||[Jan. 24th, 2010|04:55 am]
They do a good line in ‘grand’ on Bute.http://www.justseaweed.com/photos/ Start with the essential elegance of the Victorian watering hole of Rothesay, sweeping spaciously and long around the bay, climbing gently up the hill behind.|
Drive south along the coast to Mount Stuart House (pictured below), seat of the Marquess of Bute and an imaginative version of the neo-Gothicism which the Victorian’s so loved.
Drift on down to Kingarth, to the timeless tranquillity of the ruins of St Blane’s Chapel, the island foundation of the saint educated in Ireland, later celebrated in the cathedral town of Dunblane, north of Stirling and who died in 590AD.
Everywhere there are well trimmed beech hedges keeping the road from the rolling land, never far from water and with the majestic peak of Arran’s Goat Fell towering to the south-west.
Rothesay is crowned by the unusual round Rothesay Castle (pictured above and bottom), dating from the early 13th century and built by the Stewarts for the conflict with the Norsemen to whom - under Uspak (Gillespec MacDougall), it first fell soon after its completion in the 1230s. This three-day battering features in the Saga of Haakon Haakonsson as the earliest recorded instance of an attack on a Scottish castle.
The bayside sweep of the town is graced by the Art Deco beauty of Rothesay Pavilion - well into an upgrading project under Argyll & Bute Council’s CHORD initiative. The southern border of the town has a seemingly endless parade of glorious Victorian villas with planting to match, many offering bed and breakfast to visitors.
This is the good.
The bad and the ugly
Like the medieval diptych showing on one side three young maidens in the peak of their physical beauty and on the other an impression of their inner decay already in progress, Rothesay’s front belies an urgent need for the civic equivalent of injections of monkey glands.
Most visitors arrive from the sea, on the main ferry running from Wemyss Bay on the mainland. As they disembark on the quayside they are immediately faced with a set of contradictions.
They see, conveniently close to hand, the built to last, functioning and well kept Victorian public lavatories. They see the grand frontage of the town smiling at them, with the black tooth of Guildford Square well in evidence and the shabby clothing of flaking signage, washed-off paintwork and inconsistent shop fronts, many croaking of businesses they once flagged.
Visitors then confront a younger invader right on the harbour, an ugly and monolithic C0operative Store, squalling for attention and blocking the sightlines to the planned perspective of the town’s bayfront behind it.
The Townscape Heritage Initiative has plans for Rothesay’s town centre regeneration well in hand and is running a community ‘Placemaking’ day at the Pavilion on 3rd February. The conflicts in the town’s present condition will be addressed and everyone who finds ease in this delightful town will look forward to a successful and judicious outcome.
The magnificent Marble Hall of Mount Stuart saw around 100 people come together on 22nd January, with a battalion of young people from Rothesay Academy. This group represented all facets of life on the Isle of Bute from those who live, work and run businesses there, to the major service agencies that help keep the island going.
There were tourism sector operators - including Mount Stuart Estate; local archaeological and historical experts; Toward Carbon Neutral Bute; Bute Marketing Group; Bute Food & Crafts Group; Bute Jazz Festival; Step Up; Rothesay Pavilion Project; Prince’s Regeneration Trust; Bute Community Land Company, leading a proposed community buy-out of Rhubodach Forest; CalMac, the ferry operator; David MacBrayne, the holding company pulling together west and north coast ferry services and the ships, piers and harbours they use; Historic Scotland; VisitScotland; Highlands & Islands Enterprise; Argyll & Bute Council; and others - too many to record en passant.
And there was a woman who set the event alight with her self-introduction: ‘Jean Moffatt. Retired. Still talking.’
The Buteman and For Argyll were there to report.
The event was hosted by Johnny Bute, former racing driver, astute businessman and the 7th Marquess of Bute. It was chaired by Argyll’s MSP, Jim Mather, Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism and in very jokey form, creating an affectionate relationship with his audience.
He chaired the morning session, a scene setter with presentations from key Bute initiatives; and then facilitated the afternoon session, mind mapping a communal identification of key issues and problem solving, focused on putting together a picture of what Bute could be by 2020.
The core objective of the day was to highlight what it will take to achieve that picture and to start setting specific targets to get there.
While the Marble Hall at Mount Stuart is a fabulous space with detail that endlessly compels the eye, it is not an ideal space for the talking part of a conference.
