Now Leith looks the business

BUSINESSES owners in Leith will have the chance to see their shop fronts restored to their former glory after £200,000 was secured to preserve the town’s historic heart.

The Leith Townscape Heritage Initiative will offer grants to refurbish stores with traditional fixtures, including signs, fascias, windows and doors.

The scheme is part of an ongoing five-year plan to improve the urban realm of the district with a £6 million grant.

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Around £100,000 is being allocated for shop fronts and another £100,000 for building restoration.

A previous project with a £50,000 budget saw businesses restored to their original style.

It also saw the recent restoration of the ground floor of the former State Cinema from a dilapidated exterior to its white 1920s Art Deco exterior.

Tom Hogarth moved his magazine and web publishing company, What’s On Publications, into the Great Junction Street building in 2008.

He said restoring the grade B listed building was not always straightforward, but was worth the effort.

“Prior to us moving in, the building was a taxi office and, frankly, a bit of a dump,” he said. “I attended the launch of the shop front grant scheme at the end of 2009 and I felt it was a great opportunity.

“Because it is a listed building in a conservation area, it did take some time to get the grant and satisfy the planning criteria.

“But I am very happy with the result both outside and inside the building.”

Mr Hogarth said the move had made the area more attractive to businesses.

He added: “The neighbouring shop and a number of other businesses in the area have signed up for the scheme. There seem to be more shops and less ‘To Let’ signs now.”

The scheme offers business owners up to 75 per cent grants to refurbish shop fronts.

Project officer Lesley Porteous said it was a good way of preserving the key features and character of the Leith Conservation Area.

“This was becoming quite a run-down area with some very unattractive shop fronts,” she said.

“It has really improved the look and feel of the area and, hopefully, will have a positive economic impact.”