Agenda: Paisley is a prime example of why towns matter

BY Adrian Watson, CEO, Aberdeen Inspired and Chairman of Association of Town and City Management Scotland

TOWNS matter. Urban areas of all sizes across the UK have been struggling for decades. Whether it’s the loss of our traditional industries such as manufacturing, or the evolution of our retail through the digital revolution, the way people live is completely transforming. Nowhere has been insulated from this change.

What has not been universal is the ability of towns and cities to respond to this change to ensure there is a bright future for local communities. For many places, reinvention is essential. The truth is most cities have found it a little easier than towns to generate the investment and focus required for this reinvention. 

In fact, regional centres which make a significant contribution to the wider UK economy are at the centre of urban reinvention and repositioning. Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham and my own city, Aberdeen, are making great strides forward to create new paths the future. However, are smaller conurbations getting the same investment? Is the contribution of towns to the UK economy any less than our big cities? In both cases the answer is “not necessarily”.

One town in particular has historically punched well above its weight in terms of its contribution both to Scotland and the UK, a contribution both economic and cultural. Paisley, a town derided for the pockets of deprivation it suffers from and its recent poor fortune with the loss of major employers from its town centre, is one of the UK’s hidden gems.

Globally famous for its thread industry that was once the envy of the world, its thread exports and patterned shawls helped to establish the town as a global manufacturing and textile powerhouse.  Not only did it play a key role in the development of the thread industry through J&P Coats Ltd, a business which began its life in Paisley, but at one point it was responsible for making 90 per cent of the world's sewing thread.. 

In recent times, Paisley has been hit hard by the erosion of manufacturing industries, compounded by a downturn in the fortunes of many town centres as consumer behaviour has changed. The potential is there for the reinvention of this town, breaking negative contemporary perceptions and reconnecting the town’s communities with its heritage. City of Culture status would take this reinvention to the next level.


Erin Lafferty, Orla Morrow, Jessica Russell with a colourful painted life-size lion sculpture created as part of the Pride of Paisley Wild in art project which was part of the town's bid for UK City of Culture 2021.

Hosting the 2021 title would create 4,700 jobs over a 10-year period, generate an estimated £172m economic boost, bring almost one million visitors in 2021, attract massive investment in infrastructure and leave a lasting economic legacy establishing the town as a visitor destination and a hub for creative industry. It will also help tackle poverty by harnessing the power of culture to make people’s lives better.

Most importantly, City of Culture status would give its communities a new sense of pride, allowing the town to move forward. This has already begun with the commercialisation of the world famous Paisley Pattern and the nurturing of creative talent through a dedicated Cultural Heritage and Events Fund. Becoming UK City of Culture would boost this effort.

Strong local community and business support for the bid is a clear indication of its importance to the local economy. We’re delighted to see a Scottish town make so much progress.

Towns matter, but do not always attract the same level of investment as the cities.  We hope the story is different for Paisley - this town matters more than most.


The Herald
5th December 2017