Dr Marie Macklin CBE, founder and executive chair of The HALO Urban Regeneration Company, exclusively writes the latest Agenda piece for The Herald discussing the impact of Covid-19 and how Scotland’s towns and communities can lead the way in recovery and beyond. Read an extract below.

Coronavirus has taken a terrible toll – in lives lost; families bereaved; businesses bankrupt; and jobs gone, perhaps forever. And we’re only just entering the first phase of lockdown exit. No-one knows the extent of the damage that this vicious virus will have caused by the time we fully emerge from its clutches. Yet, amidst the carnage there have been glimpses of light. Random acts of kindness. The staggeringly selfless actions of our heroes in the NHS and care services. Innovation and creativity channelled to overcome problems that, six months ago, we didn’t even know we had. And there’s one word that summarises our response to our current crisis: “community”.

I’m not one of the intellectual elite that populate the corridors of power in either Westminster or Holyrood. Nor am I one of the seemingly endless crop of professors on our daily news bulletins. But I am convinced of this: our future health, wellbeing and prosperity lies in our communities.

For 30 years I have been an advocate of community-led regeneration focusing on brownfield sites in our towns. The mill towns; steel towns; coal towns that sprouted up as part of the industrial revolution and were successful because of the innovation, entrepreneurship and hard work of the people who lived there.

While they have suffered from industrial decline, they still share a huge community beating heart and never has this been more evident than during this current crisis.

Meanwhile, home working with little or no commuting, less air pollution and video calls have all changed the lives of many people. Lockdown aside, maybe it has even laid the path towards a better quality of life for many.

So maybe out of this darkness comes a new beginning? My mantra for some time has been: “let the towns sing again”. UK plc needs to refocus its corporate responsibility budgets to create opportunities in towns across Britain, to create an enterprise-led resilience model that promotes and makes for new communities within our towns that are sustainable, healthy, energy efficient, job-creating, digitally savvy and, wait for it, nice places to live and work.

That’s what we’re seeking to do in Kilmarnock at The HALO development, where phase 1 of this net zero carbon emissions project – the Enterprise and Innovation Hub – was just emerging from the ground when Covid-19 struck. Our vision is to create a £63milion urban regeneration project on the 23-acre site of the former Johnnie Walker bottling plant in Kilmarnock.

It will transform the area into a dynamic commercial, educational, cultural, leisure and lifestyle quarter creating jobs for the young people of Kilmarnock, Ayrshire and Scotland and in a way that will be carbon net zero. We have the support of some great partners – Scottish Power, Diageo, Barclays, East Ayrshire Council, Scottish Enterprise, Ayrshire College, Glasgow Caledonian University and we have the UK and Scottish Governments behind us. But, let’s not stop there… I believe this should be the start of an even bigger movement. A movement that will see our small and medium size enterprises play a key role in helping our towns to re-emerge as the powerhouses they once were and can be again as part of this green recovery.

Much has been written about the unintended outcomes of the lockdown – the reduction in noise pollution and traffic levels that have allowed us to hear birdsong more vividly. Now is the time to seize this opportunity to get local and hear our towns sing again.

This article first appeared in The Herald newspaper on 5th June 2020.

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