The opening addresses presented a problem that the Events team at Mount Stuart might usefully address. Light and energy are a continuum central to lively events. Here the speakers faces were unlit. Their location, with their backs to a source of natural light from the magnificent stairway, also cast them into shadow - making their presentations oddly mysterious and rather surreal.
The overall light level, while peaceful, was too dim to charge the sort of energetic engagement between contributors that can set a conference ablaze.
The sheer volume of overhead space, the universally hard surfaces and the domed ceiling above make it a difficult acoustic for speech - although it must be glorious for the singing voice. (Straying a little - as one did when it was hard to hear, one has to wonder how amazing a Kodo Drummers performance there might be; and it cries out for the commissioning of a knowledgeable modern performance piece - image, colour, movement, sound - created to take advantage of its secrecies, commands, surprises and spatial flow.
For these numbers, an exchange of spaces between conference element and buffet lunch would be worth trying.
As it was, in the Marble Hall, the series of independent-minded clocks, serially announcing the hour, were a wonderfully humorous counterpoint to serious discussionThe scene setter
After the welcome to Mount Stuart (above) by the event’s host - the Marquess of Bute, Jim Mather set the context by noting that the session was the next in the sequence of 142 National Conversation events held in Argyll & Bute. These have involved over 7,000 people, with no other constituency in Scotland coming close to Argyll’s lead in this initiative.
The Scottish Government’s overarching plan is for Scotland to set about an interconnected trinity of objectives:
to build its brand
to grow its economy
to develop the life chances available to its people.
The challenges are to remove everything that inhibits progress; focus on improving at every level; adapt to new circumstances rather than resist them; innovate; and deliver.
‘Between the idea and the reality’ in Scotland lie many failures to grasp an opportunity quickly, courageously and effectively.
Following Mr Mather’s introduction, was a sequence of presentations designed to inform and underpin the afternoon’s shift of emphasis to the floor. Here are some of he key points and highlights.
from Sheena Stone of Toward Carbon Neutral Bute:
(with the note that sticking to the alloted time is a courtesy to fellow speakers)
Bute will become the first Scottish island with a measured carbon footprint. The measuring process is going on at the moment.
Research shows that 42% of households in Bute own a bicycle but 20% admit to never using them.
There are no insulation installers on Bute
76% of the population of Bute broadly support wind farms and even more support community-owned wind farms.
Toward Carbon Neutral Bute can help with community wind farm proposals.
from Tim Saul of Bute Marketing Group
(with the note that starting with an apparent plug for the Isle of Wight, his previous home, was misaligned with the event)
The Stay & Play initiative, currently focused on a marriage of ferry, accommodation and golf, is to be extended and the group would welcome ideas to add to the possible list of cycling, walking, fishing and photography.
The group’s new website, visitbute.com, attracted 36,000 hits in July
Research shows that where a visitor gets good service in any establishment they tell an average of 4 people about it; but when they get bad or sour-faced service they warn off an average of 25.
The Eat Bute event attracted large numbers to the island.
The marketing group has 25 members - and there could be very many more.
from Lorna Pearce of the Rothesay Townscape Heritage Initiative
(with the note that effective presentations are about talking to an audience and not reading from the content of clearly unfamiliar Powerpoint screens)
Priority targets for Rothesay THI are the regeneration of the Royal Hotel, Duncan’s Hotel and the gap site in Guildford Square.
There is an important community event - Placemaking with Greenspace Scotland, at Rothesay Pavilion on 3rd February to which people who live and do business in Bute and people who visit it - are welcome in as large a number as possible.
from Brian Hill of Bute Food & Crafts
(with the note that he produced one of the funniest and most insightful bon mots of the event: ‘People wanting to buy a quarter inch drill don’t want a quarter inch drill. They want a quarter inch hole’. So he sells beef and lamb in a box.)
The group had 12 members in 2009.
Members are using the Taste of Bute label.
Following its successful promotion at Glasgow River Festival, the group served shepherd’s pie to ravers at T in the Park and, for 2010, is considering accompanying the Food from Argyll group back to T in the Park and to Latitude Suffolk, V Festival in Shropshire and possibly Glastonbury
The groups intent is to make Bute a food destination.
from the Mount Stuart slideshow
(with the note that it would benefit from editing)
The range of services the estate provides and markets is sweeping.
The Estate Archive is one of the most important in the world. Consider the origin, history and national roles - including Prime Minister (the 3rd Earl) - played by the Crichton-Stuart family and start imagining the material this archive must contain.
