There are difficulties when attempting to pinpoint the exact reasons for a town or city’s continued prosperity. Celebrities such as Mary Portas provide high-profile examples of the efforts being made to revitalise the UK’s high streets, but what exactly is it that generates success in some places while others appear to flounder? Is there such a thing as a ‘magic formula’ for improving the quality of life for people in a town?
Cittaslow UK’s recently announced collaboration with Newcastle University to obtain an AHRC (Arts & Humanities Research Council) sponsored PhD should begin to shed some light on the subject in the coming years, and this exciting development will provide concrete academic evidence and indicators but in the meantime it is a simple case of ferretting out the clues.
It takes time: days, weeks, months, years as well as the support of the local authority, businesses, and residents to have anything like the level of success enjoyed by Perth. There is no ‘top-down’ solution; change and growth have to come from grassroots initiatives, from every member of the community and then it still needs local and regional governmental support. What is most striking about Perth is the way that all of these elements knit together to form a strong community.
Take Perth Farmers’ Market. Scotland’s first Farmers’ Market was borne from a desire by local farmer, Jim Fairlie, to create a better relationship between local farmers and local shoppers resulting in fairer prices for farmers and high quality produce for consumers. This idea has grown from its very humble origins of 12 stalls in 1999 to up to 40 stalls today and there are now over 50 regular farmers’ markets held throughout Scotland including another three in Perth & Kinross. Running on the first Saturday of the month in Perth, the farmers’ market is a testament to what can be achieved when everybody is pulling in the same direction. A walk along King Edward Street and St John’s Place provides all the evidence needed that this initiative enjoys the support of the whole community, thanks in no small part to the continued assistance of Perth & Kinross Council.
Time and thought goes into weighing up the benefits of each application for a stall to ensure that, as much as possible, all produce comes from within a 50 mile radius, fits with the market’s local producer’s ethos, and isn’t becoming too biased towards one product (too many butchers or honey pots is good for neither trade nor shoppers). So, there’s Seriously Good Venison, that’s so good Gordon Ramsay said, “I can confirm that their venison is truly delicious”; Cairn O’Mohr Winery, who make wines from locally grown fruit and leaves and work with the Carse of Gowrie Heritage Orchards Group to produce cider and apple juice; then there’s local fish, fruit & veg, home baking – just remember to take a lot of carrier bags (and cash – plenty of cash because you are going to want to buy an awful lot of goodies).
Perth & Kinross is a progressive council, happy to put financial support and serious man-hours into helping local initiatives get off the ground, and stay successful. The wonderfully hard working Project Officer, Kay Lamb, is one such example. Her role is about as diverse as it gets within regional government. Working with Council colleagues on Cittaslow initiatives ranging from encouraging composting at home, managing well-kept green spaces and keeping an up-to-date register of locally produced goods and producers within the natural hinterland of Perth, Kay’s role also includes supporting numerous food initiatives in schools and the community, as well as organising a wide variety of food and drink related events through Slow Food Perth, which was set up as part of Perth’s Cittaslow application.
Perth and Kinross Councillor and Cittaslow Champion, Jack Coburn, is one of Perth’s well-known and best-loved characters. He has an easy charm and affability, with a genuine passion for supporting a huge variety of local businesses and restaurants such as Tabla Restaurant where the spices, chillies, garlic and ginger are produced by the family of the owner on a small farm in central India, or 63 Tay Street where Chef/Owner Graeme Pallister has set up a kitchen within a local primary school to teach kids about food from an early age.
He is also a tireless campaigner for Perth, an international ambassador who is as much at home speaking at a Cittaslow conference in Poland as he is amongst the market traders on a Saturday morning. Jack Coburn, Kay Lamb and Douglas Ritchie, of Tourism and Leisure Solutions, the consultancy firm originally tasked with supporting and facilitating Perth’s Cittaslow application, form the cornerstone of Cittaslow in Perth, working with a plethora of businesses, individuals and councillors. All are quick to promote Perth’s achievements and support events through their combined expertise and knowledge.
When it comes to Cittaslow’s goals concerning Heritage, Regeneration Manager John McCrone has his finger firmly on the pulse. Earlier this year Historic Scotland announced £7.69m worth of heritage grants for Scotland’s cities over the next three years and Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust has worked hard to ensure it meets the relevant criteria. This is a fantastic achievement for the city that has secured, £650k to be invested in Perth’s historic environment over the next three years, most notably with regards to the repair and improvement of historic properties to meet demand for commercial, cultural, leisure, residential and retail uses that will support the tourist and business economy; this will be overseen by a soon-to-be-established Perth City Heritage Fund.
Finally, this article couldn’t be written without reporting on the huge success of Perth’s recent Jubilee celebrations. If ever there was an event to illustrate just how this community comes together then this is it. With attendance figures estimated to be around 10,000 the Jubilee celebrations were a terrific spectacle and a huge source of pride to the city.
Given a warm welcome by Perth & Kinross Chief Executive, Bernadette Malone, more than 1,100 musicians came from Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Pakistan, the Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, the USA and Zimbabwe to Scotland’s newest city. Pipers from marching bands across Scotland and the world joined Brownies, Rainbows, Cubs and Scouts in a parade that snaked along city streets from the North Inch, through Perth City Centre, returning to the North Inch via Tay Street. Soldiers from 4 SCOTS (The Highlanders) and 7 SCOTS (51st Highland Volunteers Territorial Army Battalion, including The Black Watch) marched at the head of the parade. It concluded with a performance that led into The Big Jubilee Lunch and the annual 8k Kilt Run. £10 and a kilt gained entry for this run that was also an attempt to break the record for the most people taking part in a run in kilts. Attendees from the current title-holders Perth, Ontario, Canada also ran but even that was not enough to beat the record this year.
Regardless of this, spirits remained high throughout a day filled with picnics, fun, music, performances, bagpipes and more…
Provost Liz Grant said: “This was very exciting musical collaboration bringing together pipers, drummers and pipe bands from all over the world to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the traditions and beauty of Scottish music. I am delighted that we had so many performers coming from so far afield who spent time in Perth and Kinross and enjoyed what we have to offer.”
Spending time here makes it blindingly obvious why this is such a great place to live, work and visit – the people of Perth are what make this city so special. It’s something that can’t be found on spreadsheets or in business plans, but the rich sense of community is such a tangible substance it’s a shame it can’t be captured and sold by the truckload.
They’d make a fortune.