The project will begin as soon as this Stage 2 application is approved (indicatively April 2021), with planning and building warrant approvals from Highland Council received by July 2021 and tendering immediately to allow construction work to begin by the end of August and be completed prior to the start of the 2022 tourist season. Should there be a delay to the timing of the RCGF approval and the subsequent back-to-back grant agreement between the Council and NICE as project developer, it should still be possible to achieve the project completion target date of end March 2022.
The regeneration hub project has its origin in 2013 when NICE commissioned and published a report titled “Feasibility Study of Future Possibilities for the Old Social Work Building” (the “OSWB” as the building to be used is commonly known). By 2013, anecdotal and written evidence of widespread agreement in the community of Nairn demonstrated that “something has to be done” about the central car parking area, including the, by then, disused OSWB, and the land on which a former Community Centre and an old Filling Station stood. NICE was formed in November 2010, and by 2013 had recruited over 1,000 members from the local community, all of whom had confirmed in writing that they supported NICE’s aims and objectives.
In December 2011, NICE was established as a Community Development Trust, with charitable status and produced a “Vision for Nairn”, which it continues to help implement with partners.
This project, as summarised below, has been shaped in detail to take account of the very serious impacts that the Covid pandemic and the recovery period from this will have on the economy of Nairn and its workforce.
The traditional stone building in which the Regeneration Hub would be developed is ideally located in relation to the High Street and town centre, the A96 from Aberdeen to Inverness (which passes the site), Viewfield Park with the Nairn Museum in Viewfield House and the town’s Community & Arts Centre across the A96, and the availability of short and longer term parking spaces adjacent to the building. The failure of development proposals in recent years to source sufficient funding to redevelop the building – a distillery and a relocated CAB – provides the opportunity to create c300 sq metres of repurposed and customised floorspace for the range of uses summarised below within a completely repaired, renovated and internally modernised building; with scope for sensitive new build extension in the future as needs and opportunities evolve.
The building’s functions, planned to complement existing business and community provision in Nairn, would include:
• Visitor welcome and information, encouraging tourist and daytrip visitors and people in passing vehicles to discover Nairn’s many attractions that are mainly hidden – including some 5 miles of beaches to both the west and east of the harbour, the harbour itself (with a marina and boat trips), the Links (with new facilities including a recently developed splashpad), Viewfield and the Museum, Culbin Forest and RSPB reserve, and a range of walking and cycling routes. Enhanced promotion of Nairnshire’s visitor accommodation and attractions would be a key feature, with the hub’s operating company taking over VisitNairn’s activity from its current owner (as agreed). High impact and changing exhibitions (physical and on film) would be provided, with guided tours by foot offered. Disabled access would be provided throughout; with a lift to the first floor. Voluntary groups putting on events through the year for visitors (and residents) would be encouraged to use the Hub and take advantage of its networking and voluntary support roles.
• Encouraging local people, visitors, and passing vehicle occupants to discover what Nairn’s town centre can offer – including a range of distinctive shops and catering businesses that sell local and regional produce, national chains such as Boots, and historical buildings such as the Courthouse with its renovated clock tower, and, indeed, the original historical police cells in the hub building (which will be a visitor feature). Complementary initiatives, led by Nairn Connects BID, will focus on filling empty shops and other premises and improving the townscape.
• Encouraging potential and new business proprietors to discover new product, service and market opportunities, including co-working, and providing affordable rental space for varying periods, with on-site assistance and shared facilities (e.g. for high quality video conferencing).
• Enabling young people, the unemployed, and others looking for local employment (full time, part-time or seasonal) to discover existing and potential opportunities; with existing training sourced for these people and new courses and mentoring mechanisms set up within the building or externally. A recently established initiative with multiple partners, the Nairn Jobs Network, would help organise and run these activities. There is currently no Further or Higher Education provision within Nairnshire, and the University of the Highlands and Islands would be an operational partner.
• Running entrepreneur programmes to widen the opportunities for local businesses to develop beyond tourism in the post-Covid era, with expert training provided in IT for serving existing and new markets.
• Providing office and other space and shared facilities for the staff and directors of existing and new social enterprises and their volunteers, with links with regional and national facilities including the Impact Hub in Inverness and the Social Enterprise Academy.
• Providing private and informal meeting spaces with catering provision. Maximising evening and weekend usage would bring in additional rental and other income and widen potential usage by people working or studying on weekdays.
• Showcasing and selling local food, arts and crafts, and other products, which would be provided by the businesses and generate important net catering and retail income for the hub.