The Beasts of Bute are litter, awful signage and dilapidated buildings.
Mind Mapping the Bute Brainstorm
Jim Mather kicked off this afternoon session by introducing the Chef and the team of Rothesay Academy pupils who had created the buffet lunch for the event. Needless to say satisfied delegates applauded loudly.
The Minister then remarked that Scotland needs to move from being a dependency culture to a premiumising culture - as with whisky, food and specific outdoor activities; and paid tribute to the energies in Bute, saying: ‘The reason I’m in politics is the people I can see in my wing mirrors’.
The first contribution came quickly from Bute Councillor, Robert Macintyre, Deputy Leader of Argyll & Bute Council. To put it bluntly, he called for more children, citing the island’s 1955 population of 12,000 and The Buteman’s revelation that only 43 children were born on Bute in 2009.
Hearing Mr Macintyre quickly declare that he was too old to do anything about the situation himself, Jim Mather, his SNP colleague, fast on the draw, quipped: ‘He was always good at delegating’.
The meat of the matter
On to the heart of the afternoon’s business - here are some of the key features of the ideal social and economic shape of Bute in 2020:
Inscription (listing) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site - this brings support for the natural and built heritage, very significantly more tourism and economic development.
A unified web presence with a single portal to Bute - the current plethora of independent websites simply confuses potential visitors and obstructs a coherent overall introduction to the island, its facilities and opportunities.
An increased working-age population in work.
Buying Bute where at all possible - keeping the Bute pound in Bute.
Clear and structured tourism development strategy, from Argyll to its constituent parts, including Bute.
A vigorously raised game from eating and drinking establishments - with first class quality of products, service and ambience; attractive street table service in the main seasons; a focus on good cooking of local produce; and showing Bute’s young people how to cook local food.
Tourism spend equal to that of Skye and Mull.
A 5-star hotel to support accommodation for high-end wedding guests etc.
Bute products in key prestige locations - like Arran Aromatics products in bedrooms in One Devonshire Gardens.
Regular and developed outdoor Farmers’ Markets, showcasing local foods, crafts, art and other products.
Better transport links to Wemyss Bay - otherwise potential day visitors stay on the mainland.
A good and attractive cafe at Wemyss Bay to support ferry passengers to and from Rothesay.
Car parking at Wemyss Bay - to facilitate day-visit foot passengers.
Synchronisation between CalMac ferry times and First Scotrail’s train schedules to Wemyss Bay.
A ferry route with Glasgow.
A ferry route with Arran.
More cohesion - with public sector agencies, funding bodies, island initiatives and planners all working effectively together.
Change to Scottish law to remove the fear of litigation which currently inhibits the development of, for example, horse riding facilities, firework displays etc.
Vested interest replaced by community interest - eg: Fyne Homes refused to let the 1938 part of the old school go - yet this could have been beneficially developed.
Derelict buildings problem resolved - with particular attention to the 1960s Old Rothesay Academy, unhelpfully listed by Historic Scotland and an old Kirk - both in serious dilapidation and with broken windows.
What the young people want
A young boy from Rothesay Academy made a heartfelt, articulate and plausible plea for: ’something for kids and for parents - big kids - adventure centred - like kayaking, climbing and power boats’.
He was backed up by a passionately argued wish-list from his peers which included:
a rock climbing wall
an ice rink
a bigger swimming pool
an xscape-like indoor ski slope
a 5 star hotel
This perspective is not daft. For a start, children need constant and varied activity and part of the Scottish Government’s triple mantra for development is ‘healthier’. (Wealthier. Fairer. Healthier.)
This is also not unhinged in terms of an overall economic development strategy.
Establish an Adventure Centre also associated with tuition and guided outdoor activities on water and land.
Attract investors to run a ferry from the Glasgow Science Centre to put a massive conurbation and its visitors in easy and attractive reach of Bute.
Seriously jack up eating and drinking establishments.
Bute could be a very attractive and very accessible family destination, operational in all weathers and able to respond positively to a visitor pattern than is already much less seasonal. And that could be the USP Bute is still looking for.
Out of the mouths…
On the spot offers
New business opportunity - Phil Preston, MD of CalMac ferry services, said that there is room for a local business to courier packages from Rothesay to Wemyss Bay. CalMac currently provide a service carrying loose packages which they will continue to provide if necessary but which is not compatible with their overall operation.
Sharing existing business - Rothesay Pavilion currently has 40 user groups and would welcome the use of other premises in the town.
