The words ‘ailing’ and ‘High Street’ have been used so often in the same sentence they may as well be put on a banner and strung across the bottom of KirkWynd.
The reality is somewhat different, but changing that perception remains a huge task for Kirkcaldy4All, the BID company which is the only organisation whose remit is to work for, and improve, our town centre.
The high profile retail casualties and empty shops are a reminder of how badly the economic crash has hit Kirkcaldy.
But the bigger picture shows the town HAS much to shout about – indeed, there’s a compelling case that we need to be much more vocal in telling people all the positive things about our town centre.
And we need to drive home the message that although its role is changing – and it HAS to change – it still has a future, and a vital role to play as the heartbeat of our town.
Kirkcaldy4All’s annual report, unveiled last week, delivered a clear analysis of what has been happening in the High Street.
And there is much to upbeat about.
Kirkcaldy town centre now has a broader mix of food and drink, and leisure and entertainment than before – up 11 per cent.
It is home to more independent traders than ever.
The number of businesses opening in the town centre is up seven per cent over the past four years – and its growth has outstripped that of Cupar, Glenrothes, St Andrews and even Perth.
One of the key reasons was the long-overdue review which finally saw business rates brought down.
Kirkcaldy4All was the only Scottish BID company to give evidence directly to the Barclay Review when it came to Holyrood.
As a direct result it was asked by the review to host a discussion in Kirkcaldy to better understand the impact of business rates on town centre companies.
Bill Harvey, BID manager, said: “We were able to give them a view of life on the shop floor – how rates impact on people trying to run their own businesses, and how these bills really impact on their lives. as they work incredibly hard to keep their doors open.’’
The end result?
Those businesses are now paying £3m less in rates.
Bottom line - businesses were saving, on average, £10,000 on their rates bill.
That reduction has directly encouraged new businesses to open their doors in the High Street, expanding the scope and range of what it offers, and helping to breathe life into buildings which had stood empty for too long.
And as new, niche businesses have opened up, the BID team has worked hard to give them a platform on social media to bring their products, goods and services to the widest possible audience.
The BID kick-started the town centre’s unused wi-fi, got it fit for purpose, and then looked at how to make its mark in social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The free wi-fi also allows the organisation to tap into data which is key to all businesses.
Month on month growth has seen Kirkcaldy4All achieve 1.6 million views on social media, and its dedicated blog site has hundreds of unique visits every week.
Videos filmed by its brand ambassador have led to a spike in Facebook traffic – and all of that content promotes the businesses based in the area.
And the data captured from people using the free wi-fi gives the BID a huge insight into who is coming to town and what they want.
Mr Harvey added: “The town’s wi-fi system was dead until we took it over.
“Our aim wasn’t just to get it up and running, but to use the information from it too.
“Through social media we do a lot of communication with our levy payers, and also the wider community – in this respect Kirkcaldy4All is not just a town centre company.
“By working with other community groups, supporting a range of organisations, and backing local events we can start to change perceptions that this town is on its knees.
“That is so far from the truth.
“As with any town centre some businesses will move out, but, importantly, others are moving in.
“People want to come here, and they bring some great ideas with them.”
Turning back the dial to the good old days when Kirkcaldy was Fife’s retail jewel in the crown isn’t an option.
Neither is standing still.
The town centre of the future IS slowly emerging – one with retail still at its heart but with the emphasis on independent traders wrapped around a few ‘big names’ and with a much stronger leisure and entertainment arm.
The late Dennis Alexander, who started out in the old Forum in the Mercat – it’s now the upstairs floor of TKMaxx – took the Joke shop into a big unit down the east end of the High Street and then ran the Pancake Place, where his motto consisted of just three words.
Eat, meet, greet
A decade or so on, and it could easily be part of the core values which help create a new town centre at the heart of Kirkcaldy.
Highlights of 2018 ...
Kirkcaldy4All scored some big successes over the past year.
Although not set up as an events company, it worked with Fife College to host the Kirkcaldy Food and Drink Fair which saw numbers rise to around 3000.
It was a key player in staging the Festival Of Ideas which brought David Tenant and Sandi Toksvig to town.
The BID company’s funding was critical to securing Fife Pride’s successful launch and subsequent second event just last month – it brought around 3500 people to town, generating an estimated £150,000 for local businesses.
It hosted the beach Highland Games, organised the month-long Christmas celebrations, and part funded a new play on Adam Smith – ’The Invisible Hand’ written by Lang Toun actor John Yule – which is being staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month.
It was also a founding member of Growing Kirkcaldy which has been active in a wide number of horticultural projects.