revitalising Paisley town centre

the cross

Throughout 2008 I’ve been doing work in Paisley town centre for Renfrewshire Council, with colleagues Ewan Imrie of Collective Architecture, Willie Miller of Willie Miller Urban Design and Alan Edgar of J & E Shepherd surveyors.

The aims of the work have been to research the use and condition of upper floor properties in the town centre, and assess the potential for bringing vacant and derelict properties back into use. Working closely with owners and agents, we have carried out initial feasibility studies for conversion of several derelict commercial properties to residential use.

We’re delighted that the original commission was extended to include architectural feasibility studies and initial development appraisals for redevelopment potential of key sites on the High Street and Causeyside Street.

Our work contributes to the Council’s strategy (see here and here on the Council’s website) for regenerating the town centre in the face of competition from out of town shopping centres and Glasgow, bringing in new residential population – but that’s for a separate article.

exploring behind the facades

High Street

What has been fascinating is exploring the history that lies buried in the town’s buildings. Paisley has a magnificent townscape, typified in the wonderful range of buildings on the north side of the High Street. To my mind, few British townscapes have such a splendid sequence of late Victorian commercial buildings preserved in their High Streets.

Everyone can see this rich heritage simply by looking up – it’s a free show, there for all to appreciate. What I hadn’t realised was what lay behind these facades. Spacious Victorian middle class apartments, butchers’ sheds, opulent professional offices for solicitors and accountants, a leather workshop, an ice cream factory – all cheek by jowl in a jumble of tightly packed buildings, revealed on maps but hidden from the street.

private swimming pool

These uses have gradually withered over the last 50 years, as the economy has changed. But the buildings, generally, are still there. A few have been demolished, sometimes left as inaccessible piles of rubble topped with lush vegetation, landlocked and impossible to remove. Most remain: some are derelict and open to the pigeons, others are perfectly preserved, even with the tea and coffee lists pinned up in the office kitchen… Mr Cumming: coffee black, Nan: tea white.

Exploring these disused buildings has been a fascinating experience – revealing whole layers of forgotten social history, and seeing Paisley from a whole new perspective. You can explore too, through this slideshow of images.

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