Transport synchronisation - Lawrie Sinclair, CEO of David MacBrayne Holdings and Non-Executive Director of CalMac, pledged to work to synchronise ferries and First Scotrail train services at Wemyss Bay.
Promotional support - Phil Preston offered to run Bute videos - such as the Bute Landscape Partnership Video and the Mount Stuart Slideshow - on the Wemyss Bay-Rothesay boats.
Support for commercial development - Phil Preston also offered to explore the carrying of appropriate Bute products in the shops on CalMac’s Wemyss Bay-Rothesay boats.
Sharing of expertise - Historic Scotland offered to share the expertise employed in its conservation project at Rothesay Castle (above).
The summing up
Jim Mather emphasised his delight at the range of contributions made. He also took personal responsibility for passing on to Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, the suggestion that Scottish law be changed to remove the fear of litigation that inhibits investment in physical activity provision.
A contribution from the floor was widely applauded. It called for an expression of gratitude for CalMac’s current attitude to the island’s needs.
Mr Mather then presented delegates with a metaphor for the sort of decision each person and body involved in Bute’s drive for social and economic sustainability will have to take.
He described this as ‘The Prisoners’ Dilemma’.
Two salesmen are imprisoned for various misdemeanours. The quality of life in prison is affected by the number of points each can earn.
If one shops the other for some misdeed, he will get 5 points.
If each shops the other, neither will get any points.
If they hang together, they’ll each get 3 points.
The selfish temptation is to shop the other for a potential personal 5-point gain and at the risk of a failure which would attract none.
The point the Minister was making was that this was - and to some extent still is - the preferred outcome; but that 21st century values are moving towards prioritising the shared and certain mutual benefit from hanging together.
What can be done now?
Part of the afternoon’s agenda was working together to identify targets to be achieved by April 2010. Contributions to the island’s long game were so extensive that there was no time for this parallel focus.
However, from issues raised during the session, below are some key matters mentioned that could - and should, start now.
Bin the blame culture and take ownership of Bute, accepting responsibility for making it succeed. One basic example here is that people who go to Greenock to shop have no basis for complaint about the quality of shops in Bute. And as one woman honestly said: ‘It was our kids who broke the windows in the old school and the old kirk. It wasn’t anyone else’s kids.’
Establish an executive community team licensed to drive joined-up development.
Get Bute representation at the World Island Games - it only needs two island sports to be involved in an application to join.
Start to compile an Asset Register for Bute.
Get local historians, archaeologists, photographers and writers together to develop the embryonic pages on Bute and Bute features that exist on Wikipedia - and create appropriate new pages. Provide a range of new and strategic photographs on each of these pages - and agree with the photographers that they should either be put straight into the public domain or available under either the Creative Commons or GNU Free Documentation licences. The reason for this is that many online services like For Argyll’s need photographs to accompany articles and have neither time nor money to negotiate copyright fees. The use by a range of independent media services of freely available photographs will spread the promotion of Bute in the most impactful way to audiences beyond the island’s own reach. Every area in Argyll should be acting to take advantage of this powerful and free information carrier.
Get on with working collectively. It’s not necessary to wait to be told or to be given ‘permission’ to do so.
Develop a visitor campaign aimed at grandparents and parents who visited Rothesay themselves but have not yet brought their children and families back there. (If Bute Marketing Group provide information as such a campaign developed, For Argyll will carry features on this, taking it to new audiences.)
Ask all residents and communities to develop their awareness of all of Bute’s assets, with everyone becoming an enthusiastic and informed ambassador for their island.
Cross-market, with businesses marketing each other. This relates to the same development of widespread awareness of the islands’ assets as described above - go and find out what’s out there, who’s doing what and what it’s like - and include it to show your own business sitting in an attractive context.
Repaint the exteriors of dilapidated buildings - if you own one of these, it’s a small contribution to your island to give it a coat of paint. The public purse cannot and should not pay for everything.
Prepare for contributions to the programme of a planned, year-long Scottish Islands Festival - date to be announced but will be 2011, possibly into 2012.
Bute as it stands today
Never mind the place Bute would like to be in 2020, let’s remind ourselves of Bute’s great strengths today and in the immediate future:
unarguably Argyll’s best island ferry service, with CalMac running two high frequency routes - Wemyss Bay to Rothesay (17 crossings a day Monday-Friday; 15 on Saturdays; and 12 on Sundays); and Colintraive to Rhubodach (34 crossings a day Monday-Friday; 29 on Saturdays; and 23 on Sundays). *All Winter timetable.
