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Innovative retail scheme shortlisted for UK award


A project aimed a breathing new life back into one of Aberdeen's only traditional shopping centres has been named the sole Scottish finalist for a national award.

The Retail Rocks scheme, which saw six unused Torry shop units renovated and leased to entrepreneurs, has been shortlisted for the Local Economic Partnership category of the National Local Government Chronicle Awards.

It was launched last year and gave social enterprises and entrepreneurs the chance to set up shop in one of six previously unused units, rent free for a year, and provided business mentoring and support for 18 months.

Retail Rocks has seen considerable financial investment in a regeneration area which has suffered from some of the highest levels of multi-deprivation in Aberdeen.

The project, which was jointly funded by Aberdeen City Council and the Scottish Government's Town Centre Regeneration Fund, had a number of aims. These included: reducing the number of empty shops and developing new retail businesses in Torry town centre; providing a more accessible, cleaner and attractive built environment that looks and feels safer, assisted by the installation of CCTV and improved lighting, and the introductions of Shop Safe radios; create successful, sustainable retail businesses and help stimulate other forms of entrepreneurial activity; and provide the local community with a much-improved retail offering.

For the first time in 10 years traders have noted an interest in any council-owned premises becoming available in Torry because they wish to set up in the area. Four businesses have approached Aberdeen City Council so far and a waiting list has been drawn up.

A number of previously empty shop units have been occupied and opened, and other local businesses, encouraged by the investment in the area, have upgraded the exterior of their premises.

Retail Rocks initially created seven full-time posts, with additional availability for artists in residence opportunities. Two of the Retail Rocks businesses have offered work experience and Activity Agreement placements for school pupils.

Although not all of the businesses succeeded, three have signed a new commercial lease for the next year and their business plans predict growth and potential staff recruitment. A fourth business has relocated to Rosemount where the owner is now operating as part of a craft co-operative, and a fifth recognised she could successfully run her business online without the overheads associated with a retail unit.

Agreements are being signed for the other three retail units, which will potentially create further employment opportunities in Torry.

Aberdeen City Council leader Barney Crockett said: "The scheme has been a great success, with several new businesses springing up and for the first time in years, we've now got a waiting list for commercial properties in Torry. It's made a tangible and very positive change to the area and I'm delighted that the efforts of all those involved in the scheme have been recognised by the Local Government Chronicle Awards body.

"I'm particularly delighted also because I grew up in Torry and did my mother's shopping in Torry town centre every Saturday morning with a 'line'.

"It is fantastic that Aberdeen City Council is the only Scottish authority to reach the finals, and that really says something about the quality of the Retail Rocks project. I look forward to seeing how we get on in the finals next month."

Aberdeen City Council worked in partnership with the Enterprise North East Trust, Scottish Business in the Community and Torry Community Council to establish and run the pilot scheme.

The LGC awards will take place in January.