Local people in the West Dunbartonshire town of Alexandria are working to give the arts and creativity a higher profile through a project aimed at celebrating the area’s many talented artists and craft makers and reducing the number of empty shops in the town centre.
Susan Maxwell who moved to Alexandria only last year, is one of the organisers of the new community arts and crafts centre which opened in the town’s dilapidated shopping centre in April.
Built in the 1970s, the shopping centre on Mitchell Way is now in a semi-derelict state as developers and West Dunbartonshire Council debate what should be done with the space.
Susan had been involved in various community activities in Campbeltown where she lived and worked for 30 years before moving to Alexandria to be nearer her mum.
In fact, Susan pointed out that while still based in Campbeltown, she attended a “Can Do Places” event in Paisley and was inspired by hearing the stories of other people who were making things happen in the towns they lived in. She says:
“You don’t have to wait for someone else to make your community better – residents can get involved in designing and making the sort of place they want to live in.”
Although a long-term aim is to create a permanent community arts space in the town, Susan volunteered to approach the council earlier this year with the idea of opening a pop-up arts and crafts centre in one of the vacant shops on Mitchell Way, where the work of local artists and crafters could be displayed and sold.
She explains: “We wanted to show people that something is happening because once you can see it, it is easier to ‘get’ it. “The Council have been really good” she says. “We pointed out that an arts and crafts centre would brighten the place up and bring more people into the area which is exactly what’s happened. They let us have an empty shop unit but said it was only for the month of April. However, The Loch Lomond Craft Centre (as it has been named) has been so successful, we’ve now been told we can have it on a month-to-month basis. We’re hoping that will bring us up to Christmas which is the best time for arts and crafts sales.”
The council have let them have the premises for free and, while there are no rates to pay, costs such as water, electricity, and insurance must be met. “We appealed and got the water and electricity charges reduced” says Susan “but we really are operating on a shoe string! We are trying to cover our running costs through the 20% we charge suppliers when they make a sale. We try to keep prices as affordable as possible and give the best possible return to the makers. However, there are many other sundry costs and we may have to increase commission charges. The shop is run on a voluntary basis by some of the makers.”
Response from the creative community has exceeded expectations. “The shop is a good size” Susan explains “and I thought we might have difficulty filling it but we currently have 70 local suppliers making an amazing variety of things. Some makers already sell their work at commercially-run craft shops and over the internet but there are others who make lovely things but have not had anywhere to display and sell it so The Loch Lomond Craft Centre is providing the opportunity for these makers to develop their businesses.”
Displayed alongside the paintings and craftwork in the centre is an exhibition on the town’s once thriving textile industry which is proving a further draw for visitors as well as local people. Says Susan: “We are trying to capture memories from this bygone era in a little book which local people can write in while they enjoy a coffee with us. It’s been great hearing their stories.”
And in a bid to help put Alexandria on the tourist map, the Facebook page for the Makers Market is called “The Loch Lomond Craft Centre“. As Susan points out: “We are less than two miles from Loch Lomond!”