Dumfries high street like a 'playground' for those creating new opportunities

Dumfries town centre has been described as a ghost town. While that description is not entirely fair, shop owners say there has certainly been a drop in the number of people visiting.

With that comes empty shops and there are certainly lots of them too. Businesses close down or move away leaving spaces to lie vacant, sometimes for years.

Martin O'Neil runs Dumfries Music Conference. Credit: ITV Border

But it's not all doom and gloom. There are a number of community organisations working to change the makeup of the high street.

They believe arts and culture can become a massive pull factor and have started developing plans and hosting events.

Martin O'Neil, who runs Dumfries Music Conference, sees these empty shops as an opportunity, not to make money, but to encourage young musical talent.

His organisation takes over abandoned buildings and puts on special gigs.

Martin said: "An empty high street is like a playground to us now. It is no longer the kind of place where markets or landowners play monopoly with our time. It's time we reclaim what's ours and reinterpret what our high street can before now and the future.

Katharine Wheeler is part of The Stove Network. Credit: ITV Border

Katharine Wheeler is part of The Stove Network which has been looking at how best to bring people back to the town centre. She said: "The Stove has tried to re-imagine what the 21st century high street can look like. What's its new purpose when big retail is failing?

"How can it be specific to the communities and the place? It needs to be about experience and we need to bring people back into the high street through the living and much smaller multi-use spaces."

One of those multi-use spaces is The Oven, the building which used to be the Bakers Oven. It is due to be renovated but at the moment it houses art exhibitions.

Creative Director of The Oven Peter Smith. Credit: ITV Border

Creative Director, Peter Smith said: "The project is trying to bring arts into the town centre and open up opportunities that people would otherwise find limiting... and to bring that onto the high street so it becomes part of peoples lives."

With plans in place the message from those in Dumfries is that the high street isn't dying but changing into something new.

  • High Streets: End of the Road? – Tonight will be broadcast on Thursday 16th January at 7.30pm on ITV