Loch Lomond Seaplanes are to start a service to Port Bannatyne in June. (Loch Lomond Seaplanes delivered 6,000 visitors to Oban in 2009.)
the perfectable Victorian town of Rothesay
Rothesay castle with its unique heritage and under a Historic Scotland conservation project
the Victorian magnificence of Mount Stuart and the events it hosts
Rothesay Town Heritage Initiative
Rothesay Pavilion and its CHORD upgrading project
St Blane’s chapel and a host of archaelogical remains yet to be worked
upcoming food destination with Bute Food & Crafts, Taste of Bute and Eat Bute
a lively cultural life and the recently formed Artists’ Collective
Scotland’s first island (soon) with a measured carbon footprint
an unspoiled island with great sailing, cycling and walking - including the wittily named West Island Way
Bute Community Land Company and the potential to buy Rhubodach Forest as a community business and amenity
The Buteman - Bute’s first class local newspaper and with the best newspaper website in Argyll
Bute FM - the recently established community radio station, already with 40 local presenters - and with Buteman editor, Craig Borland, coming into the station each week to talk about what’s in the paper’s latest issue - a present example of the benefits of cross-marketing.
Better broadband coming - and for other Argyll islands - via a new Avanti satellite due on station on 24th June, providing 8 Megabits at the current subscription price. (Jim Mather will confirm this last point.)
So what’s holding it back?
A range of evidences would suggest that a key inhibitor to achievable progress is attitudinal and is best articulated in Jim Mather’s Prisoner’s Dilemma metaphor.
Cohesion, working collectively and cross-marketing, understanding that success is not about running down ‘the competition’ but about contributing strongly to raising everyone’s game simultaneously, is the key to sustainable growth.
Remember when Madonna started to do gigs wearing T-shirts celebrating other female singers like Kylie? She got it. If you help to grow the market for your industry or your place or your genre, your own share of that market will amount to a lot more.
Proof that this is a real issue in Bute came, sadly, when the event was over.
After the consensus during the event that the wise route to progress was to develop existing resources and avoid fragmentation, Bute Jazz Festival asked Bute Food and Crafts group to run a Farmers’ Market as one of the festival’s side events - on a day when Rothesay’s Mill Cottage Garden Centre, the established provider of Farmers’ Markets, is known to have already scheduled such a market. D’oh.
Bute is also still markedly and almost wilfully trapped in a historical event seen as a cruel blow to its identity - and understandably so. Local government reorganisation saw the abolition of ‘Buteshire’ (a much loved if phonetically unhamonious moniker) - which embraced the Isles of Bute, Arran and the Cumbraes.
The last two became part of Ayrshire. Bute became part of Argyll. However, in the bitter horsetrading around that forced marriage, Bute won the inclusion of its name in the new local authority - Argyll & Bute.
This has been to the serious detriment of the substantial islands of Islay and Mull and of the other Argyll islands, all of which became constitutionally invisible.
It has also impeded the development of a single coherent identity for the area, capable of supporting a powerful promotional brand.
With the best will in the world, no one can claim that the mouthful that is ‘Argyll and Bute’ sounds anything other than a bureaucratic convenience.
‘Argyll’ as an embracing identity and brand has vocal fluency and promotional mileage. And the territories belonging to ‘Argyll and Bute’ together form a knockout brand as ‘Argyll’, with all-but-infinite resources and attractions on the common table.
Bute keeps picking at its scab (and in the British Isles it’s not alone in cultivating this habit) - musing that Food From Argyll should be Food From Argyll and Bute, raising the possibility that this may be why the island’s food producers maintain an arm’s length distance from the Food From Argyll umbrella.
The lesson that Bute is working to embed internally - that hanging together and working to raise the game of the entire context brings the strongest benefit to everyone - applies externally too.
Argyll has an identity problem for a huge variety of reasons. It is also - and partly consequentially, appallingly badly marketed.
If all of Argyll’s constituent elements pulled together to create and rocket skywards an Argyll identity and brand, that successful mothership would carry them into orbit higher and faster than any of them can achieve on their own.
If Bute were to shrug off historical wrongs and make what it would undoubtedly see as the ultimate sacrifice, asking for its name to be removed from the local authority name and accepting that that should be ‘Argyll’, it would be a stellar and inspirational action that would have unimaginably positive consequences.