Paisley 2021 bid lifts spirits in Ferguslie Park

Ferguslie Park. Picture: John Devlin
Ferguslie Park. Picture: John Devlin
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Elaine Carter has spent her 62 years in Ferguslie Park, where life has never been easy. Last year, the area was named as the most deprived part of Scotland for the second time in a row.

The estate finished bottom of a 7,000-strong list compiled as part of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, which is produced every four years.

A newsagent in Ferguslie Park. Picture: John Devlin.

A newsagent in Ferguslie Park. Picture: John Devlin.

But as far as Elaine is concerned, the last two years or so have been the best of times on Scotland’s toughest housing scheme on the north-western edge of Paisley, the nation’s biggest town.

She puts the surge in optimism down to Paisley’s bid to become UK’s City of Culture in 2021.

“This place is definitely buzzing a lot more than it was. People have got a sense of hope where they didn’t before,” says Elaine, a grandmother who had to retire from her job working at the local community centre on health grounds.

“Everyone is crossing their fingers – just hoping that we get it. It means so much to the younger generation – it gives them hope.”

Paisley, a former industrial hub which built its fortune on textiles and weaving, is up against Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland, Swansea and Coventry in the race to become City of Culture. The winner will be announced next month.

Mary-Ann Wright, 29, agrees that the bid has energised Paisley. She is a mother of four, who like so many here has overcome all manner of obstacles to raise a family.

READ MORE: Paisley makes city of culture shortlist

Despite pressing issues around her, Mary-Ann has found new hope and outlets for her creativity. She is a weekly visitor to Ferguslie’s community hub, the Tannahill Centre – where she joins other women in a self-help group.

In the last year, the group has been increasingly engaged with the bid.

“People are really positive about Paisley’s chances – this means so much to people and especially to the young ones,” she says. “It’s the children who will see the benefits if the town wins.

“Even if we don’t, people are more together than before. I really enjoyed getting involved with an arts project in town – it gave me an outlet for something I enjoy doing.

“It will mean so much if we get the title. Why not Paisley? We can do it.”

The team running Paisley’s bid talk about the potential for “massive” economic benefits and the opportunity to “change our town’s fortunes”.

They have every reason to be optimistic. Hull, the current UK City of Culture, has seen a £1bn investment since winning the bid in 2013 and it is estimated that nine out of ten residents have attended a City of Culture event.

Experts believe Paisley would reap £172m over the next ten years if it becomes Hull’s successor.

Jean Cameron is the director of Paisley’s City of Culture bid was also raised in Ferguslie Park. She has been championing the town’s credentials since the bid was launched in 2015.

She says that while the organisers always knew their case was strong, it was not until the town was shortlisted in the summer that they really began to believe.

READ MORE: Paisley given £10m city of culture boost

“I think this is the place that would use [City of Culture status] best,” she says.

“We are ready to use it and we have got a partnership in place. We have 100 per cent of what we need for the scaffolding period – the period when we build our capacity between 2018 and 2021.”

Paisley, which is eligible to run for the title even though it does not have city status, boomed as a production centre for textiles in the 19th century. The fabled Paisley Pattern shawl was its eponymous gift to the world.

But changing tastes and cheaper competition from overseas had killed the industry dead by the 1990s. Many mills were either demolished or turned into flats.

The town’s prosperous heyday is reflected in the grand architecture bequeathed by wealthy magnates. Landmarks include the Coats Observatory and the local museum, soon to be refurbished at a cost of £49m. Edinburgh is the only place in Scotland that has a larger concentration of listed buildings.

Ms Cameron thinks the town has a compelling story that locals are eager to share with the rest of the UK.

“Paisley has played a hugely significant part in terms of the UK economy, the world economy – and we can do that again,” she says.

“We have got a great opportunity to offer something that we believe is strong.”

Some of the town’s famous sons are also lending their voices to the cause. The singer Paolo Nutini, whose dad stills runs a fish and chip shop in the town, has backed the bid and played a concert locally by way of support.

Former Doctor Who star David Tennant and Hollywood A-list actor Gerard Butler have also issue public statements in support of their home town.

Not everyone agrees the direction of travel is the right one. Some question whether heritage and culture are the answer to its many challenges.

Annie Patrick, 81, has lived in the town all her life. “I don’t agree with it at all – they have been spending money on the town centre when other areas need it too,” she says.

“The young generation seem to think it is a good idea – but I have many friends who say it’s a waste of money.”

There are those who say it might be a Scottish town’s turn to be City of Culture following the success of Derry-Londonderry in 2013, the first year the title was awarded.

In any case, the waiting is nearly over. The final presentations will be made in Hull by delegations from each of the five bids early next month.

“It is so much about confidence. It would make a huge, huge difference to Paisley, and I think people are believing it – in terms of readiness and need,” Ms Cameron adds.

“When we got shortlisted, a whole of lot of people thought ‘Oh, we could actually do this’. That made such a difference – that sense of confidence and belief.”