UWS plans enterprise hub at former Johnnie Walker site

Plans have been unveiled to create an enterprise and innovation hub as part of the regeneration of Diageo's former bottling plant site in Kilmarnock.

Marie Macklin and Professor Ehsan Mesbahi sign the agreement aimed at creating an innovation hub in Kilmarnock. Picture: Contributed

The University of the West of Scotland (UWS) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the company behind the £65 million scheme, dubbed Halo, in a bid to provide more opportunities for training, work placements and entrepreneurial support in the region.

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Halo director Marie Macklin signed the agreement with Professor Ehsan Mesbahi, UWS vice-principal, at a ceremony at the university’s Paisley campus.

An artist's impression of the Halo 'urban park' planned for the former Diageo site. Picture: Contributed

Macklin, who was recently named Scotland’s non-executive director of the year, said: “A critical element in The Halo’s success will be the collaboration between the public, private and educational sectors in order that we meet the aspirations and needs of the people of Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire and beyond.

“We are confident that, working together with UWS, we can create an enterprise and innovation hub that will provide Ayrshire with a meaningful place in the fourth industrial revolution, the digital world.”

An artist's impression of the Halo 'urban park' planned for the former Diageo site. Picture: Contributed

Mesbahi added: “We are excited by the opportunity to be closely involved in creating an enterprise and innovation hub that would include digital and cyber research. This would provide intensive, varied and practical learning opportunities for our students to gain knowledge and develop the entrepreneurial skills that are in such short supply in the sector.

“There is potential for creating a distinctive learning experience that would attract students from around the world and equip local students with internationally-recognised qualifications to develop their futures as entrepreneurs.”

Plans for the Halo project also include 3,000 square metres of office space, 175 affordable rented homes, a landscaped public plaza, an energy centre powering a district heating system and a year-round leisure and water sports facility.

Despite rallies by workers and political interventions, Diageo pressed ahead with the closure of its bottling plant at the site in 2012, ending a link that began in 1820 when John “Johnnie” Walker started selling the drink in his grocer’s shop in the town. The move led to 700 job losses.

As well as throwing its weight behind the Halo scheme, Diageo gifted part of the former Hill Street plant for the new Ayrshire College, which was officially opened by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the end of last year.