Mini regeneration with new town businesses springing up

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No clearer indication of economic gloom is apparent than the empty shops, offices and premises in town centres across the country.

Stornoway over the last few years has also been a victim of this trend with premises underused or outlets closing and remaining empty for some considerable time later.

Woolworths on the high street, the distinctive former Royal Legion building, the once thriving video store at the top of Francis Street, the forlorn units at Bayhead and vacant shop sites opposite from the Town Hall

But perhaps things are starting to see a turn for the better with a mini-regeneration getting ready to pop up in Stornoway town centre, The Coffee Pot on Kenneth is set to close at the end of the month and be redeveloped into a six-day a week painting and decorating hub.

As well as injecting a new lease of life into this site, the move will also bring employment opportunities.

Talking about the project is Neil Mackay who is taking on the new outlet, he said: “We are hoping to try and turn around the site in about six weeks, so should be ready for opening roughly around mid-April if everything goes well.”

The aim is to create a one-stop shop ‘Decorating Stornoway Ltd’ by offering paint, wallpapers, blinds and tiles.

Talking about staffing Neil continued: “We will be open ten hours a day so intend to have four staff but this could become more depending on how busy we are.”

And for the future Neil is also considering the options for the buildings at the back of the Coffee Pot site and their potential redevelopment.

Other entrepreneurs looking to branch out are the owners of the popular Gourmet Street Food trailer Paul and Kelly Widdop who currently trade from the town’s Perceval Square.

Buoyed by the amazing success of this venture, which has a legion of fans despite only starting in 2014, they hope to transfer that customer loyalty to a new permanent site at revamped premises opposite Stornoway Tall Hall.

Describing how they were led to make this move Kelly Widdop said: “We were planning on opening premises in the future, but because of the uncertainty with us being in the square, we decided to bring our plans forward.”

The couple hope to open a licenced bistro ‘The Lido’ at the end of April and are harking back to the past for its name.

Kelly continued: “There used to be an Italian cafe years back, there is an engraving on the flagstones outside the building stating this was formerly ‘The Lido Cafe’, so we decided to keep the tradition going.

“It is going to be casual, child friendly and completely unique to Stornoway, with a bar which surrounds the kitchen area so you can sit down with a drink and chat to the chef who is preparing the food.

“There is seating for 40 including stools around the bar, booths down the sides and window seats.”

The Lido will be staffed by Paul and Kelly along with two permanent and two part-time staff, they are also looking for a full time chef.

As with their current business the couple will be showcasing local produce with absolutely everything made in-house. And given that they have their first Christmas party booking the signs are looking good for this new venture.

Another town venture which is getting ready to open its doors is a new cafe in Bayhead and there has been some indication towards a new business on Francis Street, so there definitely seems to be increased vibrancy in Stornoway town centre.

Talking about supporting and encouraging new businesses, a spokesperson for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said: “ The Comhairle is leading a number of activities to support the regeneration of the town centre.

“The Comhairle’s Business Gateway offers a broad range of advice, support, and financial assistance, including: business-planning; access to funding; marketing; and the practicalities of starting and developing your business.

“In addition the Comhairle delivers the Conservation Area Grant scheme, the Stornoway Painting Scheme for painting buildings in central Stornoway, and a new signage scheme to be launched in the Spring.

“The Comhairle is also supporting local retailers and other town centre interests to set up a new business development group which aims to make a positive impact to all Stornoway businesses and associated interests.

“The Stornoway Regeneration Group is also supporting the development of a new strategy for Stornoway through the Scotland’s Town Partnership initiative.

“This will utilise the Town Centre Toolkit developed by the Scottish Government to support the development of town centres.

“The Town Centre Toolkit contains ideas and examples of how people and organisations can make their town centre more attractive, more active, and more accessible.

“The Comhairle welcomes all new economic activity and the creation of jobs. A vibrant, attractive town centre for local people and visitors makes a significant contribution to the local economy.”

Pictured are the former shop sites across from Stornoway Town Hall, now converted into one space, which will be home to new bistro ‘The Lido’.