One of Scotland’s leading entrepreneurs will co-ordinate a new community-led initiative to re-energise Aberdeen’s Union Street.
Former FTSE 100 chief executive Bob Keiller has agreed to lead Our Union Street, a start-up organisation which will seek to bring new businesses and people to the Granite Mile.
The organisation is currently raising funds to take premises on Union Street – but first it is seeking ideas from everyone who wants to improve the city centre.
A new website – ourunionstreet.com – has been set-up to allow residents and businesses to get in touch and share their thoughts.
Mr Keiller, who was part of the team which rescued and turned around Glencraft following its collapse in 2009, hopes to build a community which can deliver “a thousand small steps for the city centre that, collectively, can make a big difference for Aberdeen”.
He said: “Union Street is not what it used to be, it’s not what it should be, and it’s not what it can be.
“People care about the state of Union Street; they care that many retail units sit empty and uninviting, they care about graffiti, litter, dirty buildings, weeds growing on balconies and the general upkeep of the street.
“They want Union Street to be a safe, busy, energetic, thriving thoroughfare that compares favourably with the best of UK’s small cities.
“And they want somebody to take responsibility for addressing these challenges and improving the street; a consistent, concerted effort with plans, actions and progress.
“To date, there has been no single body that has the remit to take on these challenges and opportunities. That’s what the brand-new organisation is for.”
The idea was raised November’s emergency Union Street summit and the organisation is being set-up by Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, Aberdeen Inspired, Aberdeen City Council and Opportunity North East, with additional support from Shell, which recently relocated to the street.
They will seek to raise capital and provide the governance for the not-for-profit organisation, which is in the early stages of being set-up.
The partners wanted a unifying and collaborative figure to lead the effort, and approached Mr Keiller, who has agreed to provide his services for free.
He will now seek to build an army of volunteers drawn from all corners of Aberdeen to help arrest decades of decline in the city centre.
“I want to help because I care – I want Aberdeen to have a vibrant and clean Union Street,” he said.
“I don’t own any property on Union Street, I don’t have any interest in any businesses that operate on Union Street and I am not looking to gain anything.
“I have not stepped forward because it sounds easy – I have chosen to get involved because it will be hard.
“We cannot go back in time and change shopping habits, or change decisions that have been made in the city centre. We can only start from now and make changes that improve the future.”
Our Union Street will take a pro-active approach to filling the 47 empty shops on Union Street, and will shortly be launching a nationwide hunt for new businesses.
However, many of the objectives and interventions taken on by the organisation will be shaped by an extended period of listening.
Mr Keiller added: “So far, we think that our priorities should be focussed on filling the empty retail units – supported by the council’s £500,000 investment in its empty shops plan – and, in the meantime, making the empty units look less abandoned and unloved.
“We also think that the upkeep of the street – the buildings, the pavements, the street furniture – could all be improved, something which was highlighted numerous times at the recent Union Street summit.
“But what else should we be looking at? What are the small things and what are the bigger concepts? What are the crazy ideas that you have chatted to your friends about? What have you seen working well elsewhere?”
Visit www.ourunionstreet.com to share your views with the organisation.