Smokies…
Martin Crookston, Board Member A&DS